Lucky for me, I don't live in Iowa anymore, so even though I didn't find a huge selection of discount grocery stores when I searched online, I did find one gem: BB's Grocery Outlet, with several locations in the southeast PA area. It's definitely the biggest discount grocery I've seen, and the most comprehensive. The milk is regular price and the produce is passable, not amazing, but still, they have milk and produce along with aisles and aisles of dry goods. Even though I have no prejudice toward generic products, what I particularly like at BB's are their numerous high-quality, name-brand items. We're talking Yoplait Greek yogurt w/ granola topping for a quarter a piece. Softsoap handwash for a dollar. Even a Martha Stewart all-natural carpet cleaner spray for less than two dollars.
I could keep going, but the most persuasive way to do this is to show you a picture:
This glorious load cost me...
wait for it...
Fifty dollars and change.
Just in case this still isn't clear (maybe you don't do large grocery trips very often, or maybe you cook too infrequently to know the relative cost of groceries), let me break this down.
Buitoni fresh four-cheese ravioli: At Giant, $4.49. At BB's, $1.79.
Fresh limes: Giant, $.50 each. BB's, $.25 each.
Kraft veggie macaroni and cheese: Giant, $1.50 each. BB's, $.50 each.
As far as high-quality, name-brand items go, this pile also contains:
Hilshire Farm smoked bratwurst
John F. Martin cheese dogs (quality local meat brand)
Townhouse Flatbread Crisps
Turkey Hill chocolate milk
Terra sweet potato chips
Scott select-a-size paper towels
Post Great Grains cereal
Cascadian Farms organic frozen strawberries
Snapple Sorbet Pops
Annie's Naturals goddess dressing
Stubb's beef marinade
If I'd had the energy, I would have been tempted to go to Giant and price everything out to really wow you, but instead I'll give you a rough estimate. My best guess is that for this batch of groceries, I would pay between $80-$100 at most of our local grocery chains. And I took it off BB's hands for $50.
A few tips for shopping at discount grocery stores:
- First, find one. Google "discount grocery" with your zipcode, or ask that Mennonite lady down the street. If Google fails and you know no Mennonite ladies, ask a hippie.
- Plan to spend a substantial amount of time shopping. Discount groceries are notoriously unorganized, and you will likely have to sort through shelves of mismatched products to find the gold.
- Save discount grocery stores for stock-up trips, not quick errand runs. The potential inconsistency of the merchandise and long lines of insane, cart mountain, I-only-come-out-of-my-house-once-a-month-to-feed shoppers may frustrate you if you need to get in and out.
- Keeping the first two tips in mind, I recommend taking time to browse. Don't write a store off just because you don't see useful products on first glance. Poke around, shove things aside. Because discount grocery stores are not as pristinely organized as regular grocery stores, sometimes the good stuff is hiding. That being said, I do recommend choosing a store that, on first glance, looks like they use some kind of organizational structure.
- Check dates! Only two or three items in my pile above were just slightly past their Best By dates, and since I've read plenty about how those dates are conservative, I deemed them just fine. I did see plenty of product that was wildly out of date, however. Just be conscientious.
- Don't settle for bad food just because it's cheap. This will ruin your diet and enjoyment of food. I am sometimes tempted to buy food that's not very healthy or flavorful just because it's that darn cheap. But no matter how many Hamburger Helpers I walk out with, the price isn't going to make them taste any better. If you have to choose between settling for a mediocre-looking version of an ingredient you need or paying full price at a normal grocery store, suck it up: buy the better product. You're saving enough money elsewhere with those 45 packs of crackers for FIVE DOLLARS!!!