If you live in the US, I’m willing to bet that you buy produce at a supermarket. Maybe you have a CSA in the summer months (here in California we can get them year round), grow some of your own veggies or you might be a regular at your local farmer’s market. But at least some of the time, maybe all of the time, you shop at a typical big name supermarket for at least some of your produce. But there is a cheaper alternative,
I’ve recently discovered that I can get amazing deals on produce from some of the specialty ethnic supermarkets in my area. Now I live in the LA area which is just bananas for ethnic diversity and we have a LOT more options than some other areas, near my home we have mostly hispanic & Armenian ethnic markets, but they vary a lot… in other neighborhoods you can get similar deals at Chinese, Korean, Thai & Persian markets. Some of these markets are even huge chains (like Vallarta or 99 Ranch). Basically, these markets compete for customers just like Vons or Ralphs… but their loss leaders, that get people in the store are fruits and vegetables. HUGE deals, I’m talking 4 pounds of oranges or 10 pounds of potatoes for $1. That’s right, ONE buck! Right now cherries have just come into season and two different ethnic chains are stocking them for nearly half the cost of the big chains.
Let’s look at a recent receipt:
I went through and priced out the same produce at a standard grocery store (Vons) and at Sprouts, my local lower cost hippie grocery store (think a down-market Whole Foods). Even shopping two stores for the lowest prices, that same amount of produce came to $21.70. That’s right, $11 more!
And yes, I know I bought an awful lot of fruit there, but we have a kid. Even a 50% primal child will eat you out of house and home when it comes to fruit. No joke.
Now there’s a caveat here… often the hispanic markets also have big loss leader prices at the meat counter as well as in the produce section. I’m pretty iffy about buying meat there because of quality issues. I’ve found their chicken and pork to be pumped up with “solution” to the USDA legal limit, and when cooked they give off so much fluid they stew in their own juices. That used to be my reason for avoiding hispanic markets all together, since I had some clearly poor quality chicken at a few BBQs. I’ve got a post brewing about budget issues and meat quality, but my personal choice is to pay a little more for high quality meat, I don’t like paying good money for saline. If you are going to hit up the meat counter, my choice would be to go for pork intended for a slow cooker (where it’s going to stew anyway) or unmarinated cuts of beef.
A few other notes:
- If you live in a busy metro area like LA, check the advertisements each week and pick one store, nearby, that has good deals on a lot of things you’ll use and add that to your weekly shopping. Don’t go to 5 or 6 stores a week chasing deals, you’ll waste time and gas money. Ideally, I hit up two stores, an ethnic store and a standard grocery store, supplemented with CSA meat from our freezer, and produce from our garden.
- Stick to the basics. Don’t get distracted by stuff like the lovely bakery section or the crazy asian candies. Remember, the good quality produce is their loss leader, they’re making their money on selling people a taste of home. If you get distracted by goodies you wouldn’t normally eat you’re not doing your health or your budget any good.
- If you have particular food needs (like gluten free or lower sodium) then REALLY stick to the basics like fresh produce. In some cases, ethnic processed foods have a U.S. nutrition label stuck on over the home-country labeling, and I really don’t trust those labels to be accurate. There’s just too much wiggle room with imported processed foods.
- If you worry that you’ll be the only person of alternate ethnicity in the store… get over it. Maybe this is just because LA is such a melting pot, but I’ll typically see maybe 20-25% of shoppers who are not the store’s target audience, as well as plenty of mixed race families.