For me, the best way to save money on groceries is to shop at SEVERAL stores. Get a few things here, get a few things there, wherever the best prices are.
Some of my favorite places to get groceries in the metro area are (in order):
TRADER JOE’S (Maple Grove, Woodbury, elsewhere in the Twin Cities?) – a physically smaller store but WELL stocked supply of their own quality, brand name foods. Often better than other brands. Many organic choices – cheapest organic foods I can find. (With organic usually more expensive than conventional foods, this is a BIG deal for you if you like to buy organic.) Someone told me this store was owned by the same company that owns Aldi – this is the “organic” version – I haven’t checked if this is true.
Here I like to stock up on broth for soup (chicken and vegetable, low sodium), nuts, frozen foods. GREAT, LOW prices. Some things are cheaper here than anywhere else. FUN, friendly atmosphere – the most fun grocery store I’ve been to. Every time I go here I get into a very nice conversation with several of the clerks/staff. It’s hard not to go nuts here (I’ve filled up my cart easily here). Great wine shop. You’ve got to check it out!
SUPERTARGET (everywhere) – I go here the most because it’s most convenient for me. They have EVERYTHING. One stop shopping. Grocery selection is FANTASTIC – lots of organic, too. I’d say their produce section is their weakest. It’s not bad but I usually find better and cheaper produce elsewhere. I really like Target’s “young, hip, energetic” atmosphere, too.
CUB (everywhere) – Great for prices and selection. Good produce section. Some Cub stores are better than others. What brings me into Cub usually are their loss-leaders. Loss-leaders are the things they (and other grocery stores) price so cheap they lose money – these are featured in their weekly ads (found in the Sunday paper) to get you into their store. Their goal is to get you to buy other things to make up the difference. I have to admit I usually do buy other things once I’m there, but sometimes go in for just the loss-leaders (fresh chicken breasts, for example) then leave with nothing else (just don’t get a shopping cart!). I buy enough other stuff regularly at Cub anyway to give them a profit.
WALMART (everywhere; some Supercenters in the area) – There’s a Walmart close to me so I go there for household basics, personal hygiene, baby items and some kitchen staples (canned items, condiments, frozen chicken). Things like that are cheapest at Walmart. Their prices can’t be beat, though I do prefer Target’s atmosphere. Though they sell a lot of quality, brand items, Walmart still sells a lot of crap. They’ve gotten a LOT better in the past few years, but to me, their selection still borders on “dollar store” quality. (Clothing such as accessories, jewelry and home decor are some examples.)
WHOLE FOODS MARKET (one in Minneapolis, one in St. Paul) – When I first walked into each of these stores, I fell in LOVE. The colors! The life! The selection! So many healthy, organic choices – so many things I’d never heard of. The prices are a little higher than other stores, since organic usually costs more (except at TRADER JOE’S). Best organic selection. The Minneapolis store is bigger. Staff are great and will carry your bags to your car.
BYERLY’S (a few in the metro, usually in wealthier areas, also Lund’s stores though I haven’t been to those) – I don’t recommend this store for frugal shopping. I love shopping here for select items – or getting a salad at their salad bar – but it’s upscale, gourmet food in addition to higher-priced standard fare (unless it’s on sale). Go there if you have extra money and want to buy a few special items, or want fantastic service – staff are excellent and want to take care of you, and bag your groceries (which reflects in their prices, I think). I like their deli and bakery areas.
ALDI (everywhere)- I have to admit, I used to avoid this place. Mainly because of the plain, uninteresting atmosphere and its primarily canned and frozen selection (I like fresh food). But I’ve been checking it out more. Their limited produce is ok and is often really cheap. Look at their weekly one page ads. They have a theme each week (some of their recent themes have included Italian foods, German foods – for Oktoberfest, and outdoor items). Note that they do not take checks.
RAINBOW FOODS (everywhere) – I put them on the bottom of the list for a couple reasons. First, going grocery shopping here feels like a chore. Their staff often seem less than thrilled to be there, as do other customers. I’ve never seen it crowded. It’s very “boxed” – meaning, everything is organized straight and separated, and you feel like you’re in a big box (at least at my local Rainbow Foods). When you go in, all you see is one section – not the whole store like everywhere else I go. I like a more open feel. I know this may seem trivial but I like to feel good when I shop!
Second, their prices are usually highest of all the stores I go to. Sure, they have good prices on some things, usually their “loss leaders” (see CUB above), and on Wednesdays, it’s double coupon day (at least at my local Rainbow Foods). But in the end, no matter their sales or the double couponing, I don’t save any money here. Plus they run out of things a lot here. It’s happened several times that I’ve gone there for something on sale, and they were sold out.
I have to admit – the store they remodeled a couple years ago on White Bear Avenue in Maplewood is actually pleasant to shop at. They have fresh squeezed orange juice & tangerine juice, and the design solves the issues I described above. And the staff were more pleasant (probably because of the better design!). If they remodel ALL their stores to a more open plan, I I think they’d be more competitive.
Those are my grocery store reviews. I’d love to hear other opinions about these and any other stores I left out!