Choosing where to grocery shop out of all the possible supermarkets and stores can a very personal decision. You need to balance many considerations such as price, quality, freshness, selection, and convenience. Whether you’re looking for a place to cherry pick the sales, find some special ingredients, or you’re ready to ditch your trusty old supermarket for something different, here are 9 alternatives to consider and 1 you should avoid.
9 alternatives to traditional supermarkets
- Warehouse clubs (such as BJ’s, Costco, Sam’s Club)
Pros: For those with large families or great storage, warehouse clubs can offer some great pricing and variety, with all the traditional departments and then some.
Cons: Yearly membership fees mean you need to make serious savings on those items and not all of them are well priced compared to traditional supermarkets, so you’d better track your prices to be sure (use a trial membership to scout out in advance). And not all of them accept manufacturer’s coupons or widely-used credit cards, so know the policies before you sign up.
- Big-box department stores (such as Target and Walmart)
Pros: With weekly ads chock full of deals, they offer price match guarantees (which may require a bit of legwork to obtain), shopping convenience, and store credit card deals.
Cons: Depending on the location, access to fresh produce and meats may be limited. Again, knowing your prices is important.
- Online stores (such as Amazon)
Pros: With easy to compare prices and an enormous selection, shopping online for home delivery from Amazon is a breeze, including some otherwise hard-to-find ingredients. Subscribe & Save option offers a 15% discount for regular deliveries of eligible products such as pet food, paper products, and household cleaners.
Cons: AmazonFresh with same-day delivery and access to fresh produce, meat and frozen food is currently only available in limited locations (select CA zip codes and Seattle) and requires an Amazon Prime subscription membership. Amazon’s regular grocery offerings elsewhere are sometimes restricted to Prime subscription members (with two-day shipping) and don’t include access to fresh produce, meat and frozen foods. Manufacturer’s coupons aren’t accepted but Amazon offers its own digital coupons.
- Pharmacy chains (such as CVS, Duane Reade, RiteAid, Walgreens)
Pros: Watching the weekly ads will often yield a few items with better pricing than the supermarket, often significant enough for a detour to stock up.
Cons: Not a replacement for your traditional supermarket, they are limited to packaged goods and some fresh/frozen foods (plus obviously a large selection of health and beauty needs), and what’s not on sale can be quite expensive. Also, get there early in the sales cycle or risk coming away with a rain check for out-of-stock items.
- Discount supermarkets (such as Aldi, Food 4 Less, Grocery Outlet, PriceRite, Save-A-Lot)
Pros: Bargain pricing results in significant savings.
Cons: Selection is limited, with the majority of offerings tending to be either private label (store brand) or near-expired/expired and lesser-quality brand items (for example, dented cans). Afraid of those expiration dates? Check out this research from Harvard Food Law and Policy Clinic. Not all discount supermarkets accept manufacturer’s coupons or credit cards.
- Gourmet/specialty supermarkets (such as Trader Joe’s, Wegmans, Whole Foods)
Pros: For those looking for a cut above, you can find unusual ingredients, organic products and great prepared foods.
Cons: These premium items come at a greater cost, so budget-conscious shoppers might want to splurge for a party, but do their regular shopping elsewhere.
- Dollar Stores (such as Dollar General, Dollar Tree, Family Dollar)
Pros: You can find great prices on paper goods and party supplies, plus good food bargains if you hunt for them.
Cons: Just because everything is $1 doesn’t make it a good deal. Many food items are actually cheaper at the supermarket.
- Farmers Markets
Pros: Gives you access to fresh, local produce and perhaps local meat and fish and other products depending on the type.
Cons: If it’s a temporary market, there may be limited seasons and hours, and probably doesn’t cover all the categories of groceries you’ll need. More permanent structures may still have limited days and hours. Prices can vary significantly so be sure to compare with nearby alternatives.
- Dedicated Grocery Delivery Services (such as FreshDirect and other local services)
Pros: The convenience factor is high with online shopping and having your orders delivered right away. Some services offer products direct from the source, meaning you’re getting fresher, local items.
Cons: These services are usually only available in a limited delivery area, or packaged goods only. Many don’t accept manufacturer’s coupons, but offer coupons of their own. Again, prices can vary, so check out what’s available in your area.
1 alternative to avoid
- Convenience stores
I’m not necessarily talking about your trusty neighborhood bodega, but convenience stores are notorious for being high on the convenience factor while lacking in every other benefit, such as price, variety and freshness. Save these trips for emergency road stops and late night cravings that simply refuse to be squashed.
What’s the most important consideration in where you shop? Do you shop at multiple supermarkets/stores or are you loyal to just one?