Should You Buy Groceries at Walmart?

Walmart store interior in Portland, Oregon, USA stock photo
artran / iStock.com

Grocery prices are soaring and, regardless of the impact of inflation, few of us are seeing our paychecks get any fatter. So the pressure is on to make the most of our money. This means resisting impulse buys, digging up coupons (and coupon codes) and keeping informed about where the best sales are happening. It also means hitting up bargain retailers for our food staples, including Walmart. But is Walmart, in particular, always the smartest bet?   

Find Out: 10 Things You Always (and Never) Should Buy at the Dollar Store
See: Should You Buy Groceries at Target?

In most scenarios, shopping for groceries and food at Walmart is a good idea — but look at the fine print of your situation, and consider whether the savings value is always present. 

“For instance, if you have to drive further out to visit a Walmart compared to another grocery store, you should evaluate if the savings are worth it, or if the extra distance cuts into those savings,” said Julie Ramhold, consumer analyst at DealNews.com. “But in general, most shoppers will find that groceries at Walmart can cost less overall, even for higher-end brands that will cost significantly more elsewhere, which means if you’re on a tighter budget, grocery shopping at Walmart can help you ensure your dollar goes further.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Consider Unit Price 

In addition to figuring in the cost of commuting to the mega-retailer, shoppers should also consider the unit price of Walmart’s stock.  

“Walmart definitely has a great number of deals but you want to make sure you’re getting the best price when you shop, so be sure to look at the price per unit, whether that’s an ounce, fluid ounce, pound, or whatever,” Ramhold said. “Then compare that to what else is available on the shelf, or even what you can find elsewhere.”

In some cases, even if a package costs more upfront, the price per ounce or pound will work out to be cheaper than a smaller, more affordable package. 

“As long as you can afford to buy the larger versions in those cases, you definitely should, as you’ll be saving money in the long run,” Ramhold said.

Products You Should Definitely Buy At Walmart 

Though consumers should always do a bit of homework ahead of time, and check out their local grocery store for sales, there are quite a few products that are always a great deal at Walmart. 

Make Your Money Work for You

Products That Adhere To Specific Diets

“Particularly on Walmart.com, they’ve made it a little easier to shop for items that fit certain diet lifestyles, including low calorie, plant-based, low carb, high protein, gluten-free, dairy-free, low sodium, low sugar, low fat, high fiber, vegan and nut-free,” Ramhold said. “This is especially helpful if you’re just starting out and not sure what foods you should be looking for yet.”

Generic Brands

“Walmart has its own store brands for a variety of products, and if you aren’t picky, you should definitely be looking at those when you can,” Ramhold said. “By shopping generic for items you don’t really care about, you’ll save more and be able to purchase the national brands you really want without feeling as much of a squeeze on your wallet.”

Exclusive Flavors 

“Walmart is one retailer that will often receive exclusive flavors of items, especially when it comes to seasonal products,” Ramhold said. “For instance, certain chips, candies, and even drinks may have flavors that can only be found at Walmart depending on the brand’s national campaign. If you’re on the hunt for a new or limited edition flavor of something and aren’t having any luck, be sure to check out the brand’s site to see if it’s exclusive to a particular retailer.”

Make Your Money Work for You

Big-Name ‘Healthy’ Food Brands

“Gone are the days when you could basically only find junk food at Walmart,” Ramhold said. “Now there are plenty of huge brands on tap that offer a ton of different healthy — or at least healthier — options. You can find things such as Hippeas chickpea puffs, Uncle Matt’s organic juices, Bob’s Red Mill bars, POM Wonderful juice, Joolie’s organic medjool dates, Quest Nutrition products, Nature’s Bakery, Silk, Skinny Pop, Justin’s nut butters, and so much more. Even better, these items are often much cheaper than what you would pay for the same product elsewhere.”

Products To Avoid Buying at Walmart 

You can almost always find a good or competitive deal on grocery items at Walmart, but there are some specific products that are best bought elsewhere — unless you think otherwise (or have an awesome coupon).  

Produce

“Whether it’s organic or not, your local Walmart may not have the greatest selection of produce,” Ramhold said. “Additionally, prices on organic produce may be higher, and the quality may be less-than-stellar as well. Because of that, produce might end up going off faster, which means you’ll end up wasting money if you have to toss it out.”

Maple Syrup

“True maple syrup is so much cheaper if you purchase from a warehouse club like Costco, so if this is something you enjoy, definitely save it for a Costco trip rather than Walmart,” Ramhold said. 

Organic Milk  

“This is another item that tends to be priced higher at Walmart than elsewhere, so if you prefer organic milk, you may want to shop around to find a better deal,” Ramhold said.

Great Value Items

“Reviews for everything from [Great Value] snack cakes and cookies to cereals and granola bars are lackluster at best,” Ramhold said. “In fact, in some cases, they’re downright abysmal, so if you’re looking to save money, it’s best to shop other store brand items and use the savings to spring for bigger brands.”

Rotisserie Chickens

“These are popular items because they can make for a quick weeknight dinner or as a shortcut in everything from pasta dishes to soups and salads,” Ramhold said. “However, the value for a Walmart rotisserie isn’t great, and the taste isn’t so good either according to some reviewers. Plus, if you shop at warehouse clubs like Costco and even Sam’s Club, you’ll get a way better value on a rotisserie than if you shop at Walmart.”

The Potential Downsides of Grocery Shopping at Walmart 

If you follow Ramhold’s expert advice, you should find yourself reaping only benefits by grocery shopping at Walmart. But note that Walmart is still a retailer that has its flaws, like any other.

“The only real possible downsides are the same as what you’ll find in most stores,” Ramhold said. “Mainly, you’ll be restricted to certain varieties of items, which may mean you don’t have the same selection you would elsewhere, but even so Walmart should still have a good selection of most products.”

It’s unlikely that shopping at Walmart will result in a loss of money — unless you let the product go to waste. 

“The only way it could really end up being a waste of money is if you purchase something perishable and then don’t consume it in time,” Ramhold said. “However, the good thing about Walmart is that the sizes of perishables are much more reasonable than if you were to shop at Sam’s Club, for instance. Unless you’re a very small household, you should be able to purchase small amounts of perishables with no worries.”

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About the Author

Nicole Spector is a writer, editor, and author based in Los Angeles by way of Brooklyn. Her work has appeared in Vogue, the Atlantic, Vice, and The New Yorker. She's a frequent contributor to NBC News and Publishers Weekly. Her 2013 debut novel, "Fifty Shades of Dorian Gray" received laudatory blurbs from the likes of Fred Armisen and Ken Kalfus, and was published in the US, UK, France, and Russia — though nobody knows whatever happened with the Russian edition! She has an affinity for Twitter.

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