Stop & Shop: Cheese From The Deli 66% More Expensive Than The Same Cheese On The Shelf

Reader J noticed the Cabot cheddar on Stop & Shop’s shelf carries a 66% markup when purchased from the deli department. Cabot Seriously Sharp Cheddar sells for $4.38 per pound on the shelf, while the exact same cheddar costs $7.29 in the deli department.

The store manager could not explain the price difference, but Cabot could. Cabot’s letter and the big cheese, after the jump…


The cheese on the shelf. Note the price per pound label.
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The cheese in the deli department with a significantly higher price per pound.http://consumermediallc.files.wordpress.com/2007/04/1cabot1-thumb.jpg?w=500&h=339Cabot sent reader J coupons worth almost $8, and this letter:
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When grocers markup a price, it is ostensibly because the item has been prepared and received added value, even though the preparation rarely justifies the exorbitant markup. There is no preparation here, nor is there any added value. This is the exact same cheddar, repackaged with a higher price tag. Before purchasing from a special department, check to see if the item is sold for less on the shelf. — CAREY GREENBERG-BERGER

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  1. razz4901 says:

    The mark up seems high but in the deli you have to hire a person to say how thick would you like the cheese, prepare the cheese, put it in a bag, print a label and tell you to have a nice day…I guess the bottom line is buy the prepackaged stuff and save $3 a pound….

  2. Nygdan says:

    This isn’t something that is sliced. its the same block of cheese, sold as is, but in a bin around the deli counter. Its not the large blocks that you ask someone to slice for you behind the counter.

  3. traezer says:

    Ive never understood why anyone buys the stuff in grocery store delis. Ive worked at two delis, and everything in the deli you can usually find else where in the store. Why wait for someone to slice your ham when you can skip the inconvenience of waiting and grab a package of presliced ham off of the shelf? Seriously people! And for the love of all that is holy, why pay the deli clerk 6 bucks to make you a sandwhich when you can use that 6 bucks and buy the exact same ingredients and make your own sandwichs for less? (and if youve seen how unsanitary most deli workers are, you would never go near one again.)

  4. formergr says:

    I’m confused– the letter just talks about a cheese texture issue, not a price discrepancy. What did J write to them?

  5. Hoss says:

    Ok, I spent about 4 minutes trying to figure out what the letter has to do with the price of cheese…but at least I figured out how to get $8 from Cabot.

  6. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    Another sneaky way to suck more money out of your wallet. I can buy a pound of cellophane wrapped American singles from the dairy case for $1.99, or I can go over to the deli and get it for $3.99. Same cheese, except the $1.99 slices are hermetically sealed to last for a year :P

    Also be careful when buying “pre-sliced” deli meats. It’s the same stuff from the deli that they slice beforehand and then vacuum pack and put in a separate case for when the deli is close. Same stuff, but it’s about $2.00 more per pound.

    People always ask me why I worry about this stuff, but if I shopped the way a lot of my friends shop, I’d be spending about 35% more on my food bill.

    And always, ALWAYS read the unit-price tags. The bigger container isn’t always the best deal.

    And yes, that response contained nothing whatsoever relevant to the question posed! A total form letter if there ever was one!

  7. XianZhuXuande says:

    @formergr: Read the whole letter.

  8. Scazza says:

    Am I the only one who noticed that the block of cheese is 0.725lbs of cheese (which is 328.85g) while the other pack is 226g. Could that be the price difference?

  9. Scazza says:

    god I am such a moron, completely ignore what I say above (come on scazza, research before you make a fool of yourself!)

    Yeah, it boils down to 0.969 cents/gram for the cheap one and 1.6 cents/gram for the expensive one…

  10. what the hell does “the weight per pound” mean?

  11. Nygdan says:

    I should say that the ones in the deli bin are usually received as large blocks, then they are cut into smaller blocks, wrapped, have a label slapped on them, and then a pricing sticker gets put on. You don’t request it though, its done and then placed out in the bin all together.

    So what they must be saying is happening is that, the deli department purchases large blocks of the cheese, some are set aside for slicing on request, and others are cut into smaller blocks, wrapped and priced, and set out in the bin. Since the deli is paying the same price for the block, regardless of whether they offer it up for slicing or for cutting into smaller blocks, the price is the same. Whereas the pre-packaged blocks out in the regular aisles were ordered by a different department, probably at a different price.

  12. Welcome_to_Oakas says:

    It seems to me the pricing is an issue for Stop & Shop and not Cabot.
    BTW, Cabot also makes a Harpoon IPA flavored cheddar that I recommend to you beer-types out there.

  13. formergr says:

    @XianZhuXuande: Oof, thanks. I sort of tuned out after the long involved explanation of the effects of freezing on cheese and the subsequent cheese-cutting description, and didn’t notice the rest.

  14. OnoSideboard says:

    For what it’s worth, I’m happy to pay a little extra to get my cheeses and meats sliced super-thin the way I like. The pre-sliced cheese in the dairy department is usually an ounce per slice (with over 100 calories and usually around 8-10g of fat), which is more cheese than I like on a sandwich. And for lunchmeat, I wouldn’t eat any of that crap other than Boars Head brand, which doesn’t come pre-packaged.

    PLUS, as a hot single gal, I can’t eat a pound of cheese or lunchmeat before it goes bad.

    In conclusion, the deli department rules!

  15. GitEmSteveDave says:

    @dwayne_dibbly:
    Usually the pre-packaged “cheese” is actually “Cheese Food” or some variation. It’s not the same “real” cheese that the deli guys slice. There is a difference in flavor and texture. Read the label next time your in the aisle. It sometimes reads CHEESE and then in lower font and lighter color “food product”.

    I’ve been both Deli and grocery(two different unions) and always joked that the reason my cheese went bad was thta I didn’t feed it enough “cheese food”.

  16. catnapped says:

    @Welcome_to_Oakas: Ahol(e)d is more than happy to rip it’s customers off wherever they can.

  17. GitEmSteveDave says:

    Sorry, but also, the cheese on the shelf is normally vacuum sealed with a preservative gas, giving it a longer shelf life. The large blocks the deli or appy dept slice by hand are either sealed by hand with shrink wrap, and have a shorter shelf life, whereupon they’re sometimes pulled and inspected, and barring spoilage, re-wrapped, OR they are vacuum sealed minus the preservative gas, and also have a shorter shelf life. Both ways, it involves actual labor, and lower profit margins, thus the price difference.

  18. jgodsey says:

    re: formergr – the letter just talks about a
    > cheese texture issue, not a price discrepancy.

    I was told by the deli staff that their stuff was ‘better’ or older or some nonsense and the texture was different. THAT’S what I asked them. if there was indeed a difference BETWEEN the products. they said that if i noticed a difference it was an aberation.

    re: GitEmSteveDave
    sorry that’s a usurious markup for just cutting and rewrapping into the SAME shapes. I worked the deli before – it’s not like they are passing that profit to the cutter.

    and if there were actually a difference in product Cabot should have pointed it out.

  19. Grrrrrrr, now with two buns made of bacon. says:

    @GitEmSteveDave: I know the stuff in the dairy case is “processed cheese food,” so if the stuff in the deli is acutally real cheese and thereby different stuff, I am forced to retract my statement.

    Gouda night, and Gouda evening.

    (Still, even processed cheese food makes a damned good grilled-cheese sandwich..or grilled-cheese-food sandwich.)

  20. imajoebo says:

    As someone who worked in a deli in college, I can say there are minor differences. The most obvious, well noted here, is that the deli cheese arrives in large blocks and must be cut, wrapped, and weighed. Also, while all the cheese may start out in huge blocks before processing, the individual packs are almost always less mature. The sales volume is too high to age it even one extra day. And that volume is reflected in the price, too.

    A really good aged cheddar should be a bit crumbly. The deli cheese almost always crumbles well. The prepacked cheese is the high volume item, and is cut and packaged as early as possible, so there’s a fair amount of “flexibility” in the block. In fact, they can be pretty pliable. (There was a batch of the Jalapeño Jack that was almost vulcanized last November!)

    All that said, I have a couple packages of the Cabot Hunter prepacked in the fridge, but I primarily use that for chili. It’s a very good tasting cheese. If I’m serving cheese and crackers I’ll buy from the cheese case – and usually the “special reserve” wax wrapped if I get the Cabot.

    And remember the golden rule of buying cheddar: you know a really good cheddar by how bad it smells.

  21. Henri says:

    I know “weight per pound”…I only weigh 12 ounces per pound, which makes me a lot slimmer than I look.

  22. FLConsumer says:

    I’m with OnoSideboard. Being single, buying the larger blocks of cheese and pre-packaged deli meats is a waste of money for me, as it’ll go stale/bad before I would use all of it. I prefer to have food as fresh as possible, so I end up stopping by the grocery store about 2-3x a week.

  23. LAGirl says:

    @dwayne_dibbly: mmmmm….grilled cheese sammiches. i like mine with ham + tomato on whole wheat bread. dang. now i have a big craving for a grilled cheese sammich!

  24. lordargent says:

    dwayne_dibbly says: Another sneaky way to suck more money out of your wallet. I can buy a pound of cellophane wrapped American singles from the dairy case for $1.99

    Eww American “cheese”.

    Extra sharp cheddar cut fresh from the block, failing that, cheddar slices wrapped in cellophane.

  25. JDAC says:

    @lordargent: I know American Cheese is nothing of the sort, and when I buy it I go in disguise and use the self checkout lane.. but damn if it isn’t just perfect for a burger, or the aforementioned grilled cheese sammich!

    I’m as much a cheese snob as the next, but there’s nothing wrong with slumming it under the right circumstances.

  26. modernbeat says:

    Many grocery stores deli counters will slice anything you purchase in the store for free. If you want ham, cheese, or bread sliced to your request, just select the item from the shelves, bring it to the deli counter, and ask them to slice it. I have never been charged extra for this service.

  27. spacehaven says:

    I can almost understand the overhead of running a deli justifying the price: Wages of the deli employees, real estate, deli equipment, safety training and inspections, extra insurance…

    You could even argue that, for those of us who don’t use a deli, should be grateful that they tack this cost directly on to the price of the deli goods, rather than spread that cost out over the non-deli cheese, or even spreading it out over all the products.

  28. Welcome_to_Oakas says:

    @catnapped:
    That explains it, I forgot SnS is an Ahold chain! The markup is to pay for the next ‘accounting irregularity’!

  29. Ran Kailie says:

    @dwayne_dibbly:

    Maybe its just me, but the cheese I get sliced behind the counter tastes a hell of a lot different then that nasty Kraft singles junk, even the texture is different.

  30. aiken says:

    So these two cheeses are identical, other than one weighing more, having a different label, and having been hand cut, price-labeled, and wrapped at the store, and the store wants to charge more for one of them? This is indeed an outrage.

  31. tazewell78 says:

    It’s called price discrimination…charging a different price for the same commodity based on location, time, etc. It’s perfectly legal, and it capitalizes on nimrods who don’t know the difference. The Freakonomics boys had something on this, where their book was on an entrance display at a college bookstore for full price, but on its normal spot on the shelf, it had the 30% off bestseller discount. Tim Harford also details this phenomenon in ‘The Undercover Economist’. If you see something at the entrance to a grocery store, check the aisle in which it normally resides and it’ll probably be cheaper. Also, if you shop at a chain of grocery stores, go to a location in an area where the per-capita income is lower. By the way, I love reading about the folks on this website who spend hours haggling for a few bucks…you have me and the rest of the econ faculty in stitches. Keep up the inefficient work!