Price Check: MacCracken vs. Kroger, We Do the Math

The culinary experience for a Miami student ranges from gourmet to microwavable. Still, I think we can all agree that grocery shopping on a college budget can be a trying experience. Why does food have to cost so much? Where can we get the most bang for our buck? And why must they put the chocolate right by the register?

Using my rookie detective skills and handy-dandy TI-30X, I tackled two of those questions by comparing the prices of frozen meals and other items at Miami’s Market Street at MacCracken and our local Kroger. Unless students have a meal plan and MUlaa to burn before graduation, prudent students can find dramatically lower prices on their microwavable favorites at Kroger.

During my investigation, I discovered that many of the items for sale in Market Street do not have labeled prices at all. However, this lack of transparency does not seem to delay customers, perhaps because of the market’s convenience. It is the only one in that section of campus and offers a much wider selection than the centrally-located Emporium. The “priceless” commodities included popular items like milk, yogurt, pints of ice cream, and most fruit, chips, and breads.

A handful of these had labels on the packaging, but it was unclear whether this was the price Miami would be charging. A customer could ask student workers for the prices of each of these items, but that would likely involve dragging all the items to the counter and waiting in line several times. Ain’t nobody got time for that.  I was assured by a Miami Dining customer service representative that they are currently working on labeling prices of every item in all of their campus locations. This is exciting considering how this has been an issue for at least four years now.

The “Monopoly Money” mindset, in which students choose to ignore prices completely because of the security offered by large meal plans, is also likely a contributing factor to there being less of a student uproar. Students living on-campus have Diplomat meal plans which discount them 30 percent in markets, while students living off-campus must pay full price (but no taxes!), according to Miami University’s Dining Services website.

“I think you should get the on-campus discounts as long as you’re a student no matter where you live as long as you have meal plan money!” remarked one junior. A valid argument, considering Miami University does not have sufficient space for most students to live on-campus for all four years.

I journeyed to the stores and not-so-subtly recorded the prices of culinary staples such as DiGiorno Pizza, Lean Cuisine meals, Stouffer’s Fettuccini Alfredo, and Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese.

With my battered calculator and a few Googled remedial math lessons, I determined that Miami had marked up prices an average of 120 percent, ranging from 196 percent for Lean Cuisine and 59 percent for Stouffer’s Macaroni and Cheese (hello, freshman fifteen). Even with the 30 percent discount on campus, the average mark-up was 54 percent, ranging from 11-107 percent in variance.

I also noticed that the price of a single apple was marked up $.40 by Miami, over double the price of an apple from Kroger. Twenty oz. bottles of ketchup at Kroger cost $1.16 less than Market Streets’ 16 oz. The price of Ben & Jerry’s was not listed at either store, but we’ll probably keep buying it regardless.

First glancing at this price discrepancy, it is easy to jump to the conclusion that Miami is taking advantage of students with limited shopping options.

On the other hand, it is not really fair to expect Miami to be able to compete with national chains like Kroger and Wal-Mart. According to a Miami financial analyst, the school has to purchase its products individually or in cases from convenient store suppliers. This process is more expensive than ordering products by the pallet or truckload as big name companies do, and drives up our MacCracken prices right off the bat. I’m inclined to believe this. Miami must know it could make and sell much more if it cut its prices.

I wish Miami’s markets were cheaper. I wish Kroger had MacCracken’s mind-boggling Luna and Clif Bar selection. But I also understand why things are the way they are.

For better or for worse, Market Street is the price we pay to be able to live on a campus and walk to the “local” grocer. We need them in order to stock our mini fridges, try new granola bars and to be able to run across the street for ice cream at 10 pm. You know, theoretically.

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