I was excited to try out Grocery Pal, a free app from Twicular. I haven’t found a supermarket shopping list app that really works for me yet, and Grocery Pal promised an extra slick feature that had me intrigued: Integration with your local supermarkets’ circulars, so that you can learn about in-store specials and promotions while building your list.
Unfortunately, while there are seeds of greatness in Grocery Pal, what actually grows at this point is nothing but weeds—and I’m allergic to weeds.
When you first launch the app, you enter your zip code; Grocery Pal then provides a list of local supermarkets. So far, so good. I added a couple of stores and was able to browse their promotions by category, which worked fairly well. If you’re interested in building your shopping list based on what’s on sale, the app works pretty decently: You can browse the discounted foods, see details about the food (and the savings), and of course add them to your shopping list.
But when it’s time to assemble your shopping list from scratch, Grocery Pal gets a little less friendly. I tap in the first item—”chocolate milk”—and then tap to save. But if I want to know about promotions available for the newly-added item, I must tap into it again in my grocery list, and then tap on “Price Comparison by Stores.” Of course, doing so for chocolate milk only brought up a list of various permutations of non-chocolate milk, since Grocery Pal can only show you pricing information for foods that are currently discounted in your grocers’ circulars.
For “chocolate milk,” the app found unhelpful results, but with many foods it will find nothing at all. What’s worse, though, is that Grocery Pal sometimes doesn’t find foods that are actually available at one or more of your area stores, at a discounted price. That’s because of poor labeling—which I suspect isn’t entirely the app’s fault: My search for “Multigrain Cheerios” came up empty, but when I browsed cereals, I found “General Mills Cereal.” That item’s detail indicated the promotional rate applied to regular, Honey Nut, and Multigrain Cheerios, as well as Fiber One. But since Grocery Pal searches only on the title field, it didn’t find that useful entry.
Browsing within the app can present similar challenges. At first, I didn’t find that “General Mills Cereal” entry, since I was browsing under “Breakfast & Cereal.” When I did find it, it was separately classified under the far more generic (and far less useful) label “Grocery.”
The disappointment continued. While browsing, I saw deals on various Pampers products. But I wanted to compare the discount being offered on a small box of diapers with the per-diaper price on a regularly-priced larger box (before I realized the app only had pricing details on discounted items). So I went to my main shopping list and searched for “Pampers,” tapped the poorly-named “Add to Today” button, went back to my shopping list, found the entry, and finally taped the “Price Comparison by Stores” button.
And then I got the by now too-familiar message: “No matching specials found for current item.” Even when I searched for the exact product name (“Pampers Big Pack”), I then had to choose from multiple similar options (“Pampers Big Back,” “Pampers Big Pack Diapers,” “Pampers® Big Pack® Diapers,” and so on). And when I chose one at random to compare prices, the products listed to compare with toothpaste and an Alli starter pack.
I want to love Grocery Pal, but frankly, the app frequently seems like a cruel practical joke stretching on too long. Clearly it needs dramatic improvements to search, and the app would go from laughable to laudable if it could get more data, and the ability to check or compare prices even for items not currently on sale.
All that said, if you’re a coupon clipper and circular junkie, the app’s browsable version of your neighborhood stores’ weekly discounts alone is a pretty clutch feature.
[Lex Friedman is a frequent contributor to Macworld.]