Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The High Cost of Groceries: Supermarket vs. Fresh Market

Since I’ve been attempting to cook from scratch more and buy basic, whole foods, I haven’t been spending much time in the major supermarkets. I’ve been doing my main grocery shopping at my local health food store and supplementing with household items from Target and Costco. What I’ve discovered is that I tend to spend a lot less and get a lot of fresh food when I shop at my health food store especially when I focus on fresh vegetables and bulk foods like quinoa, split peas, and rice.

As I mentioned yesterday, I had to do a run to the supermarket because we were out of my favorite Kirk’s Castile bar soap. For some reason, I can only find it at one particular supermarket. I went into the supermarket without a shopping list meal plan with the goal to find a few easy to make or frozen meals for the week and get a few staples (I know it’s a big no-no). I was shocked as I perused the aisles at the costs of many things compared to my local health food store. Produce in particular is much higher at the grocery store. A carton of mushrooms costs no more than $1.5 to $2 at the fresh food store, costs $3.50 regularly at the supermarket. There are a couple of loss leaders but for the most part, the prices seemed to be at least a third higher than the health food store for produce that I typically buy.

It occurred to me that perhaps the price of produce is kept artificially inflated to encourage shoppers to buy more processed, cheaper goods in the middle of the store. Why buy mushrooms for $3.50 when you buy Mushroom-Roni for $1 a box? Certainly, the big supermarket chains are able to obtain produce as cheaply as my little fresh food market/health food store. I skirted around the over-priced produce and picked up a few things albeit for more than I would spend at the other store. Then, I spent a half an hour wandering through the other aisles and ended up buying things that normally wouldn’t have a place in my cart like canned fruit and pop-tarts.

I left a little dejected at spending $80 for not much food of marginal quality. It surprised me a little how used to making healthy meals from fresh ingredients has become so important to me. I was also surprised at how $80 didn’t really fill up my cart. I was a supermarket shopper for quite a while. I thought that I simply didn’t have the time to shop at multiple stores for different things. I thought that the ease and convenience was worth it. It is true that there are some things that you can’t get at my health food store. There are also some things that are more expensive, and I won’t buy those there. However, if the bulk of my purchases are supposed to be fresh produce, then it only makes sense to buy at the local health food store. That way I am also not tempted by aisle after aisle of processed foods like at the supermarket. From now on, I think I’ll stick to just buying soap at the supermarket.

I think that where you shop needs to be an individual decision and its based on a whole host of factors from what's available to how far away you live from the grocery stores. However, if you're like me and you've made it a goal to buy fresh, whole foods. Shopping at a store that sells these cheaply and processed foods for more, might be exactly what you need to help your diet and your pocketbook.

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