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You can buy food at drugstore, but it will cost more

By Megan Woolhouse
Globe Staff / October 5, 2011

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Groceries sold at pharmacies and drugstores are frequently more expensive than those in supermarkets - and in some cases, significantly pricier, according to a survey to be released today by a Somerville consumer advocate.

For example, a 48-ounce container of Edy’s Grand Ice Cream that cost $2.99 on sale at Market Basket in Somerville was more than twice as expensive at a Rite Aid less than 2 miles away, where it sold for $6.49., a consumer advocacy website, conducted the pricing survey on Sunday. Edgar Dworsky, founder of the website, said he decided to compare the prices at six Somerville stores - Walgreens , Rite Aid, CVS , Stop & Shop, Shaw’s, and Market Basket - because of the growing number of aisles that many pharmacies are devoting to groceries.

“They’re luring consumers in, but is it a good deal?’’ Dworsky asked. “The survey certainly suggested it’s not.’’ compared the prices of 25 grocery and household items - from Cheez-Its to window cleaner - and found they varied wildly from store to store. But on average, the cost of buying all 25 items at drugstores was 36 percent higher than the average supermarket pricetag for the same goods.

Rite Aid had the most expensive grocery prices, charging $107.96 for all 25 items surveyed. Walgreens charged $102.75, and CVS charged $98.12.

A customer could buy the same 25 items for $68.55 at Market Basket, $74.69 at Stop & Shop, and $83.56 at Shaw’s.

The price of a gallon of milk was $3.69 at all three pharmacies, 70 cents more than Shaw’s and Stop & Shop. However, some price differences were more extreme, such as a box of Cheez-Its that cost $3.79 at Rite Aid, but was $2 on sale at Stop & Shop. A box of Special K cereal that cost $5.29 at Walgreens was just $3 at Market Basket.

A spokeswoman for Rite Aid Corp. declined to comment on the survey’s findings or the company’s pricing strategy, which she said was proprietary.

Illinois-based Walgreen Co. said in a statement that “location, availability, and cost to do business in various neighborhoods’’ were factors in its pricing and that the company is “first and foremost’’ a pharmacy.

“While we do offer many food items as a convenience to the communities we serve, we are not a grocer,’’ the statement said.

CVS Caremark Corp. spokesman Michael J. DeAngelis said many urban CVS locations have expanded their grocery selection in recent years in response to customer demand. Although the Rhode Island-based company, which has 7,200 locations, may have size and market clout, DeAngelis said the chain’s health and beauty products and pharmacy sales are “where we truly leverage our buying power.’’

He declined to comment on the profit margins for groceries, but noted that the company offers added savings through loyalty program discounts.

David McLean, a spokesman for the Tewksbury-based Demoulas supermarket chain, which operates 64 Market Basket stores in Massachusetts and New Hampshire and plans to open six more, said he was not surprised by the survey results because the 94-year-old chain strives to offer low prices.

“We do our very best working with suppliers, and we’re very fortunate having the support of a large number of customers,’’ McLean said. “We don’t complicate the shopping experience . . . there’s not gimmicks where we inflate prices, then offer double coupons. We respect our customer.’’

Although 10 of the supermarket items surveyed at Shaw’s were sale-priced, the chain had the highest prices of the three supermarkets. In some instances, its prices rivaled the pharmacies’. A pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, for example, cost $5.77 at Shaw’s and $6.29 at CVS.

A spokesman for Shaw’s Supermarkets Inc. declined to comment on the survey specifics, but said in an e-mail that inflation, transportation, and fuel prices have influenced its costs. The chain recently undertook a campaign to offer more aggressive sale pricing and discount promotions, cutting prices of products throughout its stores, the spokesman said.

Yet on the day of the recent survey, the same pint of Ben & Jerry’s cost $1.78 less at Stop & Shop than it did at Shaw’s. Quincy-based Stop & Shop Supermarket Co. officials could not be immediately reached for comment.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at