How to Shop at a Surplus or Discount Grocery Store

How to Shop at a Surplus or Discount Grocery Store

We shop in a variety of ways. One of my favorite ways to “bargain hunt” is to shop at discount grocery or surplus stores. We’ve kind of made it our “thing”. Every time I go on vacation I first look up all the discount grocery stores that will be in the area we are going to so we can visit them!

If you’ve never been in a surplus store before, going in for the first time can be a little overwhelming. It’s usually not all pretty and neat like a regular grocery store, on the shelves sit dented cans and broken boxes. Maybe to you, it hardly looks like a place to shop! Take your time. Look around at everything, and even when you think you’ve seen everything in the store if you go around again, it will be different.

Google defines a surplus store as: A surplus store sells items that are used, or purchased but unused, and no longer needed.

I find this statement to be the exact opposite! The items in a surplus store are new and they are needed, you need them! Most of the groceries come from stores or from warehouses. Maybe the warehouse dropped a pallet while stacking it. The cans inside got dirty and they couldn’t be sold in a regular store so those pallets get sold to a surplus store. There is generally nothing wrong with the items.

Recalled Products? They will never be a recalled product as those get destroyed at the original store not sent to another store.

Dented Cans? Aren’t those dangerous? Most of the time the answer is no. Look at the cans before you put them in your cart. Did the dent in the can go all the way through the metal? Does the top or bottom of the can pop when you push on it? If the can appears to be leaking in any way or is severely dented, don’t buy it. A small dent (or even a large one) is usually fine as long as it hasn’t “cracked” the can.

Out-Of Date Items? Well let me ask you this…when was the last time you went through your entire pantry or medicine cabinet and checked out the dates of each thing before you used it? If you’re like me, probably never. We eat outdated things all the time and never give it a second thought. Most items last for long after the date on the box or can has passed. Canned items last for years. Crackers and chips are good for months. Check the date before you buy it and if it seems a reasonable amount of time, go ahead and get it. Usually, out-dated items are even cheaper than regular surplus store prices so the cost is next to nothing.

The fun thing with discount grocery stores is that you never know what you are going to find! You might come out with nothing or maybe with an entire cart full! Once on a trip not too far from home, I scored a case full of Applegate Farms Organic Beef Hot Dogs for only $1.99 a package. We put them in the freezer and are still eating them up!

If you aren’t sure if you have a surplus store nearby, check this list of surplus and discount grocery stores first. It’s a little outdated so be sure and call ahead before you travel to any store. Locally we have 1 store that’s fairly near to us (not on the list!) and I like to stop in about every 2 months or so. There are new products every time! I made a trip there the other day and I snapped some pictures to show you along with some tips for shopping and making the most of a surplus grocery store.

1. Know your prices before you shop. Unless you actually know what’s a regular price and a sale price for something before you shop at a discount store you might end up paying way more than you should or you might pass up a bargain without even knowing it. In the picture above I found unbleached flour for $1.25 for a 5lb bag or $0.25 per pound. I normally pay $0.50 per pound for unbleached flour so this is a great deal!

2. Again. Know your prices!  This tube of toothpaste was marked $2.12. Not a good deal!

3. Don’t be afraid of a dented box or can. Some people are extremely picky when it comes to a dented can or box. First, check to make sure no seals are broken. Make sure there is nothing leaking from the can or any funny colors around the dent or seal. Cans with minor dents aren’t a big deal but you do want to stay away from cans with major dents. If somehow a seal has been broken, bacteria could get into the can and make you very sick. Also, make sure the can is not bulging in any funny way.

4. Don’t think you can only get processed products. Most surplus stores that I’ve found have a nice selection of organic canned products, crackers, snacks, and more. Plus, most surplus stores have quite a few products that are not even food. Many have everything from over the counter meds to paper towels!

5. Try not to get overwhelmed. Surplus stores aren’t always large but the ones I’ve been in have always been packed with items. Make sure before you go that you will have plenty of time to look around. go down one aisle at a time. Don’t stress too much about being able to see everything, even if you come back in the next day the selection will have changed!

6. Don’t feel like just because you stopped to shop that you have to buy. In my latest trip, we only found these boxes of 15 Power Bars for $3.50. (Used in Mini Emergency Kits)  I was tempted to pick up one or 2 more things on my way to the checkout because they were a great deal but I wasn’t sure if we’d actually use them so I skipped them.

7. Know when to stock up big time. this refers back to tip #1. As long as you know your prices and you will know what’s a “Buy Price” for you, you will know when you can stock up on an item. Just like in my story above. I knew that Applegate Farms Hot Dogs cost at least $5.50 per package so not only was $1.99 a buy price, it was a stock up price!

I encourage you in the next week to scout out and visit your local surplus stores. They may be right around the corner and you didn’t even know it. Take your time, scan the shelves. Visit them often, their inventory will change all the time so if there is something there that you might use in the future, get it. I can’t make it to all the surplus stores in my area all the time so when I do get to them I stock up on things I know I will use soon. I also buy things for my family members that have even less time to shop there as I do. (And besides, it’s so much fun to have someone to show your finds to.)

So that’s pretty much it! Take your time, know your prices, and you will be ready to shop. With surplus stores, you never know what kind of treasures you might find!

Have any tips you’ve learned from surplus store shopping? Post them in the comments!

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35 Comments

  1. Hey Merissa,
    Where here in the RC area is this surplus store that has food items that you mentioned in the article above?
    Thanks, CKay K.

  2. I have noticed alot of them shutting down lately, it’s really sad but they just can’t operate with their prices so low and the cost of products going up. We used to have one about 10 miles from us and now we have to go 60 miles to the nearest one.

  3. We have an Amish-run place like this near us and the prices are so good. I know it’s a big reason (maybe the biggest) that we can eat mostly organic food on our meager budget. The last trip I made, I found organic PB for $1.65/jar. That is a total stock up price for me! I bought 14 jars. 🙂

  4. luv this! i do the same with Goodwills! People call me crazy or obsessed but I’m like seriously people all stores have different things. That one on our vacation destination just might have those curtains i’ve been looking for! i’m ur newest follower, can’t wait to dig in! Hope u have a second to check mine out!

  5. There’s a Save-a-Lot nearby, but I find that the quality of most of the items is so low, they are not worth the savings. Some of the things they sell are absolutely terrible! Their pet food is horrid, and I felt awful when I opened the cans and bags and saw how nasty it looked. Some of the non-perishables are a decent buy, but in general the quality stinks. I could save a decent amount by shopping there but half the stuff would be nearly unusable.

  6. I miss Robbs! We don’t have anything like that here…the best I get now is the discount bin at the grocery store 🙁

  7. Here in Central PA, I am lucky to have one small and two large discount grocery outlets within a 30 mile radius. I typically stop at the closest (12 miles) a couple of times a month.

  8. 1. Grocery Outlet (I think it used to be called Canned Good Outlet. can be found in a lot of places in CA, ID, OR, WA, Nevada. Have food, produce, cleaning supplies, gifts, toiletries. I have found some amazing deals on stuff…including health food and gluten free stuff. Watch for expired food – usually in the perishable, BUT for the most part I have not run into this.

    2. Used to live in Kansas City and 2 of THE BEST outlet stores are there. Cargo Largo (Independence, MO) and Bargain Factory (Grandview, MO). I think Bargain Factory is also in Leavenworth, KS. these places have food, clothing, books, etc. etc. etc.

    3. Aldi’s – german based outlet in US. Some people really like this place. I have found some stuff here – like produce, drinks, crackers, etc…but I usually don’t hit the jackpot in places like these.

    ONLINE –

    I have used a place called Fat Wallet where they give codes for particular bargains. I found an incredible deal once on a computer and also on a pancake compressor and nail gun for my husband..that was a snafoo discount deal on Amazon where they had a misprint and I got in on the deal before they corrected it. All my husbands contractors friends were SO impressed 🙂

    I also have this bookmarked…it is a list of discount and salvage stores.

    http://www.extremebargains.net/store/Independent_Discount_and_Salvage_Grocery_Store_Directory.html

  9. We have Aldi’s here and some of their prices are good and we have a Save A Lot here too but we use to have a real surplus store but they have been gone now for more than 20 yrs. We visit our daughter in SC and the Goodwill by her is AMAZING…I am a larger woman so therefore finding clothing for myself usually doesn’t happen but this Goodwill has lots of new and larger sizes and I have found some really neat things for myself. One of the places we go to shop and they are open all year is our local farmers market….today I got a HUGE head of brocolli for $1. I cleaned it and cut it up so we can use it and it filled two 1 gallon zip lock bags.

  10. First I would like to say that I love going to my local amish store. They have a deli there as well and they sell “ends” for $1.69 pound and they have the best cheese in the area. I also want to mention that if you come across something that you aren’t sure if you will like it, such as crackers, buy a box and take it to your car. Try them and if you like it and it is a great price go back in and stock up! There is no sense in stocking up on something that you might not like.

  11. There are 3 that I can think of in my area. I relied heavily on these types of stores when I was a struggling single mama. I was able to make my money stretch a lot further and my kids had cool stuff in their lunches for school. I need to seriously revisit them, been forever since I went to one.

  12. I love shopping at many different kinds of stores. Like Walmart, Costco, mom & pop grocery stores, military surplus stores, Save-A-Lot and the Mexican grocery stores. All major canned food labels have a (white or black) label. For instance that means Libby’s and Green Giant brands have food in white or black labels too. You just have to do some research to find out where they are located. If you find a certain can or package of food doesnt tastes good–avoid that one and try a different one. Even I won’t buy some discount items. But if you do the majority of them you will save lots of money. I was able to buy a brand new car 7 years ago because I was able to shop discount foods and feed my family of 5 for way less (for several years)—-than if I was a (brand name) food snob. In these hard times it makes sense to save money where you can. Just try it. It’s fun too. 🙂

  13. If you want to know where discount grocery stores are around your area, check out our map. http://saverdex.com. We want to add other types of stores soon as well. If you like what we are doing please share it with your friend and family.

  14. I love salvage groceries! My favorite one is 10 minutes from my parents house, so I plan to shop there when I go home to visit. We get fantastic bargains. Once, we found organic rice-crispies style cereal for $.25/box. We’ve also found organic soups for $.49/can. I don’t like to use them often, but when I’m at work, the hubby likes to have something quick to eat, and this is better than a lot of other options. We get salad dressing for $.10 and condiments for $.10-.79. It’s great!

  15. I love what we call “Bent and Dent Stores”! We lived five minutes away from one in Pa. They have a counter with lunch meat and cheese that they slice however much you want while you wait. The prices are more than half of the amount per pound of what we pay where we live now in Delaware. When we go back home, we stock up and freeze them in several bags for when we need it. They always have so many other things including fresh fruits and vegetables, bagged nuts and seeds, homemade baked goods and bulk pasta. It is almost like going to a regular grocery store, but with so much lower prices. I wish they would open a store where we live now so their good would be available all the time.

  16. I have shopped at surplus stores…and have found GREAT deals… it does take quite a bit of time to shop there and is quite a distance so I rarely do it anymore. My favorite type of surplus store is a Mennonite store… but again, they are a long ways away. Good info.

  17. Your points are so valid Merissa, although I must admit I always worry a little when I see a dented can, it’s just something I can’t seem to look past. Probably silly especially when I read the bit about expiry dates. We do have quite a few things lurking in the pantry that are past their expiry date and that doesn’t seem to worry me too much 😉 Time to rethink a few things

  18. I had visited one surplus store in my area, but it was recently moved to another area. I enjoy buying from then, but right now is too far.

  19. Just found this post. Fortunately, there is a Grocery Outlet Bargain Market very close to where I live and I shop there frequently. Another place that I like to shop for bulk items is the Food Service stores – they used to be called Cash and Carry in my area. They are designed primarily for restaurants and community kitchens but anyone can shop there. They have the really large bulk items like beans, rice, flour, etc., in 25 pound bags and they are less expensive in bulk than Costco!!