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Out-Of Date Items?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 We eat outdated things all the time and never give it a second thought.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!