Grocery shopping -- 06/09/11

As I have mentioned a number of times, I do almost all of the cooking and I therefore also do almost all of the grocery shopping. I have a choice of three supermarkets in my local area and I shop at all three of them.

Stop & Shop is (I believe) the largest supermarket chain in the northeastern U.S.. They are owned by Ahold, a large Dutch food chain. Their major competition (at least in Rhode Island) is Shaw's. There is a lot of churn in the supermarket business, entire chains being sold, broken up, renamed, etc. Sometimes the sales take place behind the scenes and customers are frequently unaware that the store where they shop has just changed hands. When we moved to Rhode Island in the mid-90s, the Shaw's chain was owned by Sainsbury, a large British supermarket chain. About ten or eleven years ago, Sainsbury sold Shaw's to Albertson's (a major chain with stores at that time from the mid-west to all along the west coast). The purchase of Shaw's and some other supermarket chains made Albertson's -- briefly -- the largest U.S. grocery chain. Then, a few years later, Albertsons was bought and split up. And yet during that time I am sure most customers had had no idea that the ownership of the supermarket where they shopped kept changing hands. They might have noticed that suddenly their local Shaws market had gained a pharmacy department (run by Albertson's Osco Drugs) and then, a few years later, the instore pharmacies closed. And then there was a local store -- Belmont Market -- launched by a family that owned a major wholesale produce business in this area and also a shopping center in Wakefield, the largest village in the town of South Kingstown. They opened a somewhat up-scale supermarket -- not as big as the local Shaw's and Stop & Shop locations, but larger than the small market it was replacing. Belmont features a large produce department along with a sea food section, a butcher/meat section, a deli and a prepared foods section (including a catering business), and an in-store bakery.

I keep close tabs on their advertising circulars and I follow the rule that when something that I use is on sale, buy enough to last until the next time it goes on sale. If you follow that, you will find a nice reduction in your total cost of groceries. This is why I currently have 21 packages of coffee in my pantry -- yes, I did just count them -- which should last us about seven weeks, before which it should be on sale again, frequently at bogo pricing (buy one, get one free). I do the same thing with paper towels and laundry detergent and dish washer detergent and toilet paper and paper napkins and hand soap and shampoo and any other non-perishable that you can think of. The same thing applies to things like pasta and canned foods, etc. (but you have to keep moving the older dates up front on your shelves).

I visit Belmont multiple times each week, getting fresh produce, fresh fish, fresh meat, fresh bread, etc. Almost all of our produce (other than what comes from my garden) comes from Belmont as well as probably three-quarters of our fish, meat, and poultry. Shaws and Stop & Shop feature a lot of big sale items each week -- including those loss leaders that I love, such as the bogo coffee. (You know what a loss leader is, right? Something they put on sale for a really low price, even below their cost, so that they can get you in the store to buy the rest of your groceries, including things they have probably marked higher. That's when I go through and pick up lots of sale items to fill our pantry at home.

So, for example, this past Sunday I went shopping at Shaw's. After adjusting for sale pricing and coupons, etc., my purchases came to $168.56 + 4.50 sales tax = 173.46. (Most food items are not taxable in Rhode Island, but I had a lot of stuff like laundry detergent and paper towels, etc. -- all of which are taxable.)

I had saved 80.34 because of items being on sale plus 17.50 for coupons, so a total savings of 97.84.

But then I took a couple of minutes to read the register tape more carefully. Arnold Healthy Multi-Grain bread. 4.49 -- twice -- but wait! They were supposed to be a bogo. Go to the store office. These are supposed to be buy one get one but I was charged for both loaves. The office clerk looks at the advertising flyer and says that the bogo only applied to two particular kinds bread out of Arnold's multiplicity of bread variations. Before I can respond she adds that she knows it really isn't clear and that she knows that the signs in the bread aisle didn't say what kinds were at the sale price. (Apparently I was not the first to complain.) So she scanned one of my loaves of bread and refunded me 4.49.

New score: total savings $102.33.

So it probably takes me 30 or 40 minutes to read the ads, clip some coupons, and make a shopping list. And if I weren't looking carefully for the sale items and keeping track of some coupons, I could probably get through the store a few minutes faster, but even though I think my time is valuable, $102.33 isn't bad pay for less than an hour of extra work. Okay, I don't score like that every week, but Nancy says some day the stores are going ban me the way casinos ban people who count cards.

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