Some collect Star Wars merchandise. Others take up bird photography. Michel Lapierre, for 10 years, has been meticulously building a database by recording the price of all the food he buys at Costco.Posted Nov 7, 2021
“I compare all that with Metro, Walmart and IGA by reporting the prices per 100 g or per 100 ml. The format doesn't matter,” explains the resident of Saint-Lazare, west of Montreal. He also digitizes each of his invoices.
As you will have understood, Michel Lapierre is a lover of figures and statistics, but also of technologies. He turns on the lights in his house with his phone. A device under his mattress transmits a series of data on his sleep. The most unknown functions of the iPhone have no secrets for him. Let's say that at 76, this retiree with an atypical career has everything to bring down the a priori on the elders.
In 2011, it was “just out of curiosity” that he began to archive the price of his grocery basket. A decade later, it is to support his words when it comes to the cost of food, he explains to me. And, above all, to make informed choices when shopping, since he has access to his data on his phone.
In all, its FileMaker Pro software contains the prices of 5,153 purchases made at Costco, for a total of $66,535.37. This accounts for about 85% of her grocery store food purchases.
Thanks to his astonishing discipline, Michel Lapierre is therefore well placed to bear witness to the fluctuation of prices. Of course, the Costco chain is not representative of the market. If only because of the paid membership card that allows the American giant to reduce its profit margin on each item sold. In addition, its reduced range of products (4000) helps to limit operating costs. In short, comparisons with other retailers are always tricky. But the evolution of prices inside the Costco model can be indicative of trends.
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I wanted to take a look at Michel Lapierre's data because in recent months, the grocery cart has often made the headlines. According to Statistics Canada, the price of food purchased from stores rose in September by 4.2% compared to the same month in 2020. In August, the increase had been 2.6%.
But if I rely on radio talk shows and comments received in my email inbox, Quebecers find that the grocery store is experiencing a much larger outbreak. The accuracy of Statistics Canada data has also been questioned by BetterCart Analytics, a Saskatoon-based company that tracks food prices daily on behalf of retailers and processors.
What does Michel Lapierre observe when filling out his database each week? “For me, there is really no significant increase”, answers the one who eats little meat, the food most affected by inflation, it should be specified.
He gives me a few loose examples. “For 10 years, the price of Campagnolo bread has not increased a penny. But last week it went from $4.99 to $5.49. This product, from Boulangerie St-Méthode, is sold in bags of two units whose weight has not changed.
And the eggs? The box of 18 was sold for $3.69 in 2011. The $4 mark was crossed during 2020 and the current price is $4.59. "It's only 90¢ more in 10 years," says Michel Lapierre.
As for Heinz ketchup, it went from 2011 to today, from $6.59 to $7.39 (for 2500 ml). It was a bit more expensive in 2018 and 2019 ($8.99 and $8.49 respectively) than today.
The price per pound of butter is fascinating to watch. In 2012, Costco was selling it for $3.79. A pullback was seen in 2014 ($2.95) before a slow recovery began. In 2019, you had to shell out $3.99, roughly the same amount as seven years earlier. Currently, the list price is $4.49, an 18% increase in nearly a decade.
“Bacon is probably the product that fluctuates the most,” notes Michel Lapierre. In 2015, he sometimes paid $10.99 for it, sometimes $13.99. In 2017, he happened to pay as little as $12.99, but up to $19.99, at times. Again this year, the price has often moved. At the most, the bill reached $24.99 (still for 2000g).
As for Mayan sweet onions, they cost 20¢ per 100g in the fall of 2011. Since 2016: 26¢.
With his database, Michel Lapierre also calculates that Costco is 15% cheaper than Walmart, and up to 30% cheaper than IGA and Metro (based on the price per 100 g or 100 ml of products from same brands).
He also knows how often his favorite products go on sale, allowing him to buy exactly the right amount to have enough until the next price drop. When he comes across great deals, he vacuum seals the food and freezes it as needed.
“It's not an obsession, but I started and I can't stop! »
There are other ways to control your grocery budget without spending so much time behind your computer. Here are a few.Read the “Grocery shopping can be learned” column
I remind you that November is the month of financial literacy. For the occasion, the Order of Chartered Professional Accountants of Quebec (CPA) and the Association of Public Libraries of Quebec (ABPQ) are joining forces to offer educational workshops. Volunteer CPAs will lead about fifty sessions in several regions of the province. The themes cover all stages of life: financial education for children, managing finances in retirement, estate planning, tax strategies, prevention of fraud among seniors and savings strategies, among others. Workshops are offered on-site, virtual or both.Consult the list of workshops offered as part of Financial Literacy Month