Low-graphic news index |
Thursday, August 16, 2012 - Page updated at 04:30 a.m.
To save on groceries, buy in bulk and read the fine print
By Hsiao-Ching Chou
Special to The Seattle Times
When it comes to saving grocery dollars, buying bigger packages — or bulk — is better. The smaller the package or portion size, the more you will pay.
Here's a quiz. Which is cheaper: a two-pound brick of Tillamook cheddar cheese at $9.99 or an eight-ounce bag of shredded cheddar at $3.99? If you shop based on a total dollar limit or budget, you might pick the $3.99 pack of shredded cheese because it's $6 less than the brick cheese. But if you do some quick math, or just read the fine print on the price tag, you would see that the better value is the brick cheese for $9.99.
Reading the price tag will tell you that the $3.99 package of shredded cheese is $7.98 per pound versus $5 per pound for the $9.99 brick of cheese. It's that unit price that you want to compare. The shredded cheese costs more, because there's more labor involved. You pay for the convenience.
For the purposes of this piece, I got sample prices from a market in Ballard and one Seattle-area wholesale club store to show that comparing unit price and buying in bulk offers more value.
The power of bulk is most evident at a wholesale club. You can get a five-pound block of Tillamook cheddar for about $3.25 per pound. A five-pound bag of shredded Tillamook cheddar is about $3.47 per pound. The cost divide isn't as steep, but there still is a difference.
It's even easier to get blinded by convenience when buying meat or fish. Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, for example, have become a staple for their blank-canvas versatility and relative leanness. But it's the most expensive cut of the chicken because to get a breast requires more work from the butcher — or assembly line workers.
These are the prices for two cuts of chicken breast at the market:
Smart Chicken organic boneless, skinless chicken breast $9.99/pound
Smart Chicken organic bone-in split breast $6.79/pound
You save $3 per pound just by choosing the bone-in split breast. It doesn't take much effort for you to trim the bone and skin off the less expensive cut. If you learn how to break down a whole chicken (see this Gourmet magazine video), you can save even more money. At this same store, the price for an all-natural whole chicken from Draper Valley Farms was $1.49 per pound.
The wholesale club offers chicken breasts at about $3.29 per pound for a six-pound pack. A nine-pound pack of two whole chickens costs $1.12 per pound. If you have the freezer space, these are your best bets.
Let's look at broccoli. If you buy a bag of broccoli florets, you will spend $3.33 per pound for a 12-ounce bag or $2.99 per pound for a 32-ounce bag. Or you can buy broccoli crowns at $1.78 per pound and spend two minutes cutting them into florets. If you can consume a three-pound bag of broccoli florets, the wholesale club price is hard to beat at $4.99, or about $1.60 per pound.
Another area where you can save big money is in the bulk spice section. Look at these prices for cinnamon:
McCormick, ground cinnamon 1 ounce $48.23/pound
2.37 ounces $32.36/pound
4.12 ounces $31.09/pound
Frontier, organic bulk ground cinnamon $8.29/pound
McCormick is a common brand in most stores. First notice that the smaller the volume of the container, the higher the price. Then look at the difference between the packaged price versus the bulk price. It's pretty obvious that 1-ounce bulk cinnamon at $8.29 per pound is a better deal than the 1-ounce bottled cinnamon at $48.23 per pound.
If you find yourself in a position to be able to use an 18-ounce container of ground cinnamon, the wholesale club price is $4.56 for the bottle, or about $4.05 per pound.
Certainly, prices vary according to brand, store and location. The point is to compare sizes and unit pricing before you make a decision. There are plenty of savings to be had if you spend a little more time reading the fine print.
Hsiao-Ching Chou is the former food editor at the Seattle P-I and a freelance food writer.
Copyright © The Seattle Times Company
Low-graphic news index
Graphic-enabled home page