Prior to 1988, Walmart wasn’t in the grocery business, which is wild because Walmart absolutely dominates the modern grocery industry. The chain is easily the top grocer in the country, with sales of about $341 billion in 2020 and a 26% market share. What’s deceptive about that market share is how Walmart controls some geographical areas. In some places, Walmart accounts for 90% of all grocery sales. Walmart transformed how we buy our food, and the reason is simple: Walmart offers high-quality grocery items at really great prices. Add in the convenience of being able to buy your groceries where you buy pretty much all your other stuff and there’s really no mystery as to the store’s popularity.
But nothing in this world is perfect. While Walmart is a great choice for buying most of your groceries, there are a few things you should make the effort to buy elsewhere for a variety of reasons ranging from pricing (yes, even Walmart gets beat on price sometimes) to quality. If you’ve got the option, here are the things you should buy anywhere but your local Walmart.
Almost every major grocery store chain has developed a “store brand” in recent years. These brands are often terrific options, as they’re cheaper than national brands while often (though not always) offering similar quality. Walmart’s private label, Great Value is no exception. Great Value items are definitely cheaper than brand name stuff, and get the job done, quality-wise, for the most part.
That doesn’t mean they’re your best option. Compared to other “private label” store brands, Great Value tends to get “meh” reviews from shoppers, and it doesn’t even land on most “best of” lists for generic grocery products. Here, you’re better off buying name brands or getting your generics elsewhere unless the low prices are your only motivating factor.
Produce is always tricky. Even when in-season, getting fruits and veggies from one part of the world to another is a logistical challenge, and selecting produce that’s fresh, plump, and delicious instead of wilted, browning, and gross isn’t easy. It’s no surprise that it’s also a job that most large supermarkets don’t manage well, but Walmart Supercenters do a very bad job of it in general. They rank at the bottom of any review of supermarket produce. At the same time, despite Walmart’s reputation for low prices, their produce is often more expensive than at other stores, meaning you’ll pay more for mediocre fruits and vegetables. Again, the convenience factor is powerful, but consider buying your produce elsewhere.
There are two types of people in the world: Those who think something vaguely maple flavored and loaded with high fructose corn syrup counts as “maple syrup” and those who know the difference between golden and very dark varieties. If you’re among the latter group, you know there are few things more expensive by volume than this magical pancake elixir—and that is especially true at Walmart, where real maple syrup will routinely be nearly twice as expensive as some other retailers. Unless you literally have warm pancakes on a plate at home waiting for an emergency syrup delivery, get it anywhere except Walmart.
Whether it’s organic milk or produce, Walmart just isn’t the place to buy it. Organic food is always more expensive than the pesticide-laden, factory-farmed stuff, but as a rule it’s even more expensive at Walmart. Everything from baby spinach to bananas can be found elsewhere for less money when it comes to organic food. It’s even worse for milk, where Walmart’s competitors beat its prices by insane margins of more than a dollar per half gallon.
Grocery stores in general are never going to be your best bet for prepared foods. You don’t pick up a rotisserie chicken at the grocery store because it’s the best; you pick it up because it’s warm, it smells good, and you have a hungry family waiting to pounce on you the moment you walk through the door and all you want to do is nap. That being said, buying your rotisserie chicken at Walmart should only be an option when you’re about to perish from exhaustion. Not only are Walmart’s chickens tiny compared to other store offerings, they’re also routinely ranked at the bottom in terms of taste and customer satisfaction.
If you don’t bake a lot, you probably don’t think about vanilla extract ... ever. And that’s how it should be! If you do bake, you know that vanilla extract is incredibly expensive. There are synthetic alternatives that are fine, but if you take your baking seriously, you don’t want to deal with vanillin or something similar. You want the real deal made in Africa and shipped to your store via expensive, laborious routes. The pure vanilla extract at Walmart is the same stuff you’ll find anywhere else, it will just be more expensive—close to twice as expensive as some other places.
Whether you regard chips and other snack foods as optional luxuries or absolutely essential for a happy life, one fact is clear: You can get them for a lot less money if you don’t buy them at Walmart.
Chips are chips. This is one item you can literally buy anywhere and get the exact same product no matter the price, which means that a bag of Doritos from a dollar store offers the same gluttonous experience as one purchased at Walmart, with the only difference being the extra money riding on your hip after the purchase.
Walmart has incredible power due to its market share, and it uses that power to lower prices on almost everything in the store. Read that again: almost everything. One category where its prices aren’t the best is meat. Ground beef and other butcher options are more expensive at Walmart. You can find meat of similar (or better) quality at many of Walmart’s competitors for much cheaper—and Walmart doesn’t exactly get high grades for its quality, either, as several beef recalls over the last few years attest.
Walmart also struggles in the fish department, with high prices and low reported quality being the consistent theme. On top of that, they get poor grades for sustainability practices and aren’t too picky about the policies and practices of the suppliers they use. Bottom line: If you’re looking for a nice salmon fillet for dinner, buy it anywhere but Walmart.