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October 28, 2013

What’s the Beef?

Filed under: Food/Groceries,Health,Retail — Edgar (aka MrConsumer) @ 5:48 am

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Edgar Dworsky For 25 years, Consumer World, the creator of Mouse Print*, has served readers with the latest consumer news, money-saving tips, and independent investigations. It is your generosity (and not advertising nor corporate contributions) that keeps Mouse Print* and Consumer World available as free consumer resources. So MrConsumer turns to you and humbly asks for your support again this year. Your gift will be most appreciated.

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.

SS Choice SS Select

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.

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  1. I didn’t read the “Select” in the second picture as fanciful. I think, in a way, it’s even more misleading, because it sounds like proper grammar rather than a grade of beef (as in “select one of the following choices, like strip steak or porterhouse,” etc.

    Comment by Jamie — October 28, 2013 @ 7:30 am
  2. Perhaps a refresher course in reading comprehension?

    Comment by JeopardyGeorge — October 28, 2013 @ 8:45 am
  3. I definitely would have glazed over the word “select” as something not characteristic of the steak itself. I read it as the grocer only offering certain or “select” types of New York strip steak for sell rather than all of their New York strip steak.

    That’s good to know for the next time I go grocery shopping. I typically just pay attention to the percentages rather than the labels. I still forget which beef is chuck, sirloin, or prime. I rather just see numbers so I know exactly what the fat percentage is.

    Comment by Wayne R — October 28, 2013 @ 9:09 am
  4. Not quite sure what the to-do is about here. The zone ad details were both labeled accurately for the zone in which the steaks were advertised. Not sure how this can be called “mouse print.” How about a “my bad” for racing to the store before carefully reading the ad. Or a “my bad” for inferring that the item advertised in one “zone” flyer was the same product being advertised in another. Sorry, Edgar; I usually can see your point of view on certain stuff–but not on this. 🙂

    Comment by CindyM — October 28, 2013 @ 9:53 am
  5. I don’t see anything wrong with these ads at all.

    But I do find it odd that grocers do this. Food Lion does this as well, go up the road 4 miles to a store in a different “zone” and you get different prices.

    Comment by Tina — October 28, 2013 @ 10:29 am
  6. It is misleading if you aren’t aware of the different Meat Grade Levels. Choice is made to deliberately stand out while while they hide the Grade Select in the ad copy.
    What I want to know is when did New York Strip start having a bone in? I don’t buy precut steaks in the store. I’ve been in food service since I was 14 and cutting steaks since I was 16. New York Strip never used to have a bone in. It was always boneless. They were the 1st steaks I learned to cut because they didn’t require a using a band-saw. Sounds like they found a new way to rip off the consumer here. Good article as always.

    Comment by Brody — October 28, 2013 @ 11:04 am
  7. Try zone pricing on gas stations. Cumby’s stations in my town will vary as much as 10 cents a gallon despite the two stations being a mile and half apart. One has competition and one does not.

    S&S is the most worthless grocery store in Massachusetts. Where I am located you can use Hannaford’s, Trucchi’s and Market Basket. Folks would be nuts to go to S&S.

    Comment by Rick — October 28, 2013 @ 11:24 am
  8. If you want a good steak you need to go to a mom and pop butcher shop. Sure you pay more, but you know you get better quality…

    ORRRRR if money is no object…

    10 bucks an ounce…

    Comment by Richard Ginn — October 28, 2013 @ 2:01 pm
  9. my opinion is more for zone pricing than selects of steak.
    one of the large drug stores in town, that have locations everywhere, have different prices within five miles. one location that is 24 hour has cheaper prices than the 9to9 location that has security gates and security bars during closed hours. the manager said the prices were higher to offset the shoplifting. his words not mine. same store name,same product, different prices on non sale items.

    Comment by tom gauvin — October 28, 2013 @ 8:32 pm
  10. I find these ads acceptable. If the two ads used the same photo of the steak and just changed the text I would be concerned. Since they are different and one uses the Choice shield, I think a reader of both ads might consider there is something else different about the two products. What is interesting to me is that both products appear to use the same seven digit product code. It’s not a UPC, so I guess it’s a company SKU, though I don’t understand why a company would use the same number for two grades of steak.

    Comment by Derlin — October 29, 2013 @ 2:57 pm
  11. The problem is with the grading system.
    People understand “good”, “better”, and “best”, but, some people are confused by “select”, “choice”, and “prime”. The describing word “select”, in this case, is an adjective, but could just as easily be a verb.
    Until the grading descriptions are changed, this will continue to be an issue.

    Comment by Jack — October 29, 2013 @ 7:08 pm
  12. WELLLL Derlin if the first photo said USDA prime could you tell the difference???

    Comment by Richard Ginn — October 30, 2013 @ 8:30 am
  13. I think this problem could have been easily avoided by the store adding the “USDA Select” shield to the latter advertisement, seeing as how the USDA Choice shield was present on the former.

    Comment by Vedran — November 1, 2013 @ 11:22 am
  14. Vedran, that would have been a good solution. I didn’t realize there was a “USDA Select” grade shield, but here’s a post describing USDA grading in more detail, along with images of the shields.

    Comment by Derlin — November 4, 2013 @ 2:13 pm

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