During the 2003 grocery workers’ strike here in Southern California, I started shopping almost exclusively at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, and I saw little need to go to Ralphs (I never shopped at Vons/Pavilions or Albertsons back then). Now it looks like there may be another strike, and I am dreading it because I now shop at Ralphs and Vons/Pavilions every week (Albertsons is just too far away for regular trips).
Here are some options on how you, the customer, can deal with a grocery workers’ strike:
1. Shop as usual. For some people, crossing picket lines isn’t a big deal, in which case the strike will probably just mean some extra good deals.
2. Shop at the big three but not at your usual locations. I’m all for the workers getting better benefits if they feel they can’t support their families, but I have to balance that against my own family’s budget. I personally wouldn’t want my favorite cashiers to see me crossing their picket line, so if there’s a deal at Ralphs or Vons that I simply cannot pass up, I’ll go to a store that’s out of the way where I don’t recognize any of the employees. I expect this to be a rare occurrence, but then again, the stores might be hurting so much that they’ll have incredible deals.
3. Shop at Trader Joe’s. When it comes to everyday low prices and high quality foods, Trader Joe’s is pretty reliable. I shop there almost weekly anyway because of their extensive selection of RBST-free and organic dairy products, organic produce, and low prices on staples like kalamata olives. But without loss leaders like free-after-coupon pasta and yogurt, your total bill will almost certainly be higher.
If you do shop at TJ’s, note that most if not all stores accept manufacturer’s coupons. They do carry selected name brand items, so you can still save a little money. I’ve always used my coupons for $0.55/2 dozen of any brand eggs at Trader Joe’s – it always gives the cashier pause, but they’ve always honored it with a good attitude.
4. Shop for food at the drugstores. It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of The Drugstore Game, and they all sell food. The selection is more limited and you’ll want to keep an eye on expiration dates since their turnover is lower than at grocery stores, but you can get good deals, especially after coupons and store rewards. $5 Dinners posts a weekly list of the drugstore food deals, and of course I’ll included the best deals in my weekly coupon match ups for each of the drugstores.
5. Shop at ethnic markets. It can be intimidating to go into an ethnic market where many of the foods are unfamiliar, but such stores frequently have spectacular prices on the foods they specialize in. Chains like 99 Ranch and Vallarta have weekly ads that you can check online.
6. Shop at nonunion markets. I wasn’t thrilled when I tried shopping at Jons and Fresh & Easy, but they are full-fledged markets with most everything you need.
7. Shop for food at Target and Walmart. From what I see online, you can get quite a few grocery deals at Walmart that rival the loss leaders at the supermarkets (and don’t forget you can price match the supermarket ads). I find that even Target’s sale prices are higher than the supermarkets’ loss leaders, but during a strike (and especially with price matching), Target could be a viable option since every store seems to have expanded the grocery section to include produce and meat.
8. Shop more at warehouse stores. While Costco’s prices are generally higher than the lowest sale price at the supermarkets, they are competitive with certain items like dairy, bananas, spices and bread. And those savings can help offset the higher price of other items while you’re avoiding the Big 3.
9. Buy produce at the farmer’s market. Depending on which market you go to and what you’re buying, prices at the farmer’s market can be lower than what you’ll find at the supermarket. This is especially true of in-season produce, and many of the farmers don’t use chemicals on their crops so they are closer to organic than conventional produce. They just can’t use the organic label because they don’t follow all of the practices required, they haven’t been following organic practices for the required minimum of five years, or they don’t want to pay the high fees required to be certified as organic. But note that prices of non-produce items at the farmer’s market tend to be quite high.
10. Have your groceries delivered. Vons delivers groceries to your home, and you can often get free delivery with a coupon code and minimum purchase (though the minimum seems to be $150, which is way more than I spend in one trip; the minimum delivery fee is $6.95, which is less than I would have guessed). It doesn’t look like you can use coupons, but you’ll get their sale prices.
How do you plan to cope if there’s a grocery workers’ strike?
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