Plenty of consumers open their hearts and wallets to a grocery store that has a reputation for high-quality foods, and then never shop anywhere else.
In fact, Jim Abbott, a sales and marketing manager in Cleveland, Ohio, probably speaks for a lot of people when he says: “I avoid the discount grocery stores like the plague, only going in if I’m in a pinch.”
He says he goes to Heinen’s Grocery Store, a supermarket chain in Greater Cleveland and Chicago. “While Jif peanut butter is the same, regardless of the retailer, I much prefer a high-end grocery store with staff wearing uniforms and who are willing to help find you what you need,” Abbott says.
Abbott has clearly given this some thought, but for consumers blindly buying groceries from a favorite store and flashing condescending looks at its competitors, it couldn’t hurt to see what else is out there.
After all, groceries aren’t cheap. According to 2014 figures from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, if you’re a family of four with older children (between ages 6 and 11), you’re probably spending $1,064.60 a month.
Assuming you aren’t a true supermarket snob — and we’re using the term good-naturedly — you may want to add these notations to your shopping list the next time you’re planning to stock your pantry.
Clear your mind of stereotypes. It isn’t your imagination: You probably are drawn to certain grocery stores because of the stereotype they represent, says Sue Reninger, a managing partner at RMD Advertising, a Columbus, Ohio, firm that specializes in food marketing.
“Kroger shoppers are considered smart, savvy and traditional. Wal-Mart shoppers are regarded as penny-wise and traditional blue-collar America,” she says. “Whole Foods shoppers are traditionally thought of as DINKS — dual-income, no kids — and hyper health-conscious, well-educated Americans.”
She adds that each retail brand provides not only food for their shoppers, but emotional nourishment, too.
Dave Cannon, a business and nonprofit consultant who founded Solution Bank, has seen firsthand the emotional component of buying groceries.
“I live in the Seattle area, where food is almost a religion. What you eat and where you buy have become not just an indicator of social status, but your moral values,” Cannon says. “I think we tend to get a bit hysterical about it.”
Atmosphere isn’t everything. It may be that the basic, nothing-special store environment is keeping the prices lower.
Cherie Lowe, an Indianapolis resident who has a money-saving blog called QueenOfFree.net, says she began shopping at Aldi, a discount supermarket chain in 18 countries, when she was over $100,000 in debt. She went there “out of necessity” and wasn’t overly thrilled about going.
“I viewed Aldi as a store which featured dented cans and nearly spoiled produce,” she says. That, she adds, “couldn’t have been further from the truth.”
Her debt is paid off now, and she still shops there.
“I can buy fresh mozzarella and fresh herbs — items I would never buy in a super center or high-end grocery store. The quality is phenomenal and honestly, there are products I will only purchase at Aldi now,” says Lowe, who, in case you were wondering, is not a spokeswoman for the store and has never even received a gift card from it. She is simply an “obsessed” fan.
Meanwhile, Carrie Schmeck, a content marketer in Redding, California, is a regular at WinCo Foods, a supermarket that services eight states on the West Coast. She readily admits that she isn’t a fan of the store’s environment.
“We hate shopping at WinCo,” Schmeck says, speaking for herself and her friends. “Because it’s so cheap, it’s always busy. You shop with all walks of life.”
But Schmeck says she can’t stay away because the prices are so good. “Who wants to pay $1.59 for a can of tomato paste you can buy for 63 cents?” she says.
Don’t ignore the dollar stores. You don’t have to be a supermarket snob to think that a dollar store is where you might buy a pair of cheap sunglasses, but the last place you would purchase food. But there are delicious, nutritious gems to be found in dollar stores, according to Teri Gault, CEO of TheGroceryGame.com, a website for hard-core consumers who like finding the best grocery deals (hard-core because after a two-week free trial, followers choose to pay a monthly $10 membership fee for access).
Gault says she has found some very good produce at Dollar Tree. For instance, she recently bought a container of strawberries and blueberries mixed together and branded TJ Farms for $1.
Not all produce at dollar stores will be fresh, cautions Gault, who recently came across broccoli at a store that “looked like bugs had eaten [it],” and was brown. She recommends checking to see where the food came from. If it was grown in the U.S., you’re probably in good shape. If it’s from the other side of the globe, maybe not.
Embrace ethnic stores. Dawn Casey-Rowe, a social studies high school teacher in Providence, Rhode Island, says she likes going to ethnic grocery stores and often finds them far less expensive than all-purpose supermarkets.
“I’ll go to the Spanish, Indian, Middle Eastern, Chinese, Japanese and Korean stores to get the things they showcase in their foods — spices, ingredients, staples,” she says, explaining: “If you learn your ingredients, you can get a great value on things that would otherwise be labeled specialty items in the big grocery store.”
Cannon agrees that these markets can be a great place to go for food, although he finds that many of them “stock the slightly lower grades of produce, compared to the flawless stuff you find at the supermarket.”
That doesn’t mean he wouldn’t buy it, however. “You may find a blemish here or there … but the savings are huge,” Cannon says. “With over a third of produce going to waste, I like to support outlets that find a market for perfectly good produce that would otherwise be thrown away.”
Drugstores. You probably wouldn’t save money if you bought all your groceries at a drugstore chain, but Gault says “drugstores nationwide carry a local milk that is usually 20- to 40-cents-a-gallon less than supermarkets.”
She adds that most drugstores, like most supermarkets, have pledged not to use rBST, a hormone injected into cows to increase milk production.
Gault says drugstores also often have great sales on name-brand crackers, cereal, oatmeal and other more random foods such as olives, mandarin oranges, tuna and sardines. You’ll want to check the circulars, of course, for the best deals.
Saving on groceries involves a lot of price checking and comparison shopping, and you could argue that it’s better to be a supermarket snob and overspend than become obsessive about your grocery costs. Gault agrees that there’s no sense in driving halfway across the city because you know a certain store sells coffee for a cheaper price than your neighborhood grocery.
But she says, “I make it part of my route. If I’m on my way somewhere anyway, and I know a store I’m passing by has a deal on coffee beans, I’ll stop off.”
And since that’s part of her routine, without much effort, Gault often pays less for her coffee as well as other drinks and food. Of course, if you’re a true supermarket snob, you probably really don’t care.
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