The cost of living in the Pacific Northwest has a reputation of being high--I was reminded (though not surprised) that moving from South Dakota would involve a big cost of living increase. Housing is definitely more expensive, as is gasoline. However, our utilities are cheaper, and our food bill is significantly less. The produce is better and the selection in general is better. My eyes about popped out of my head when I paid $1.79 for a gallon of milk recently. We were still paying about 60 cents more in Sioux Falls last month, and that was if we went to (gulp) Sam's Club (we're glad to be going to Costco).
My father (in the grocery business) said that prices will probably going lower in the coming months because of price wars. The Northwest has some big players in the grocery business trying to flex their muscles and create their mark in the marketplace. Costco is a big Northwest company. Sam's Club/Walmart is trying to make its way around here, and they have the resources to do it. WinCo is an aggressively priced warehouse-style, no frills chain. Safeway's size and willingness to go below cost on certain items to draw customers is a big player--at which we will have to take a closer look as we move our household to a restrictive diet to help our oldest daughter (more on this at a later date). Top Foods/Haggen and Albertson's also seem willing (forced) to compete. We also have a Trader Joe's and Metropolitan Market nearby. Fred Meyer draws us in because one can buy just about anything there. They have good prices (they probably rank in the middle), good specials, and we can (and often do) walk there. Fred Meyer also gives loyalty rebates and gas discounts. King County is a very competitive grocery market. With no food tax in Washington (my dear wife and I advocated for dropping the food tax in South Dakota--to no avail), one can feed their family well on a tight budget. The capitalist in me is pleased to watch this market for markets at work.
I often wondered with my father about why groceries were so expensive in Sioux Falls. We hypothesized that transportation costs and lack of competition drove prices up. Wal-Mart and Hy-Vee dominate the market in Eastern South Dakota. Each retailer has their market niche (Wal-Mart-price; Hy-Vee-service) These two big chains have some meager competition from Sunshine Foods, Econo Foods and local independent grocers (a dying breed in Washington, my father informed me). King County dwarfs the entire state of South Dakota in population--more people probably creates more competition.
I might develop an expanded anecdotal comparison at a later date as I learn more about specific costs. I really am a geek.