Friday, January 10, 2014

Here's why you should never pay retail for food

At the Costco Wholesale in Hackensack on Thursday afternoon, employees were restocking shelves with items left behind by customers at checkout counters or elsewhere in the store after last-minute changes of mind.


Costco Wholesale's fair food prices are a persuasive argument for never paying retail for what we eat.

Why pay $6.99 or $7.99 for a pound of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring Mix -- one of the best salads on Earth -- when Costco sells it for $4.49 to $4.99 year-round , and makes a profit?

Why pay ShopRite $6.99 for 2 pounds of those wonderful Campari Tomatoes, when you can find them every day of the year at Costco for $4.99?

When ShopRite has one of its Can-Can Sales, the reduced prices of seltzer, marinara sauce and other items approach and sometimes beat the deals you can get at Costco all the time.

But fewer and fewer items go on deep discount during those ShopRite sales, and shoppers can sometimes do better with manager's specials, such as the bottled Dress Italian pasta sauces I bought at the Paramus ShopRite for $1.99 each or half-price.

Today, I saw the same imported sauce at the Englewood ShopRite for $3.49, a 50-cent discount, at the Super Can-Can Sale.

Despite long lines at other checkout counters, employees at the ShopRite in Hackesack didn't open the 20-item express line on Monday. It also remained closed on a previous visit.

Costco members 

You say Costco Wholesale is a members-only store with an annual fee of $55 to $110 a year, negating the savings on food?

With a no-fee American Express-Costco credit card, you get as much as a 3% rebate at the warehouse store, and outside rebates on gasoline, restaurant meals and other purchases -- money back that easily surpasses the membership fee.

Costco also sells such winners as Natural Peanut Butter and Basil Pesto that are difficult to match in terms of quality and price. 

At H Mart in Fort Lee, frozen South Korean yellow tail -- a fish often served raw at sushi bars -- were only $1.99 a pound on Sunday. I bought fresh, wild-caught croaker for $3.99 a pound.

Fresh mustard greens and prepared Korean pancakes, stir-fried vermicelli noodles and stewed tofu from H Mart and H Mart Fresh, both in Fort Lee.

Price variances

At Costco Wholesale, you won't run into price differences from one store to another in the same area.

That's what happened when I purchased a 16-portion box of Shin Ramyun, a spicy instant noodle soup, for $12.99 on Sunday at the Fort Lee H Mart, only to see it for less the next day at the Little Ferry H Mart (regularly $16.99).

I'm kicking myself for passing up the same box of Shin Ramyun for $9.99 at the H&Y Marketplace in Ridgefield.

Mouth-filling ribbons of Garofalo whole-wheat pappardelle noodles in bottled Dress Italian Arrabbiata Sauce with baby spinach. The pasta's name derives from the verb "pappare" or "to gobble up." How appropriate.

For a filling breakfast the next morning, I served myself the chunky pasta sauce, which is made with Italian chopped tomatoes and white wine, over organic brown rice and stewed tofu, plating them and reheating them in the microwave.

I added fresh basil leaves to the bottled Dress Italian sauce from a plant I found at the ShopRite in Englewood for $2.49, above and below. The plants, grown in Belvidere, contain no GMOs.

What goes up ...

I was surprised last week when the price for Kirkland Signature Wild Alaskan Smoked Sockeye Salmon at Costco jumped by more than $3 for a 1-pound package.

On Thursday, I returned to my Hackensack Costco, looking for more wild mahi-mahi fillets, a recently added item.

Instead of going when the store first opens at 10 a.m., I decided to visit after 5 in the afternoon, and found the shopping experience a lot more relaxed.

However, the parking lot was the usual zoo, with shoppers looking for parking spaces close to the doors and backing up traffic.

An employee was adding more shrink-wrapped mahi-mahi to the fish case, and I was pleasantly surprised to see the price had dropped to $5.99 a pound, from $7.99.

One pound of Earthbound Farm Organic Spring mix was $4.79, 2 pounds of Campari Tomatoes were $4.99 and 3 pounds of peeled Christopher Ranch Monviso Garlic, an heirloom variety from California, were $5.99.

Jumbo Shingo Korean Pears were $6.49 for three (weight is 2.8 pounds).

A homemade frittata and stewed tofu with mashed sweet potatoes from Costco Wholesale. They are sold in 10-pound bags only during the holidays for around 49 cents a pound.

The mall entrance to Whole Foods Market in Paramus.

'You can't see it'

Whole Foods Market and ShopRite are the last two supermarkets I patronize that give shoppers credit for bringing re-usable bags.

But on Thursday, when I purchased three 1-pound packages of imported organic whole wheat pasta at the Whole Foods in Paramus, the receipt didn't show the usual 10-cents credit for my one bag.

I said to the cashier, "You didn't give me credit for my bag," and she said, "I did, but you can't see it."

That didn't sound right, so I handed her the receipt, she looked at it and handed me a dime.

More smoked salmon

At Marshalls, near Whole Foods, I found a box containing a pound of smoked wild Alaskan sockeye salmon for $19.99.

The fish, in a vacuum-sealed pouch, is fully cooked, preservative free and doesn't require refrigeration until it is opened.

The label says the salmon is "smoked [over alder wood] in the same careful and time-consuming Native American tradition."

It's from Alaska Smokehouse and carries a sell-by date of January 2018. 

Lavazza beans

Jerry's Gourmet & More in Englewood restocked and had more Lavazza coffee beans from Italy when I stopped there today.

A 2.2-pound bag of Crema E Aroma was $19.99, a good price, though I've seen Lavazza beans at Jerry's for a few dollars less.


  1. Costco, BJ's, Sam's ... all making a mint by claiming to be wholesale when really, wholesale is a whole different thing.

    1. "Real wholesale" is not accessible to the ordinary consumer. I plan to go to a wholesaler to the restaurant trade to check on food prices, but wouldn't be able to buy anything there so the wholesale prices are meaningless to me.

      Costco takes a fixed profit and treats its workers well, but I don't know about the others. I boycott Walmart because of the way it treats workers, many of whom must apply for food stamps to put food on their tables.

    2. Also, the low prices I see during ShopRite's Can-Can Sale and similar events at other chains are subsidized by the manufacturers, who appear unwilling to continue to shell out the money, which explains why there are fewer and fewer good deals as time goes by.

      Even these lower prices often don't match Costco's every day prices.

      Costco doesn't honor manufacturers' coupons, but does issue its own coupons regularly, lowering its prices even further.


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