10 Grocery Store Secrets Only the Pros Know

By Mikey Rox on 4 September 2014 1 comment

You've strolled down aisle after aisle, checked shelf after shelf. But some of these little-known grocery facts may surprise even the most grizzled grocery vet.

1. The Supermarket Is Not Your Best Bet for Fresh Food

Christina Major, creator of the Grocery Store Shopping Trip — which aims to help sufferers of Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure — advocates for skipping the supermarket altogether when buying meats, fish, cheese, fruits, and vegetables. If you prefer freshness over frugality, that is. "The grocery store can't be fresh — it's impossible, "she says. "The foods need to travel from farm to warehouse to truck, to store… and then wait for a stockperson to put it out. By the time you see a 'fresh' vegetable, it's already days, if not weeks, old." As an alternative, Major suggests picking up these perishables at your local farmer's market and butcher.

2. There May Be a 'Day-Old' Bread Store in Your Town

Bread is fairly expensive, but you can cut the cost by checking for markdowns in the bakery section of your grocery store on goods reaching their expiration date — or, better yet, by locating a "day-old" bread store in your area. Diane Lockard, a fellow personal finance writer at Mint.com, says that many towns have these kinds of stores (my hometown did), and she recently purchased a large amount of hot dog and hamburger buns at a big discount for a family reunion by using this tactic.

3. Your Grocery Store Has a Clearance Section

Jessica Fisher, author of the cookbook Good Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for $10 or Less, scoops up deals at her supermarket's clearance section. She says, "There are fabulous markdowns on all kinds of things that are perfectly good — sometimes years from their sell-by date — that the store is discontinuing. I've saved tons of money buying gourmet and organic items — as well as organic produce — this way." 

4. Nutritional Labels Are More Deceptive Than You Think

Cooking Aboard Your RV author Janet Groene warns, "Even avid label readers often miss the key point, which is portion size. To understand how many carbs, how much sodium and so on, look at how many servings the package provides. Most of us take pride in counting calories, not realizing that we're eating more than one portion."

5. Don't Shop Before 10 a.m. on the Day a Sale Starts

Home organizing blogger Ginny Underwood, advises waiting until mid-morning to do your shopping the day an advertised sale starts — especially on fresh protein items. "Don't shop too early [that morning], as the butcher and fishmonger many not have the specials out in the display case until 10 a.m.," she says.

6. You're Probably Not Buying the Right Whole-Grain Foods

Immediately opt for packages with words like "multi-grain," "stone-ground," and "whole wheat"? Chris Weiler, author of The 3/4 Rule: How to Eat as a Young Athlete, explains that you may need to look closer. "The higher the fiber content the more nutrient dense the food, he says. "The 'Fiber Rule' is your secret weapon that enables you to know without a doubt whether or not the ingredients are really whole grains. Since the fiber content is the defining measure of a whole grain, don't even bother reading the marketing claims on the package; simply look at the fiber content." (See also: Getting Whole-Grain Nutrition)

Weiler notes that there is a connection between the ingredients list and the amount of fiber listed on the Nutrition Facts table. "If the dietary fiber serving is 3 grams or above, you can be confident that you have a quality, whole-grain food source. The more grams of fiber per serving means that a higher percentage of the food you are eating comes from whole grains. If you are eating a piece of bread that has 2 grams of fiber per serving versus one that has 6 grams per serving, you know that the 2 gram slice of bread contains a low amount of whole grain ingredients and is therefore not as nutrient dense."

7. This "Natural Ingredient" in Your Food May Make You Gag

I know that gelatin isn't a PETA-friendly food since it consists of animal parts, like bones, but you might be surprised to learn that there may be a little bit of beaver in your diet as well. Melissa Garcia, owner of ConsumerQueen.com, recently enlightened me that the "natural ingredients" listed on labels may be more natural than we care to know. "Castoreum, which is a secretion made by beavers from the anal glands, is used as a food additive in some of the products you buy," Garcia says. "You might find it in some vanilla and strawberry flavored ice-cream and yogurt. Next time you pick one of these products up, check the label." (See also: I'm Eating What? 12 Gross Things in Your Food)

8. You Can Return Things to the Grocery Store

If you're not satisfied with a product you bought — maybe your milk is already spoiled when you opened it or your apple had a worm in it — you can take it back to the supermarket. Just like at the mall.

9. Yep, There's an App for That

You can save even more dough at the grocery store — on top of the sale savings, coupons, and other tactics you're already using — by downloading savings apps like Ibotta and Checkout 51, both of which are relatively new to the scene. Instead of coupon-like savings that are deducted from your bill, these apps reward you in cash when you buy items that the apps are promoting. I personally use these apps, and I've saved well over $25 since downloading that I can trade in for gift cards or have sent to my PayPal account in real money. You also can search your app store for supermarket-specific apps that also can help stack up the savings.

10. Compare Prices for Similar Items in Different Departments

This tip is kind of a wow-moment for me because I've honestly never thought about this. The amazing tip comes from Stephanie Nelson, founder of CouponMom.com. "Check different departments," Nelson says. "A type of cheese sold in the deli department might cost more than a different brand of the same type of cheese sold in the dairy department. One brand of a type of nuts in the produce department might cost less than a different brand of the same type of nuts in the baking aisle." Seriously — Mind. Blown. (See also: Market Clones: How to Pay Drastically Less for Pricey Products)

Do you have other supermarket secrets that you're willing to declassify? Let me know in the comments below.

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Guest's picture
Penguinlady

I check for some spices in the Ethnic Food aisle; they can be significantly cheaper! But try to keep to whole spices, like peppercorns, bay leaves or garlic powder. Blended spices, like chili or curry powder, may have additives you don't want. I would stay away from cheap imitations of expensive stuff, too. Saffron and vanilla are expensive and cheap versions aren't the same, and not the real thing.