Soda Wars: $3.99 for a Case of Coke

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Last summer, the average price for a case of soda was $6.12 in grocery stores. Beverage manufacturers preferred it that way, before soda price wars broke out, with Wal-Mart charging $4 or $5 for a case of Coca-Cola, Pepsi, and other top brands, and grocery store competitors matching prices.

But for now at least, reports the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Wal-Mart is keeping prices low to pull in customers seeking deals on their favorite brands of soda and other mainstay products:

Wal-Mart’s soda price cuts are part of a broader strategy to reinforce its appeal to budget-minded shoppers, after an effort to emphasize private label items failed to work as well as the chain hoped.

“At the end of the day, its brands that drive traffic,” said J.P. Morgan analyst John Faucher.

Beyond the soda aisle, Wal-Mart also has offered 40-ounce containers of Heinz ketchup for $1, Tide detergent for $5, Colgate and Crest toothpaste for $1.50, and packs of 10 batteries for $6. The price gap between Wal-Mart and Target, one of its main rivals, widened in May as Wal-Mart cut prices.

“Clearly, the consumer is the winner,” said SunTrust Robinson Humphrey analyst Bill Chappell.

Indeed. Unless, that is, on the trip to pick up some cheap soda that consumer winds up strolling the aisles and bringing home all sorts of other stuff he hadn’t planned on buying.