Monday, July 15, 2013

Am I weird? How many places do YOU visit for groceries? - July 15, 2013

Yesterday as we were pulling away from the small local health food co-op, after shopping at one of the many outdoor farmers' markets in the area, it occurred to me that I shop at a LOT of different places for my groceries. And then I thought how lucky I am to have all these options...and I wondered if I was weird or if this was something everyone does. (I'm not a very good grownup. I have no idea what's right or wrong when it comes to everything from "Do these shoes go with these pants?" to "Is this how everyone else eats dinner?")

Partly this scatteredness does come from my wanting to find the best sales, get the best deals, and so on. That is absolutely true. But part of this is that I'm curious. What ingredients does that little shop over there carry? Does that giant chain have a better selection of flavors of something than that other chain? Is that place's bulk section any better than that other place's? And...of course...who has the best prices? (I do this when we're on vacation too - I went from a kid who would be dragged whining and screaming to a grocery store to an adult who wants to make the local grocery store a stop during any trip. "Ooh, they have this? And they triple coupons? And they charge $X for that?!"

To give you a lay of the land, we are a family of three, we keep a 99% vegetarian household (my husband buys tuna on occasion), and we try to eat as much organic/minimally processed food as possible, but we still occasionally buy things that are not organic, that are processed, and that might even contain questionable ingredients. We do our best. Also, I really should lay down an exact grocery budget and operate within it but...I don't. I do know that the more we buy at the grocery store - and the more appealing it is, even if it's something a bit pricey - the less we go out to eat (we are surrounded by incredible restaurants and constant temptation) and the more money we save in that way. Again, we do our best. My husband is the one who cooks dinner - he's better at throwing things together, I prefer to work from a recipe - so happily he's on board with the way I like to shop, more or less. The kid eats better than I would've expected and is willing to try new things sometimes - and she likes the grocery store too (though she freaks out when we get in line at the checkout about 75% of the time).

So here's my list of where I shop:
  • Kroger. There's a small-ish store I can walk to for last-minute needs, a big-ish store I have personally driven* to but don't love, a very big store that we go to as a family (I probably could drive to it myself - I've driven past it before), and a two-level store that sometimes seems to carry more unusual things (for example, that specific branch of Kroger is the only place I've found Polar Seltzer - cans, basic flavors, but still! Polar!). In general I find the prices at Kroger to be OK. I hear people insisting Kroger is has the lowest prices, but only for some things I buy regularly - my favorite almond milk is cheapest here, for example. HOWEVER, lately I've found Kroger to have the best regular-grocery-store selection of organic items, and their in-house natural/organic brand (Simple Truth) is priced well and tastes good in everything I've tried. Slowly Kroger has been taking away coupon doubling in other regions, though, and I think mine is next. The e-coupons sometimes offer decent deals and are easy enough to use, but I will miss doubled coupons terribly if that goes away, and I may have to rethink my shopping if/when.
  • Publix. There's a medium-sized store that I can easily get to and a bigger store that is a bit further (we literally drive past the medium-sized store to get to it) that is way better. Publix is the other big-name store I frequent, and I prefer it over Kroger. The BOGO deals are often great (I know the cycles of some of my favorites and wait to stock up on certain products a few times a year) - but they also seem to have better everyday prices on the things I buy often. The people who work at my favorite store are always fantastic - friendly, helpful, nice to my kid. But the organic selection just isn't as good, particularly when it comes to produce, and what they do have isn't always the best price. On the other hand, they don't make me carry a store card for the deals and there have been - thus far - no murmurs of discontinuing doubling coupons. Plus the stores near me take Kroger and Whole Foods coupons (wish they'd also take Target!). That's handy because Kroger often mails me high-value coupons (gleaned from my store card use, I know) and I can use them at either store.
  • Your Dekalb Farmers Market (YDFM) - I wish I could just shop here and only here, to be honest. I have gone on and on before about my love of YDFM - the produce! the dry goods! the bulk spices, flours, sugars, grains, dried fruit.... (except you have to buy the bulk things pre-packaged rather than buying exactly what you need - a very minor quibble). The cheese! The....everything! No coupons accepted, cash/debit only, easy easy. I just buy what I want and I know I'm getting a great deal on it all. Bonus: The more I shop at YDFM, the less I buy processed anything. (YDFM certainly sells processed food, and one time I bought in-house-made bread and was disappointed to find it had partially hydrogenated oil as an ingredient, but when I go, I spend the bulk of my grocery money on fresh things. Tangent: I used to buy these lovely little fancy ice cream sandwiches there until I read up about titanium dioxide, decided to try to eliminate it from my diet, and then found it on the ingredient list. Sad trombone.)
  • Whole Foods - Usually we go when we need something very specific (vitamins, mostly) but then we wind up spending $50+. I don't even know on what - some produce, some bulk items (I do love their bulk section), some...impulse buys. Also: Cheese samples.
  • Trader Joe's - I regularly pay the Trader Joe's tax of $50 per walkin (as in, I can't get out of there without spending at least $50). I absolutely love and adore TJs and we used to go about twice a month but lately we've cut back. The prices on some things are excellent, but I always buy things I don't actually need while I'm there. Those things are, again, well priced but not essential. But I like to go at least once a month or two now for some items I can't get elsewhere.
  • Super H-Mart - I get here once every two months or so. Great deals on noodles and rice and certain spices and sauces. The branch that's a bit farther away has house-made tofu that is to die for. An amazing selection of produce - not all of it is organic, but it's always fresh and sometimes I find certain fruits/veggies I don't see elsewhere. I used to buy a lot of cookies and candy until I got more sensitive about ingredients (boo). I have a store card and I get their coupon books in the mail.
Those are the stores I go to more than, say, twice a year. But then there are the other stores I go to here and there. Return 2 Eden is a local health food store that is the only place in the Southeast that stocks May Wah fake meat (the best stuff ever - I actually need to get over there for a bag of the fake chicken legs...). Sevananda is a local co-op that has an incredible bulk section. My city has a twice-a-week outdoor farmers' market that we go to sometimes, and then we go a bit out of our way for a really great one on Sundays (and I keep meaning to check out some others in the greater Atlanta area too). We just went into the Fresh Market for the first time and I could see us going back to it once in a great while. There's a tiny market here in my little city that carries gourmet food items that we sometimes poke into. I wish I could get to the Buford Highway Farmers Market more often (I've been once or maybe twice) because I've never seen such a grand selection of international foods in one place before (it's overwhelming!). Oh and then there's Target - the one closest to us just expanded its grocery section and while it's not usually convenient to get much there for various reasons, it has the best price for the bread my family prefers and sometimes, of course, since I'm there I'll get something specific I'm out of. I have been in Aldi approximately three times ever and wasn't impressed with it enough to go out of my way (which I'd need to) but if I was somewhere next to one I'd probably run in for a few things. Please notice that I do not and will never shop at a certain very large very upsetting store with a W. Prices be damned, I just can't do it.

And I am sure I'm forgetting something too.

Again, I'm really lucky to have this sort of variety and choice - but I also take full advantage of it, and I can't imagine paring it all down to a single store.

What about you? Do you shop at more than one place? If you don't because you don't have the variety near you, would you if that were to change?

*I've got a wicked huge driving phobia going on. That's why I mention driving so often. It's essentially me saying how close or far something is from my house though.

1 comment:

  1. I'm so interested in this! I wonder if this is a city/urban thing or if it's universal now with so many different grocery stores/chains and farmer's markets around. I actually got in a minor disagreement with the woman at my favorite shop in my old neighborhood over their petition to keep Trader Joe's out of the area -- I was arguing that I'd actually buy MORE at her place because I could go to TJ for *just* TJ's things and buy yogurt, crackers, etc. at her shop instead of figuring I'm at TJ's anyway so might as well go.

    Now that I've moved, my options are basically divided into walking stores and driving stores. Walking:

    - Whole Foods. Usually a stop when we're a) stocking up on ingredients after meal planning for the week and b) not in the mood to cook on that particular evening (hot bar!)

    - Andronico's. Good salad bar, good wine selection, carries about the same type of things as Whole Foods with some more conventional selections and some bizarre omissions. I still tend to choose WF by default even though they're about equidistant.

    - Natural Foods. I don't know its actual name. It's around the corner from me and is a panic stop for milk/yogurt/butter/canned stuff. The prices often suck but the convenience can't be beat.

    - Sketchy "Farmer's Market" Store. I don't know its name either. At the end of my block, totally random selection of produce -- some of it is overstock from local farmer's markets and some of it comes from god knows where. I have frequently had my whole bill be coins. But it's ... dubious.

    Driving stores:

    - Safeway. Used to be my closest option. If I happen to be driving by I'll still go in for stuff, but usually household goods vs. food.

    - Target. If I'm there anyway I'll take a look at grocery specials.

    - Trader Joe's. There are a couple in the city but I'm hardly ever going past one just by chance (and I despise the parking lot at the most convenient one). It's usually a special trip and I'll stock up on everything I love there (mostly frozen/freeze-able things and snacks).

    We also just re-started our CSA subscription for produce, so we get an assortment of fruit/veggies and a dozen eggs from a local farm every two weeks. I know that tends to change my shopping habits -- I do a lot more "what can I make with what's in the fridge?" and buying specific ingredients to supplement.