Multi-stop shopping becoming the norm in these inflationary times

Shopping around for the best deals is a must-do strategy as you try to control your food bill in these inflationary times. I’ve offered several suggestions for how to do that, such as pre-planning every trip you make.

This was what awaited me during a Pandemic shopping trip in senior shopping hour at a local supermarket — packed aisles and long checkout lines. The lines are shorter these days.

Now the rest of the country seems to be catching up to me, according to data from IRI, a Chicago-based market research firm.

More than three in four consumers (78%) in April adjusted their grocery-shopping behaviors in an effort to save money amid rising inflation,” reports Winsight Grocery Business. “In comparison, 72% of consumers said they had made one or more changes to their shopping behaviors in March.”

“While the pandemic saw consumers trying to complete their grocery shopping in one trip, it seems the trend is now reversing, as 17% of consumers now visit multiple retailers to get the best deals, IRI found,” the Winsight article reports.

Only 17%? Until more of us do more comparison shopping and go to different places to get deals, prices will stay high. For more tips on finding low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar products during these high-price times, check out my smart shopping page.

Pandemic food casualty: Costco food-court salads are off the menu

I sat down at a Costco food court this week, something I haven’t done since before the pandemic when Costco foolishly eliminated chocolate frozen yogurt from its menu.

Looking at the new ordering touch screens, I realized another of my old Costco mainstay items is also gone now — food-court salads.

The wall says it all — no more salads at Costco, only junk food now.

This picture I took of the menu wall says it all — Costco has nothing even remotely low-salt, low-fat, low-sugar on its menu anymore.

For years, my regular Thursday meal there would be a salad, without the massively fat-filled dressing, and a chocolate frozen yogurt. Both are gone.

I dropped my more expensive Costco executive membership back when the chocolate yogurt disappeared. Now I’m really glad I did that then. I have no reason to eat at Costco food courts. For the stop I made recenty, I only bought a diet Pepsi for the road.

It will be interesting to see if Costco comes back with a simpler salad like McDonald’s did. Its salad joins its sheet cake, the ill-conceived asai it had replaced frozen yogurt with, and its holdout vanilla frozen yogurt as pandemic food casualties at Costco.

As the pandemic winds down, it’s becoming tougher than ever to find healthy, or at least not unhealthy, fast foods.

Another Pandemic Food casualty: after-Easter candy sales

The day after Easter was always special in my house. That was the day my mother and I got up early to go to a local candy store, Fanny Farmer’s, to buy Easter candy at half-price or even greater reductions. I’ve kept that tradition alive into my 60s now. But sadly, the Pandemic seems to have killed it.

My post-Easter sale find, a giant bunny. I’m showing it here near a Godiva one so you get a sense of how big it was.

Fannie May (local to the Midwest and eventually bought by the same company that bought East-Coast Fanny Farmer’s) had an after-Easter sale in 2020 when the Pandemic was beginning, but didn’t do it last year or this.

Local supermarkets and national drug store chains also had sales in the past, but this year the pickings were extremely slim — mostly white chocolate oddball items. Even the dollar stores had only a smattering of what they once had — coffee-flavored Peeps anyone?

A lot of driving from store to store on the Tuesday after Easter netted me only this mega-bunny from a Walgreen’s — $6, which still seems high for an off-brand of chocolate.

It did take me back to happier times though. I ate it all week, finishing it the following Monday, a small smattering of goodness on my otherwise heart-conscious diet.

Are bagged salads healthy? Here’s a yes, with lots of conditions attached

This year started with recalls of some bagged salads, so it would only be natural for people to wonder just how healthy such products are. A nutritionist tells Cooking Light magazine in this piece that they’re healthy but adds a lot of conditions to that recommendation.

The longer it takes lettuce to get from field to table, the more nutrients will decrease in it. So the processing time of bagged salads should mean they are less nutritious than buying a head of lettuce and doing all your own prep right? Not exactly.

“While bagged salads do experience more initial loss due to washing and chopping, research suggests they may make up for it when packaged thanks to an oxygen-reducing process called modified atmosphere packaging. Most manufacturers use to this type of packaging to maintain the color of leaves and to extend shelf life, but an added perk for consumers is that lower oxygen levels may also slow the rate at which nutrients like vitamin C and folate are lost.

“The thinking seems to be that nutrient loss in bagged salads is comparable, or possibly even less, than a whole head of lettuce stored for the same amount of time,” author  Carolyn Williams, PhD, RD states.

Should you buy bagged salads?

“With nutrient loss and bacteria risk comparable to what is seen in whole heads of lettuce and greens, most consider the benefits of increased vegetable consumption—thanks to the help of bagged salads—greater than potential risks,” she writes.

Expect Amazon to sell more and more groceries

I may not have enjoyed my shopping experience at a new Amazon Fresh store, but what I think isn’t keeping Amazon from targeting the grocery business for major expansion, according to several recent reports.

Expect to see Amazon Fresh stores opening near you.

Amazon to shut its bookstores and other shops as its grocery chain expands, reports Reuters (an old boss of mine from my reporting days).

How Amazon Plans to Transform Grocery in 2022 from Progressive Grocer goes into detail on Amazon’s plans for this year. It’s focusing on using technology to speed customers through, and out of, stores. Apparently, it thinks that will appeal enough to customers that they won’t try to price comparison shop against other supermarkets, as I did in my recent post.

“Retail analytics firm recently examined the performance of Amazon’s first Amazon Fresh grocery stores in California and Illinois, and found that those stores are gaining market share against traditional grocery operators,” Progressive Grocer reports. Expect that to continue — and expect grocery prices to rise, not fall, as Amazon captures more unsuspecting shoppers.

My Amazon Fresh shopping trip — out-of-stock sale items, odd pricing policies

Amazon Fresh recently sent me a digital deal — $15 off a $35 spend at the Amazon Fresh store that opened in a neighboring suburb. I’d already written about my first impressions of the store but the digital deal provided me a reason to actually set up a shopping trip.

It came the same week Amazon did a print ad insert in our local paper for the store, so I had some idea what was on sale. Always prepare ahead for your shopping trip to maximize your spending power.

The sale chicken I wanted at Amazon Fresh was out-of-stock, as were several other sale items I went to buy. Very disappointing, it reeks of a bait-and-switch approach to selling.

The items in the ad didn’t seem like bargains, the only ones that caught my eye was chicken breasts under $2 a pound. and cooked rotisserie chicken for $4.97. My wife also wanted to check out the fresh fish. So off we went.

We scanned our Amazon app to enter. I’m still not sure why since we did not try doing the checkout-as-you-put-items-in-your-basket option, going to the checkout line instead.

The first thing that disappointed me was that bananas were out-of-stock. At 15 cents each, I wasn’t sure the pricing was any great deal. I get bananas for 59 cents a pound at a local supermarket. But a staple like banas should never be out of stock.

When we reached the meat section, it appeared at first that the sale chicken breasts also were out of stock. My wife found one package in the very back of the shelf, so we bought that.

But odd pricing was in evidence here as well. The package price label on the shelf had a set package price and it was difficult to find the actual weight of the chicken to determine the per pound charge.

And note that other, more expensive chicken packages were well-stocked. If you don’t have sale items displayed but have higher priced ones instead, that reeks of the old bait-and-switch trick — draw people in to buy a sale item and then sell them more expensive substitutes.

Continue reading “My Amazon Fresh shopping trip — out-of-stock sale items, odd pricing policies”

How to beat rising food costs — plan, plan, plan

Our frozen food inventory this year, The gravy is my home-made tomato sauce for pasta.

The beginning of every year is special in our house because it’s when we clean out our refrigerator’s freezer and the small freezer we have in our basement. What does that have to do with beating rising food costs? Read on and find out and see how you can save on your food bills with a little advanced planning.

The first rule of smart shopping for me has always been to shop sales and stock up on sale items whenever possible. That’s why our freezers are full. When I see salmon go to $6.99 or lower at a local supermarket, for example, I buy several large fillets, cut them into individual portions and freeze them for future meals. The same with another staple of my heart-healthy diet, extra-lean ground beef.

Continue reading “How to beat rising food costs — plan, plan, plan”

More people grocery shopped online last year and, no surprise, Walmart led the pack

Walmart came out on top in the online grocery derby with 35% of respondents to a January 2022 survey saying Walmart was where they shopped most for online food items. Amazon was second with 23% followed by Instacart with 10%, according to the survey of more than 1,000 households done by consumer packaged goods/grocery digital commerce platform Chicory.

I still prefer in-person shopping, even when people are doing hoarding shopping as they were here early in the pandemic.

Online grocery shopping continued to grow last year, likely spurred in part by the continuing Covid pandemic but primarily by convenience.

“As of January, 72% of shoppers surveyed by Chicory said they purchased groceries online in the past 90 days. That percentage reflects increased e-grocery use since before the pandemic, as just over 70% of consumers bought groceries online in the previous 60 days as of January 2021 and more than 50% did so as of January 2020,” reported Supermarket News in discussing the survey.

“Forty-six percent of those surveyed named convenience/time constraints as the main reason for ordering groceries online. Consumers also cited product availability/accessibility (19%), price (14%), health/safety concerns (10%), and preference for a digital versus in-store experience (nearly 10%),” reported Supermarket News.

Continue reading “More people grocery shopped online last year and, no surprise, Walmart led the pack”

Nutrition claims will continue to ignore low-salt

Food processors have been rolling out lots of low- and no-sugar products during the pandemic but not low-salt ones, said speakers at a 2022 food outlook presentation hosted by The Food Institute.

The pandemic has Americans thinking more about wellness and good nutrition, but that apparently hasn’t gotten them to realize they eat much more salt than they need every day.

Younger consumers also are concerned about sustainability, so sales of products with sustainability claims are likely to increase as Millennials’ buying power increases over the next five to six years, speakers said. Expect more meat-substitute products as well, including lab-grown offerings created cell-by-cell to resemble fish.

Looking at restaurants, the prediction was that restaurant sales levels would not return to what they were pre-pandemic in 2019 until 2023.

Speakers at the presentation included an old boss of mine, Joan Driggs, now vice president, content and thought leadership at IRI, a market research firm. We worked together at Mintel, another market research firm and were both journalists in our former lives.

Other scheduled speakers were:

Mike Kostyo
Trendologist and Senior Managing Editor, Datassential

Chris Dubois
Senior Vice President, Protein Practice Leader, IRI

2022 starting with salad recalls, so beware

The new year is barely upon us and we already are dealing with salad recalls that started in late December. “The FDA announced recalls from Fresh Express, Simple Truth and Nature’s Basket. Many bagged and boxed greens are affected,” reported the Food Network on Jan. 7.

Fresh express announced a recall Dec, 20 of salads bearing its name and store brand names as well because of concerns of Listeria contamination.

My Garden Bar salad
Always wash your lettuce, even if it comes bagged and supposedly pre-washed.

The second recall of Simple Truth Organic Power Greens and Nature’s Basket Organic Power Greens happened early this year. “The CDC posted an outbreak warning of E. coli 0157:H7 on January 6th, 2022 linked to boxed salad greens sold in Washington, Oregon, Ohio and Alaska. The power greens have Use-By-Dates through December 20th, 2021, which means products will not be in grocery cases but could still be in home fridges. They were sold at Fred Meyer, QFC and Giant Eagle grocery chains and should be thrown away immediately,” Food Network reported.

A reminder, thoroughly wash all your lettuce, whether bagged or not. Lettuce can be a great place for these pesky bacteria to hide

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