Disloyal Grocery Shopping

Whenever I visit my parents for an extended period time in their suburban neighborhood, we always decide to buy groceries for my stay, and my dad goes through the weekly grocery store circulars to determine which store is offering the best deals.

“Oh, look, there’s a deal on lobsters at Ralphs!” my dad points out. “We’ll go there and get some and invite your aunt and uncle over for dinner while you’re visiting.” We get into the car and drive past the Albertsons and the Costco and the Stater Bros. Market until we get to Ralphs.

I don’t do any of that in New York. I walk to the closest non-gourmet specialty grocery store in my neighborhood, buy the food I need for the week, and then walk back to my apartment with my two bags of food. I will go to the farmer’s market during the weekend if I have some leisure time, and will stop into the Trader Joe’s in my neighborhood if it’s not a nightmare, but otherwise, it’s the place down the street from me and back.

When I lived in the suburbs and had a car and access to easy parking, it was painless to stop in at multiple places in a day for whatever it was I needed. My dad is not loyal to any one grocery store; he is loyal to A Good Deal. I’m loyal to whatever grocery store is close to me and isn’t a nightmare to shop in (which is often the case with the Trader Joe’s in my neighborhood, or the Fairway market).

I like Whole Foods and their “365 Everyday Value” products, but the closest one to me is a bit of a trek, so I don’t go very often. The “gig economy” has produced startups like Instacart, which allows people to order groceries from participating markets like Whole Foods and have them delivered to you within the hour, but I’ve been hesitant to use these kinds of on-demand services mostly because the people taking these jobs have little leverage when it comes fair employment practices.

Yesterday, it was announced that a Wegmans, a popular Rochester-based supermarket, would be coming to New York. The Washington Post writes that it may be the best supermarket in the U.S. because of the quality of its goods, the large selection, and the low prices being offered. A spokesperson told the Daily News that it would pay workers “equal to or better than rates paid by other retailers” (the News notes that Whole Food employees by comparison are paid around $17 per hour on average).

It sounds like the kind of grocery store my dad would love; the kind we’d drive to for some deals even if it were a little out of the way. But even if it were to turn out to be the best grocery chain in the U.S., I probably wouldn’t shop there unless it were convenient. Lots of readers pointed out to me yesterday that I could probably get a better deal on the yogurt brand I liked if I made a little more effort to find a market with a better price point and just go there; save $20 a month by doing like my dad does and hunt for the deal. I guess I’m paying extra for the convenience of being able to walk down the street.

This story is part of our food month series.

Photo: James G. Milles

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