just a smidgen

Walmart vs Safeway ~ Food Thrifting

I quickly popped into Williams Sonoma on a Saturday evening around 5:30 pm to pick up a bag of my favorite gluten free Cup4Cup flour and was shocked at the large volume of people still shopping. We seem to have become an insatiable society of consumers looking for the next big score on their hunt for a deal. Streams of jostling humans make their journey to shopping mecca and pay homage to their retail gods every single day. What used to be an occasional indulgence has become a year-round (and sometimes the only) hobby for many. Scores of people are shopping for the feel-good rush of a new trendy purse or pair of shoes.. all wrapped up in pretty ribbons and bags. We are seduced by the marketing that tells us these will give us confidence, a happier life… even an improved self-image.

There are books about overindulging our children, but what about the example we set for them?

I’ve begun to question my own love for shopping. I grew up in a home where my brothers and I owned two pairs of shoes (one for summer and one for winter), one pair of runners and one pair of winter boots. While I do love shopping for clothes or a new pair of shoes like the next person, I wonder about the addictive nature of marketing, our response to it and I’ve noticed how fleeting that “feel good” response is after purchasing. After only a few days, that new outfit hangs in my closet and is not so special any more.

Personally, I feel that I’m a complete sucker for the whole shopping experience. Let me stroll through any organic grocery store, Whole Foods for instance, and I’m in love with the beautifully displayed produce. The atmosphere just makes me feel “special” as a customer and I enjoy the taking my time while perusing their aisles.

If these pleasures are so ephemeral, I wondered, what pursuits give long lasting pleasure and fulfillment, even self-confidence? I believe that those pleasures are so entirely simple and sustainable for me. My family, my friends, my creative pursuits, and my health/fitness. It’s that simple. Occasional travel, while being completely fantastic, is not a “fundamental” necessity for me to enjoy my life in a simple day-to-day way, it’s just a nice treat once in a while.

I do love being surrounded by beauty, whether in my garden or by the simple rearranging of furniture and decor accessories.. a simple bouquet of flowers.  I love the peace and the reflection that comes with time alone yet I am revived with the laughter that comes from the companionship of friends and family. It’s all about balance.

It is these simple pleasures that I’d like to focus on for 2014.

In order to achieve my goal of living more frugally, I decided to analyze my current grocery shopping habits. If people can thrift for vintage clothing and home goods, why not be thrifty when buying food… Food Thrifting! Not a bad idea for a food blogger!

I have shopped almost exclusively at Safeway for convenience and have my Safeway discount card.  I frequent Sunterra and Blush Lane for produce or specialty items that aren’t carried at Safeway. On weekends I’ll drive to our Farmer’s Market for the sweetest carrots and fresh fruit when it’s in season. In fact, I used to go to most of these shops to source the “best of the best” produce available.

For the past few weeks I’ve price checked items at both Walmart and Safeway and kept a spreadsheet for comparison. It really isn’t a surprise that prices are substantially lower at Walmart, I expected that. I just wondered how much lower. Here is my spreadsheet, while by no means extensive, all items are identical and would be products I purchase. Where offered, I used the Safeway Cardholder discounted prices.

 WalmartSafewayGrocery Price Comparison 2

Grocery Price Comparison 3

Grocery Price Comparison 5Walmart is 16% cheaper than Safeway and the total difference was $56.34.

But what about atmosphere and customer service? Safeway definitely has better product display, quicker lineups and is visually much cleaner and more appealing. Staff at Safeway are very helpful and congenial. Walmart staff go out of their way to chat with you when you enter the store and when you check out, but don’t visit Walmart on a Sunday at the end of a holiday or you could be waiting in line for hours.

Some produce at Walmart is substandard (the grey, shrivelled raspberries would be inedible) yet other produce was totally fine and comparable to Safeway. Walmart has a McDonalds (not a place where I’d eat, although I hear their coffee is excellent) and Safeway has Starbucks or Tim Hortons. What I really appreciate about Walmart is not having to dig through my purse for a stupid quarter or dollar to get a shopping cart. Having said that, Walmart needs to hire staff that can bring the carts back into the store during busier hours. Safeway has Air Miles and many people travel using those points. I’m not one to bother clipping coupons, but I’d be interested to know if this makes a huge difference for Canadian shoppers.

I’ve never been one to price check, but now that I have, I really can’t stand paying so much more for the identical product. But days can get busy and on those days, the store that gets my hard-earned buck will almost always be the store closest to home.

So here’s the plan.. on days when I can plan ahead, I will hit Walmart or Superstore first for dry goods, then pick up what’s missing next door at Safeway. But let me be clear.. I also love to shop local and support our Alberta artisan bakers, farmers and meat producers.. so when I have time, I’ll be making trips to the Farmer’s Market, etc on weekends. Nothing beats the quality and taste of produce grown locally.

I also understand economies of scale, I get that we should shop Canadian when we can. It just seems prices on dry goods is almost arbitrarily marked up. For instance, why would Terra Chips cost $3.97 at Walmart and $6.59 at Safeway? I have also heard that most stores have Loss Leaders where a few popular items are drastically reduced to draw in customers, who then go on to purchase the rest of their groceries in that store.

Superstore and Costco have the added benefit of a more extensive line of cheeses, deli products, etc. I have heard that prescriptions are less expensive at Superstore and will have to confirm. I have heard the meat at Costco and the seafood at Superstore are both excellent, but so much of this is personal taste. When I can, I like to pick up my meat, poultry, wild game etc at Rocky Mountain Game Meats. They will have your order ready and vacuum packed in the quantities you request. Their product is outstanding.

I have also heard quality of on-the-job experience for staff and wages vary greatly between stores, I have no knowledge of this but hope it’s not the case.

Update: This just in from CBC Radio Show “The Current”: Minimum Wage Wars: Walmart Canada.

Update: Just this evening, this CBC Radio Show aired:  “The Current” Minimum Wage Wars: Earning Below the Poverty Line.

Most surprisingly, through changing my grocery shopping habits..  I’ve discovered that there is something quite satisfying about being thrifty and this is a change that, so far, has been more lasting than any impulse shopping I have ever done.

Next up.. I think I should compare Brand Name products with “No Name” brands.. what do you think?

Update: Today at Safeway I saw a gal with a bar code reader plugged right into her computer. She was walking through the aisles zapping everything and it went straight into her cart. I certainly did things the old fashioned way!

Love, Smidge 5

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