When you buy groceries, chances are you do the bulk of your shopping - perhaps all - at a supermarket or discount warehouse. No need to call up Procter & Gamble for a box of Tide or Smucker for jam.
The same pattern, increasingly, holds true for mutual funds.
Low-cost fund "supermarkets" offer hundreds of funds from dozens of fund families, and you throw them into one cart - no separate accounts at Janus, Warburg Pincus, and Invesco. Returns appear on a single monthly statement.
"It's the way to go - the no-load, no-transaction-fee programs at the discount brokers," says Kirk Kazanjian, of Wall Street Advisors in Tulare, Calif.
In his new book, "Buying Mutual Funds for Free" (Dearborn Financial Publishing), Mr. Kazanjian points to six companies as leading fund supermarkets: Accutrade, Charles Schwab, Jack White, Muriel Siebert, and Waterhouse Securities.
"Those six stand out in that they have clearly the largest number of funds and the most advanced programs" and services, he says.
The trend levels the playing field between big fund houses like T. Rowe Price and small ones that may be equally worthy of investor dollars.
And as investors latch on, fund companies are moving to adapt. Big fund houses, from Vanguard to Smith Barney, aim to become supermarkets themselves. Fidelity's discount brokerage, selling funds from Invesco, Dreyfus, and others, makes Kazanjian's A-list.
Meanwhile, the big fund families are also joining small ones in selling their funds through multiple outside markets.