(WMC-TV) - For this challenge, Teri Gault, professional shopper and CEO of the national sales-tracking site TheGroceryGame.com built a shopping list of what she calls "blue items" -- brand-name juices, bread, cereal, barbecue sauce and salad dressings she said most often carry coupons and offer the greatest cost benefit when stacking coupons on top of store sales and register rewards.
"They are what we recommend for stocking up on," she said. "They are a great deal. They are about as good as they get."
The point was to pit Kroger against stores with similar sales approaches and inventories in the same market (in this case, Cordova), using a shopping list of products that consumers can save a lot on when they stack manufacturers' coupons, digital coupons, shopping card discounts and register rewards on top of store sales.
At each store, we used the same complement of coupons for each item and Gault's deal-stacking strategies (for Gault's strategies, click on this Investigators report).
If a store didn't have one of Gault's blue items, we substituted another brand with the same volume, regardless of coupon availability. That, obviously, played into our totals. For example, Walmart did not carry Bulls Eye barbecue sauce, one of Gault's "blue" items. The only brand Walmart carried in an 18-oz volume was KC Masterpiece, which was a little more expensive. That variable is a relevant one when comparing SALES.
Here's how the stores stacked up, by lowest total:
Dollar Tree: $14.01
Dollar General: $18.31
"Target never reaches that low of low," said Gault. "They also don't reach down with all of the stacking of deals like Kroger does."
"When it comes to paying less, we know that value means more than just price," said Target spokesperson Antoine LaFromboise in an e-mail to the Action News 5 Investigators. "It's a combination of quality, design and affordability.
"If a guest purchases an item at Target but sees it advertised locally at a lower price during either the same week or week after purchase, they can bring their original receipt to the Guest Service desk and receive a price adjustment. However, clearance items cannot be adjusted. A guest has up to 90 days after the day of purchase to receive a price adjustment, provided that the guest can prove the item was on sale."
Neither Walmart, Aldi, Dollar General nor Dollar Tree responded to Action News 5's requests for comment.
We learned something interesting about the dollar stores.
"Dollar Tree has to have smaller boxes because it's only a dollar," said Gault, holding two boxes of Dollar Tree's cereal most comparable to Cheerios. "In order to have the same amount, we had to get two boxes to equal what we got at Kroger."
We had to pay more at Dollar Tree, too.
What we got at Kroger -- the Cheerios -- was a name brand with more volume for less money. Four dollars less.
After stacking coupons, sales and register rewards while shopping Gault's blue items at all six stores, we netted the greatest savings -- at Kroger: 67 percent.
"When Kroger has a sale -- with a coupon or one of their big incentives and back-rewards at the register -- they just can't be beat," Gault said.