It is, or should be common knowledge that some supermarket chains “zone price.” That means the price of items can vary from one neighborhood to another, usually depending on the level of local competition.
Stop & Shop, a large regional chain in the Northeast, uses zone pricing so it was no surprise that one of its big featured items recently was advertised at different prices in different stores.
What seemed like a very good price reduction, 40% off on porterhouse steaks (usually $11.99/lb, now $7.19) was actually lower two towns over where it was advertised for only $4.99 a pound.
MrConsumer raced to the meat counter to look at the $4.99 steaks but was immediately disappointed because the steaks were not well-marbled — a sign they would not be a very flavorful or tender steak.
The reason these steaks were cheaper also became apparent — they had a “Select” sticker on the package.
Most beef sold at retail is graded by the USDA. The highest grade is “Prime” followed by “Choice” and then “Select.” While “Select” steaks may be healthier because they are less fatty, they are likely not as tasty, tender, and juicy as a “Choice” or “Prime” steak.
If you look back at the advertisements above, you will see the USDA Choice shield on the steak on the left, but it is missing from the steak on the right. The steak on the right says “Select Fresh Bone-in New York Strip Steak, …” The average person would probably have skipped over the word “Select” because it appears to be used fancifully (like “hand-picked”) rather than indicating that the advertised steak is USDA Select grade.
While one might reasonably expect the advertised price to vary from one location of a chain to another, one would not expect the grade or quality of the same advertised product to be different as well.