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Buying Produce from Ethnic Markets
Old 01-04-2011, 02:20 PM   #1
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Buying Produce from Ethnic Markets

I read a post here a while ago from someone who mentioned shopping at ethnic markets for produce. I tried it and am amazed at the price differences. Of the three ethnic groceries I tried, all three had nice selections of fruits and vegetables on sale for 50 cents a pound or less. These were no mom and pop stores but local or regional chains.

Veggies that sell for $2 a pound at the local retail grocery store are maybe 50 cents a pound at the ethnic stores. The produce was actually fresher in many cases at the ethnic stores.

So why the the big difference? For non produce the other items like canned goods and dry goods were rather similarly priced between the ethnic groceries and the retail chains.
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Old 01-04-2011, 03:08 PM   #2
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We frequently shop at ethnic markets (latino and asian). I'm not sure why their produce is cheaper, but many times it is. I think it is because they have higher turnover (which means less profit per unit is required to make that square footage as profitable as big grocery) and high turnover means less spoilage. Also, the typical asian store here is a lot more cramped. No 10 ft wide aisles at these places - more like 3 ft wide with boxes of merchandise sitting on the floor.

Also in our area there is a ton of competition in the latino and asian ethnic grocer market. Probably 20+ in a mile or two radius, whereas there are only ~3 regular grocery stores in that same area.

For specialty produce especially, the ethnic markets know they can't charge ridiculous prices to their ethnic customers because these specialty produce items are often staples for their ethnic shoppers. Whereas the Whole Foods type shopper has no problem paying $5+/lb for bok choi or tomatillos.

Another factor might be the supply chain. My MIL grows and sells her vegetables to 5-10 of the local asian groceries. She gets a pittance for the produce, which means the groceries can sell the items cheap. You go to whole foods-type grocery, and you are probably buying stuff grown in small quantities under labor intensive conditions that the vendor charges a lot for. And possibly shipped in air freight from half way across the country or world.
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Old 01-04-2011, 03:22 PM   #3
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Just guessing here, but I suspect

1) small grocers are not subject to the same level of regulation as large chains (I know this is true for fish and meat sales),
2) most of the people that shop in the smaller ethnic grocers just wouldn't pay the prices that the larger chains charge.

We shop a lot in the Mexican supermarket. The produce is uglier, sometimes dirtier, but that doesn't bother us 'cause we're not there looking for dates. Can't say that it ever tastes better but it definitely never tastes worse. Better variety of many fresh items as well.

I think it's mostly consumer demand. If the price were higher the regulars wouldn't shop there any more, and if it weren't ethnic most of the regulars at the big chains stores would go, and the prices would go up.
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Old 01-04-2011, 03:50 PM   #4
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There is a local mom-n-pop Italian grocery store that sells fresh veggies dirt cheap. They are not highly polished and "perfect", but they are fresh and firm and actually smell like vegetables should.
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Old 01-04-2011, 04:21 PM   #5
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We buy most of our produce at a Latino/Eastern European/Asian market--great prices, fresh produce. Meat prices are also good, but we have not had good luck with it, so we go to Whole Foods for that and pay through the nose, but then make up for that by going to Aldi's for almost everything else. So that's what I do all day
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Old 01-04-2011, 04:38 PM   #6
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Our ethnic markets are, in order of availability, Hispanic, Eastern European and Asian. One small chain, Caputo's, caters to both Hispanic and Eastern European. The produce and deli area are common but the packaged good areas are separate.

I agree that produce is much, much less expensive and available in much greater variety at the ethnic oriented stores. Yep, you have to sometimes dig through the pyramids of fruit and look at things carefully to not accidentally bring home a bruised item, but it's worth it. I don't need someone sorting for me and making up little plastic covered trays.

I also have a couple of places where deli is much cheaper too. And there's lots to choose from beyond the usual sausages, cheeses and salads. The ducks and prepared dishes at one Asian shop make I'm think I'm back in Tianjin where I spent a lot of time for MegaCorp.

Now that you have me thinking about food...... think I'll stop by that place on my way back from the UPS drop off. Hey, as long as I have to ship a package, might as well pick up something nice for dinner that I don't have to cook!
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Old 01-04-2011, 04:45 PM   #7
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Old 01-04-2011, 05:04 PM   #8
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My brother is a produce mgr at a major chain in Chicago. There's only 2 big grocery chains here. He told me when they go to market to bid on produce, they assume 1000 crates for the big 2 chains, but say they only bid on 500 crates. The rest needs to get sold off, probably need to get rid of it, so all the smaller stores get to buy at pennies on the dollar for the leftovers. There may be nothing wrong with the produce, just that they couldn't sell it all to the big retialers or they already made the money. They also sell off damaged, older produce like this too.
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Old 01-04-2011, 05:19 PM   #9
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I'm lucky enough to have a really great Asian market not that far away, and while the produce is not that much cheaper, the variety is marvelous -- lots of things that just aren't available in the supermarket. Frozen fish the same way.

We also have quite a number of farmers' markets around the city, where you can get the absolute freshest of everything, and many items that can be found nowhere else.

I hit one or the other or both every week, and often walk out with a big smile on my face.
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Old 01-04-2011, 05:43 PM   #10
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I'm lucky enough to have a really great Asian market not that far away, and while the produce is not that much cheaper, the variety is marvelous -- lots of things that just aren't available in the supermarket. Frozen fish the same way.

We also have quite a number of farmers' markets around the city, where you can get the absolute freshest of everything, and many items that can be found nowhere else.

I hit one or the other or both every week, and often walk out with a big smile on my face.
The Farmers' Markets here have excellent stuff, but cost about twice Whole Foods. Strictly a well to do young professionals" indulgence. There are some fruit/veg stands that operate away from the city core that are reasonable, but usually not cheaper than big supermarkets.

Ha
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:03 PM   #11
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My brother is a produce mgr at a major chain in Chicago. There's only 2 big grocery chains here. He told me when they go to market to bid on produce, they assume 1000 crates for the big 2 chains, but say they only bid on 500 crates. The rest needs to get sold off, probably need to get rid of it, so all the smaller stores get to buy at pennies on the dollar for the leftovers. There may be nothing wrong with the produce, just that they couldn't sell it all to the big retialers or they already made the money. They also sell off damaged, older produce like this too.
Makes sense. Thanks for the info.
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:07 PM   #12
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Our ethnic markets are, in order of availability, Hispanic, Eastern European and Asian. One small chain, Caputo's, caters to both Hispanic and Eastern European. The produce and deli area are common but the packaged good areas are separate.

I agree that produce is much, much less expensive and available in much greater variety at the ethnic oriented stores. Yep, you have to sometimes dig through the pyramids of fruit and look at things carefully to not accidentally bring home a bruised item, but it's worth it. I don't need someone sorting for me and making up little plastic covered trays.

I also have a couple of places where deli is much cheaper too. And there's lots to choose from beyond the usual sausages, cheeses and salads. The ducks and prepared dishes at one Asian shop make I'm think I'm back in Tianjin where I spent a lot of time for MegaCorp.

Now that you have me thinking about food...... think I'll stop by that place on my way back from the UPS drop off. Hey, as long as I have to ship a package, might as well pick up something nice for dinner that I don't have to cook!
Caputo's is my sisters favorite for fruit and produce. Some Korean neighbors told us about H-Mart. They have lots of Asian produce and unbelievably low prices and great selection for seafood. My brother and his wife go into Lincoln Park every saturday morning for the farmer's market - but they are real foodies, and I have no idea what they spend.
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:14 PM   #13
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I should try buying produce from ethnic markets, but I don't. I just buy my groceries at the supermarket down the street. It's close and convenient, and I can get in and out of there pretty fast.

I'd probably save a lot if I shopped around, but I don't. We usually eat lunch out together, so I am just shopping for about half the food for one person. So, it hardly seems worth the effort.
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Old 01-04-2011, 06:16 PM   #14
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We are also fans of produce at ethnic markets. To be fair, the veggie often does not look polished and "pretty" as supplied by mainstream grocery chains, but inside a soup it tastes and also looks the same.
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Old 01-04-2011, 08:51 PM   #15
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We frequent a Mexican market . It is like shopping in Cozumel . The Caribbean music is blaring and there are often pig's heads or other weird body parts in the freezer . Great place to buy veggies ,ribs or grouper !
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Old 01-04-2011, 10:13 PM   #16
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I think another factor is less/lower marketing costs - the major chain stores advertise on tv, radio, mailers and sunday papers...that makes the lemons 2 for $1, whereas you get a whole bag for that price at the other stores...some of the ethnic markets advertise in local ethnic media but that is much cheaper to do as well...
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Old 01-04-2011, 10:31 PM   #17
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Caputo's is my sisters favorite for fruit and produce. Some Korean neighbors told us about H-Mart. They have lots of Asian produce and unbelievably low prices and great selection for seafood. My brother and his wife go into Lincoln Park every saturday morning for the farmer's market - but they are real foodies, and I have no idea what they spend.
MichaelB,
I think we shop in the same general area...are you in the north side/suburbs of Chicago? Try these places too: Jerry's Produce (Niles), Village Marketplace(Skokie), Oakton Produce (Skokie), Fresh Farms (Niles), then these are stock up stores: Butera, Shop n Save (Niles), Tony's Finer Food (Chicago), Meijer (Niles) and Food4Less(Evanston). We tend to target sale shop these stores depending on our driving path between Chicago and N. burbs.
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Old 01-05-2011, 09:45 AM   #18
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I think another factor is less/lower marketing costs - the major chain stores advertise on tv, radio, mailers and sunday papers...that makes the lemons 2 for $1, whereas you get a whole bag for that price at the other stores...some of the ethnic markets advertise in local ethnic media but that is much cheaper to do as well...
I also notice that most of the major name grocery stores run deep discount specials on a limited selection of items. The buy one, get one free deals, and 30-40% off deals. These are loss leaders (or make very little profit), but draw you in the store. Then everything else is more expensive to make the overall product line up profitable. Most of the ethnic stores don't run these kind of gimmicky specials, so everything can be a little bit cheaper than Big Grocery's regular prices.
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Old 01-05-2011, 10:12 AM   #19
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I'm lucky enough to have a really great Asian market not that far away, and while the produce is not that much cheaper, the variety is marvelous -- lots of things that just aren't available in the supermarket. Frozen fish the same way.

We also have quite a number of farmers' markets around the city, where you can get the absolute freshest of everything, and many items that can be found nowhere else.

I hit one or the other or both every week, and often walk out with a big smile on my face.
You have farmers' markets in Ohio in the winter? We only have them in the warmer months.

I use Whole Paycheck for veggies if I can't find them elsewhere. I need to find stores with a more ethnic clientele. Where I live it's mostly big grocery stores and some veggies are hard to find. The quality of the veggies is also not great - I'm always amazed at the produce a giant grocery store will leave out as if it's fresh... but it's getting better. I just have to be picky.

And now that I'm a retired woman of leisure I suppose I could drive around more and look for food options. I'm just feeling lazy.

Trader Joe's is finally opening here - this spring, I think - and near my house.
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Old 01-05-2011, 12:49 PM   #20
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I also notice that most of the major name grocery stores run deep discount specials on a limited selection of items. The buy one, get one free deals, and 30-40% off deals. These are loss leaders (or make very little profit), but draw you in the store. Then everything else is more expensive to make the overall product line up profitable. Most of the ethnic stores don't run these kind of gimmicky specials, so everything can be a little bit cheaper than Big Grocery's regular prices.
Yeah, I know some people are really skilled/vigilant and are able to take advantage of those deals but I suck at it - so rather go to a store where prices are generally low then hunt and peck!
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