Had you gone shopping in New York City instead of Washington on June 14, you could have:
Paid 80 cents less for a 10-ounce jar of frozen coffee.
Paid 50 cents less for 1 pound of all-meat wieners.
Paid 40 cents less for five pounds of all-purpose flour.
Paid 37 cents less per pound for rump roast.
The list goes on.
Of 35 items in a market basket survey, 28 were higher in Washington than in New York - 17 of them by 10 cents or more per item. Only two, dried beans and cabbage, cost the same in both cites. Of the five items that did costs less here, two were on special.
The same list was shopped by food editors in 22 American cities. Washington's total market basket, $42.72, was the highest of any city in the continental United States. The total was higher, however, in Anchorage and Honolulu. Portland, Ore., Chicago and Little Rock, Ark., trailed Washington among mainland cities.
The Washington market basket cost $3.73, or 9.6 percent, more than the same 35 items cost a year ago. This is less than double digit increases the Consumer Price Index showed for calendar 1978, but the cost of the food editors' market basket actually decreased in two other East Coast cities, Philadelphia and New York, and climbed only 4.6 percent in Boston.
Representatives of Giant and Safeway, the two dominant supermarket chains in this area, said there was nothing new to explain the results of this survey. Washington has had the most expensive or second most expensive market basket of continental U.S. cities for the past five years.
"If you were doing a suurvey on housing, it would be the same thing," said Ernie Moore, a Safeway spokesman.
"The cost of living here is high. Our labor costs are high. Rent is high. Freight costs have been going up particularly. Our energy costs are the highest or second highest of all the Safeway divisions."
Moore denied that lack of competition here was a factor. In the Washington area, Safeway and Giant account for more than 60 percent of supermarket sales. "I think the competition is very strong here," Moore said. In the past, Giant officials have expressed similar sentiments.
However, while the survey is designed to make a market basket from the lowest-priced items in three competing chains within each city, Safeway and Giant have no other effective chain-store competition within the District. There is only a single A&P, in Spring Valley close to the Maryland line. It is not a valid shopping alternatives for most Washingtonians.
The supermarket industry decries food price comparisons. In the industry's view, they are not comprehensive enough to reflect the total pricing picture in a store that may carry 10,000 or more items. They do not make allowances for variation in quality or reflect differences in the cost of doing business from city to city, factors such as those mentioned by Safeway's Moore. On the other hand, Robert Krughoff, editor of Washington Consumers Checkbook, told a White House conference on Food prices recently that his group found "stores that were low priced a couple of years ago and last summer are still low priced. There's a certain stability."
In Washington, 18 of the 35 items cost of the same at Safeway and Giant. In New York, no more than seven were the same price at any two chains.
The cost of instant coffee here had decreased (by 50 cents) compared to June 1978. Bread, beans, bacon and cabbage were lower. The price of rice was the same.All other items not on sale cost more.
With all the publicity about beef price increases, it was no surprise that sirloin steak cost 55 cents per pound more than a year previously, but so did a pound of tomatoes. Ice cream was up 50 cents a half-gallon. The increase for cheese, another dairy product, was 22 cents. Two other staples rose sharply as well. A five-pound bag of flour cost 25 cents more; five pounds of sugar was 16 cents more.
In the national comparison, Washington had the high price or was tied for high, for five items: margarine, flour, Special K cereal, sugar and coffee.
The survey is coordinated and compiled by Ann McDuffie, food editor of the Tampa (Fla.) Tribune. Whatever if does not show, the survey does provide a candid snapshot of the price of popular, national-brand items in specific cities on a specfic date. A low price comparison is used because research has shown that about two-thirds of all shoppers buy groceries at two or more stores every week.
Whether the gasoline crisis changes that statistic remains to be seen. It seems certain to contribute to higher prices in next year's survey. CAPTION: Chart, The Market Basket