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  • How to Handle a Grocery Workers’ Strike

    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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    Comments

    1. Deanna Gomez says:

      My husband is a Teamster so we will not cross regardless whether we agree or disagree with the strike. Winco is an employee owned store and Stater Bros. will not strike (at least last time they did not), both are good options. (Winco is my regular store) Any super fab deals at the striking stores for me will just have to be passed up.

      • Chief Family Officer says:

        Thanks, Deanna! Winco and Stater Bros. are both great suggestions – there are none near me but if they’re in your area, definitely add them to the list to consider. I haven’t seen Stater Bros. mentioned in connection with the labor dispute so I think you’re right about them not striking. Christian Clippers does Stater Bros. match ups each week (http://christianclippers.com/tag/stater-bros).

    2. I am praying that they do not strike, so many people are going to be hurt if they do. People who call on the stores for their jobs will be out of work too. In this economy, I do not see how they can think a strike is a good thing, people line up 100’s deep for one job here in San Diego. I know a grocery worker was once a fantastic job with great pay and great benefits, so they are suffering like we all are. Costco has extremely good quality meats, guess I will go there more rather than Vons, Albies or Ralphs. Sad.

      • Chief Family Officer says:

        Agreed, a strike will hurt everyone more than it will help anyone. So I hope it won’t happen, although it does appear to be headed that way right now.

    3. Bearsbearsbears says:

      I do most of my shopping at ethnic markets–only match-ups and deals bring me into the big stores. Meat and produce I can almost always get cheaper at ethnic markets. If it weren’t for “extereme couponing” type deals, I wouldn’t shop at them at all except to get the occasional good price on sirloin or flour.

      One article anecdotally mentioned a woman who said that she would cross because she’s a creature of habit, but if the picketers guilt her into not shopping at her local Ralphs, she’d likely never return to Ralphs once she got in the habit of going elsewhere. I think most people are less rigidly habitual, but I am expecting the stores to run loss-leading specials to keep people in the habit of shopping. I will probably still go to the markets for these uber-deals. Daddy needs some cheap Barilla, y’alls.

      If my transactions cause the grocery stores a loss, perhaps it’s a backhanded way of supporting the strike? :)

      • Chief Family Officer says:

        I’ve heard a few stories about picketers harassing customers during the last strike . . .

        Your question reminds me of the logic games section of the LSAT – if we all just go in and buy only the loss leaders, who does that help?

        • Bearsbearsbears says:

          That’s a good point, and it’s parallel to the problem with striking in general. The union workers do major damage to profits to help their own labor situation, but in the long run it hurts the company financially, making the company less competitive versus non-union stores and otherwise potentially creating worse situations for union labor in the future. E.g., many stores never recovered after the 2003 strike and closed, causing those union workers to lose their jobs.

          It’s a tough situation for both sides, and hopefully it will be avoided altogether!

    4. Thanks for giving us the options. But I just hope they dont go for a strike and settle the matter.

      • Chief Family Officer says:

        Me too, but Vons has signs up that they’re hiring temporary workers in anticipation of a labor dispute so I’m not holding my breath. :(

    5. scrapper al says:

      The 99 cents store and even Big Lots carry produce now. Of course, you have to look at the carefully before you buy it. There are lots of alternatives if there is a strike.

      • Chief Family Officer says:

        That’s a great tip! Those stores aren’t near me so I haven’t been in them in a while and had no idea they carry produce now.

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