Sometimes foods packed in the "giant" or "family" size may seem like the best buy. You may think that buying one large container will not cost as much as two or three smaller packages. But larger containers do not always end up costing you less than smaller ones. It is important to look at the cost per unit and compare this cost. The "unit price" tells you the cost per pound, quart, or other unit of weight or volume of a food package. It is usually posted on the shelf below the food. The shelf tag shows the total price (item price) and price per unit (unit price) for the food item.
You can save money when you compare the cost of the same food in different sized containers or different brands. For example, if you want to buy frozen orange juice you may find a 6-ounce can that cost $.64. The unit price for this small can is $3.42 per quart. A 12-ounce can of frozen orange juice in another brand may cost $.89. The unit price for the larger container of juice is listed as $2.38 per quart. Here, the larger container is cheaper per quart.
Foods that cost less per unit are not always the better buy. The big, economy size is not a good buy if you cannot store it properly. If you end up with leftovers that spoil or are thrown out, buying the larger size is not a good idea.
Unit pricing can help you decide what brand to buy. Store brands and little known brands often cost less than well-known national brands. The way the lower-priced brands look may be the only difference. (Be sure to check the Nutrition Facts panel on the food label to see if the nutrients are the same.) Sometimes these foods may vary in size, color, or texture more than the national brands. If you want a perfect peach half you may want to pay the price of a national brand. If you want sliced peaches to serve your child or as a quick snack, it may not matter if each slice is the same. You can save money when you compare the unit price of each of the canned peaches before you make your decision.
To test what you know, take the Quiz on Smart Shopping.
Adapted from: "Your Money's Worth In Foods," Human Nutrition Information Service, United States Department of Agriculture, Home and Garden Bulletin 183, September 1994.
If you have other questions about shopping for food, go to "Ask the Nutritionist."
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