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Vons, Ralphs Fire New Shots in Price War : Latest Discounting Is Good News for Shoppers

October 06, 1987|MARTHA GROVES | Times Staff Writer

Vons and Ralphs, which regularly trade off as the most-shopped supermarket chain in Southern California, escalated the war for the hearts and wallets of shoppers over the weekend by implementing price reductions.

Vons, based in El Monte, on Sunday trimmed prices at its 180 stores by 1% to 8% on "thousands of items," according to Stuart A. Rosenthal, senior vice president, marketing and merchandising. Also over the weekend, Compton-based Ralphs Grocery reduced by "approximately 5%" its prices on national-brand bakery goods, including bread and rolls, and snack items such as potato chips that are pre-priced by manufacturers, said Al Marasca, executive vice president of marketing.

The price discounting is more good news for Southland shoppers, who already are benefiting from the stepped-up doubling of coupons by most major chains.

In July, Ralphs, with 113 stores, joined Vons, Hughes and Safeway in offering to pay double on an unlimited number of manufacturers' coupons, prompting Alpha Beta to follow suit. Among the large food chains, Lucky Stores is a holdout that continues to forgo doubling coupons in favor of promoting itself as the overall low-price leader.

Emphasis on price is a switch for Vons, which generally considers its strength to be quality. For example, Vons carries U.S.D.A. choice beef, whereas most other chains carry ungraded meat.

"For the past year or so, we have been placing emphasis on the quality dimension," said Rosenthal of Vons. "We felt it was timely to place more emphasis on price."

Supermarket pricing was spotlighted in a recent survey by the California Public Interest Research Group, a consumer organization, showing that Lucky was the low-price leader among eight major Southland chains. Ralphs placed fourth and Vons fifth in that survey, taken July 11. It did not take into account such factors as quality or coupon programs.

Despite the hoopla surrounding various companies' pricing campaigns, shoppers should continue to make their own judgments about price and quality. Supermarket operators are quick to note that chains often make up the costs of programs such as double coupons by raising shelf prices.

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