Report Favors Milk Sales at C-Stores

SEATTLE -- A study by a Washington State think tank found convenience stores are the best place for consumers to buy milk in the state.

The report, in fact, found Washington supermarket retailers to be among the most expensive in the nation for dairy products even though local dairy farmers get the second-lowest price in the country.

Dairy farmers quickly accused supermarket chains of gouging customers, saying grocery stores sell milk for up to four times more than the farmers get paid. "It's obviously not going into our pockets and it's coming out of the consumers'. So you are left to ask the retailers, 'Why the disparity?' " said Jay Gordon of the Washington Dairy Federation.

The milk study, by the Washington State Public Interest Research Group -- or WashPIRG, says the average price for a gallon in the Seattle-Tacoma area is $3.52. The national average is $2.78.

By contrast, the average price at Washington convenience stores is under $2.50.

"I think retailers know people are going to buy milk, that people might not think about the price of milk," said WashPIRG representative Deborah Robinson.

WashPIRG blames grocery stores, calling them price gougers that charge more for milk because they can. "Retailers know they can get away with it," Robinson said. "Grocery stores know they can do it."

But the Washington Food Industry, a lobby for major grocery chains, insists the study is faulty since it did not consider sale prices or discount card prices. It also says grocers make only 1 percent profit, leaving very little wiggle room.

The group explains: "It's virtually impossible to make deep discounts with high taxes and costs of doing business in our state."

WashPIRG also said it found that the store brand is usually the highest priced, even though it often comes from the same place as the brand sitting next to it.
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