Grocery Store Game Show

IMG_3336Last week I bought delicious blueberries for 99 cents a pint. That was such a great deal, and they looked SO good that I put three pints into my cart. Since I’m really the only blueberry eater in the house, tonight I’m freezing blueberries.

Grocery shopping is kind of a competitive sport for me. I’m not a super couponer, but I do pay attention to what things cost. That’s probably what’s using up all of the space in my mental hard drive. For most every grocery item I buy, I know the “best deal” price. I just bought a carton of 18 eggs today for 69 cents. That would be my best deal price on eggs.

One day I saw a man at the store picking up butter. There was a great sale that day on Land O Lakes butter, and without even looking at the prices, he went straight for the store brand butter, which was now twice the price of the fancy butter that comes wrapped in half sticks. Twice the price.

This is why I don’t really want my husband grocery shopping. He does that too. He would choose the store brand butter without looking. He laughs at me when I stock up on toilet paper at $4.99 for a 6-pack of 4X rolls or when I get a bunch of laundry soap that’s $1.99 for the 31 load bottle. Yeah, the same guy who goes around the house shutting off lights behind everyone.

I should probably be on The Price is Right.

All of those items: blueberries, eggs, butter, toilet paper, laundry soap are sometimes twice the price or more, depending on the item. Those prices cycle up and down from one Wednesday to the next. If you buy enough $4.99 TP, you can make it until the next time it’s $4.99. This takes research and restraint.

Yet, some people don’t even look. I have one kid in graduate school and another starting to look at colleges. I look.

Recently I ran into a former co-worker at the store. He’s marketing a food product and was asking my advice on how to understand his target customer. I was vaguely aware of the product. He said his cost was $2.50 per item but it retailed for $10. When I buy that item that he sells, I’m never going to pay $10. I don’t think I’ve ever paid $4 for it. Clearly I’m not his target customer. He confessed that he felt guilty for having the non-GMO label on it, since he grew up in farm country and knows what GMOs really are.

I have been irritated for years by companies that have to slap that fraudulent label on things. And now it all made sense to me. It’s all about profit. And in his case, he knows there’s a reason to feel guilty about it, even if he doesn’t fully understand the big picture about who gets hurt when companies do this. It’s about profit, and about finding people who don’t look at prices or don’t understand labels. And sometimes I think buying grocery labels is almost as much a status thing as buying a designer purse or those fancy shoes with the red soles.

The organic label is a status label. I would guess most people who are buying organic produce have no idea what it even means. It does not mean the produce is grown without pesticides. It makes me laugh to think of the lost status flaunting opportunities when we someday buy our groceries through Amazon, with no one watching.

I guess we’re lucky in the U.S. because we don’t live on less than a dollar a day and our food prices are a relatively small percentage of our paychecks. So maybe that’s why people can literally buy essentially the same items and leave the same store spending double what I do. I hope those are the people I’m competing against someday on The Price Is Right.