I don’t want to alarm any of you, but we have a problem here in Milford, Utah.
Asparagus is $2.99 a lb.
So what, right?
I work in this small town in southern Utah. It’s not on the way to anything, and it’s not particularly scenic, and there’s not much to do here. Which is my point. The people who are in Milford are actually in Milford. They live here, work here, and go to school here. Few people ever simply… pass through.
And I grew up here in a place where Twinkies are $3.99 a box.
I love Twinkies.
Someone in the county puts together a weekly newspaper called the Beaver County Journal. In this newspaper you will find cute stories about the goings on of the area. You’ll find the usual wedding announcements, a few classified ads, someone going on a rant in some political opinion, maybe an obituary, and the ever popular listing of who was arrested this week. (Most people I know go to the arrest report first). Inside you will also find happenings at the schools within the county, and who won all the games.
[Side note: The Milford high school football report is always buried inside the last page with drab black & white, fuzzy pictures, while the Beaver football report is always a full page on the back cover with beautiful, full color pictures. If the editor of the newspaper is reading this, don’t think we haven’t noticed this indignity.]
And in Milford, medium shredded cheddar cheese is $5.99 per 32 oz. bag.
Most importantly, contained within the Beaver County Journal each week is the grocery ad.
The grocery ad? I hear you asking me, “But Darin, what is so interesting about a grocery ad?”
Bear with me as I expose Milford’s biggest secret. Yes, it is all about that grocery ad. And it’s more than just a grocery ad but a portal into an unbelievable conspiracy, a cabal that will shake everything we know and love about Milford, a plot which will unwind the very ties that bind us to this idyllic little place we call home.
An ad where inside it says ground beef is $3.69 a lb.
Last week a coworker brought to me something interesting. She brought me two grocery ads, one from Mike’s Foodtown (in Beaver) and the Sunshine Market (in Milford). “Take a look at this” she said.
We laid the two ads side by side. So what? They look almost identical to me. Until she asked me to look at the prices.
It was if a fist came directly out of that newsprint and punched me between the eyes.
“You mean if I buy strawberries in Beaver they are $4 for 2 lbs but if I stay here in Milford I have to pay $5 for 2 lbs? That doesn’t seem right! And London broil is only $2.49 a lb there and here it’s $3.49 a lb?”
The world stopped spinning and was starting to drop into the sun.
I try to be reasonable most of the time, but something was up. I needed answers.
I’ll take “Things I need to get to the bottom of” for 200, Alex.
Pork chops were $2.69 a lb and I needed to know why. Especially when the pork comes from Smithfield Foods – in Milford Utah no less.
Later that day I headed out to Milford’s only grocery store to demand answers to what had to be the greatest scandal ever to be uncovered in the history of this county. On my way I wondered why I was not accompanied by sirens, a bevy of reporters from the New York Times, and maybe a university brass band. And fireworks. Yes, it’s this big.
At times I can be a bit activist. I’ve been known to take on auto dealerships, retail stores, and even the used appliance industry. The grocery store in town was going to hear it from me in a most steely manner that will strike fear and respect into anyone present. I’m not to be trifled with.
Well that and I needed to buy cat food.
I found the store manager and asked her to take a look at my glorious and earth shattering discovery as I spread forth the two ads, once again side by side.
[Side note: The store manager at the Sunshine Market is a fantastic woman, very nice, and ultimately professional. It’s also important to note that every employee is courteous and helpful. I actually love this store.]
She explained to me we are more expensive than Beaver because we’re further from I-15 and the grocery delivery trucks charge more. She told me that for all Utah independent grocers in the Associated Foods network are delivered inventory from a giant warehouse located in Farr West, Utah. The further the distance, the more it costs. She also explained that based on the wholesale food costs, the independent owners set the prices in each store.
Hmm… yes but… well… damn… okay. Thank you.
This explains why brownie mix is $1.29 a box.
Easy come easy go. No conspiracy, no scandal, no activism. Like a deflated balloon I trudged back to the office to go back to work.
Shut down mode commencing.
But something was still eating at me so I decided to double check. I pulled up the weekly grocery ad from the Parowan Market, another small community but further away from Farr West than we are. I noticed pricing in their ad similar to that of the store in Beaver.
Wait, if they are more distant from the distribution point, shouldn’t they cost more? After all, this was the explanation for everything. My balloon was beginning to refill. At this point it was on. Using the Associated Foods website I checked everything.
And I kept going. On and on I went. Nearby stores. Distant stores. I drew lines on maps, I charted mileages, I pulled up websites. Then I developed a “cost index” for the front page of each store’s weekly ad from the week of October 17, 2018 using an weighted average of consistent items. Then I charted and graphed.
This is the best most of you are going to get from those fancy math and accounting degrees my mother paid for.
But now I know why mayo is $2.99 a jar. The conspiracy is back in full force. Among the findings:
- Distance from the Associated Foods distribution point has very little impact.
- Even in the most expensive city in Utah (Park City) grocery prices are much less than in Milford.
- Stores in smaller and more out-of-the-way places like East Carbon and Loa were among the lowest cost indexes in the state. Loa? Really?
- The store only 4 miles (Kent’s Plain City) from the distribution point wasn’t any different in pricing than many in more distant parts of the state.
- Even Todd’s Market in Minersville is less costly than Milford. I’m fairly certain the savings by shopping there will more than offset the gas to drive the short distance.
And most importantly…
- Milford is out of whack. We are far more expensive than any of these independently owned retail groceries. By a lot. We are the outlier. And comparing independently owned stores to corporate chain stores, our store in Milford is likely to be the most expensive grocery store in the state of Utah!
I know what you are saying… “Why are you doing this Darin?”
I’m not sure really. I’m just the messenger. I can say this… Growing up here I always heard comments that we should “support our local stores” and we should “keep our dollars in the community.” But this makes it hard, doesn’t it? I would like nothing more than for everyone to stay here and support our local businesses. They need us. We need them. We’re on the same team. We should stop giving our hard-earned dollars to Walmart and other such corporate mega-retailers, start shopping local, and support our community employers. But something needs to change. If they can do it in Loa they can do it here.
Kraft Mac & Cheese 5 packs are $5.99 and that’s just too much.