The Great Milford Grocery Conspiracy: Part One – The Exposé

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.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.Weekly ad

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.]

Associated-FoodsShe 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.

Green River

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.Cost Index Chart

This is the best most of you are going to get from those fancy math and accounting degrees my mother paid for.

Sorry mom.

Cost Index Graph

But now I know why mayo is $2.99 a jar. The conspiracy is back in full force. Among the findings:

  1. Distance from the Associated Foods distribution point has very little impact.
  2. Even in the most expensive city in Utah (Park City) grocery prices are much less than in Milford.
  3. 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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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…
  6. 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.




12 Comments Add yours

  1. Janet says:

    It’s sad that these stores are so costly.
    I don’t like Wal-mart, but the prices for food are way to high at these small stores. If another food store were to move into these towns and their prrices were lower thee others would be forced to Lower theirs.
    Not to alarm anyone, Mikes you need to watch closely at the cost. They have a bad habit of charging more then what the price on the shelf says.


  2. not sure says:

    Here’s a kicker. Add “sell by” dates in the prices and see what kind of shit show we’ll stirred up. Lol.


  3. Sara McDermott says:

    Love this!! I do agree that we should try and stay local when possible. I have worked there and Sharon is great. I think that when the owners don’t live in the community that they are servicing, they simply have no idea. From my understanding they pick and chose how or what the price will be. A little like gas price wars.

    I have since moved out of town, but went there the other day and I was saddened to see how empty it was (even tho they were puttingout frieght) and also how items they used to carry, they no longer had.

    Basically you want a good deal you need to shop the weekly ad and not stray from it. Good luck to the little community and remember sometimes are not as bad as they seem and please support them the best you can or it will be gone and then you will no longer have the choice.


  4. Holly Williams says:

    I worked at sunshine and if the owner found out you shopped somewhere else you would get punished ( cut you work hours). If a customer complained they would get band from the store. That is just a couple of things, they bring in tobacco products trout of state and jack up the price, big no no.


  5. Jody Young says:

    Unfortunately, I look at this store as a large 7-11 convenience store. I only shop here when I have to. I’ve tried many times to shop local but either the items are priced too high or they are expired or they are out or don’t carry what I prefer in the first place. The staff have always been courteous and the owner once reimbursed me for damage done to my car after a runaway grocery cart slammed into it on a very windy day. I hope Darren’s blog results in some needed changes as I’d like to keep my money local.


  6. Jdm sensai says:

    Can we just talk about the fact that everytime i buy bread products from sunshine its moldy on the bottom? Or that when my wife worked there she was instructed to scratch the expiration dates off of the milk jugs??


  7. CINDY M says:

    I’m from out of town but I visit 3 or 4 times a year. And you do have to watch the register price at Mike’s in Beaver or you get charged differently.


  8. McKenna says:

    Hey Darin,
    Try Joe’s Main Street Market in Panguitch! The mark ups are crazy there. I applaud your findings. This is a real problem! But seriously, try Panguitch. It’s small town and touristy, and apparently that equivalents crazy expensive groceries. Good work!


    1. I wanted to check into Joe’s in Panguitch but I had trouble accessing their online ad. Disappointing since I thought it would give us some good comparatives.


  9. McKenna says:

    Darin, feel free to contact me. That’s where my family lives and I grew up! Plenty of Panguitch people were sharing your post commiserating the high grocery prices there too. I’m sure there’d be people willing to go into the store and give you prices. Also I’d love to do something to change this. I’m a masters student at the U and I would love to do this for my MRP. Let me know if you’d be willing to let me contact you about this. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. McKenna, it seems the Panguitch store does not publish their ad online. I’d like to see it. If possible could you take a pic of the front page and message it to me on my FB account? I could update the charts including Panguitch. (In a perfect world the ad from 10/17 but any ad will do).

      And if you need anything for your MRP just let me know.


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