Smarter Grocery Shopping

Today I did something that, had I been a truly rational consumer, I would have done 20 years ago.

Fisksätra has two grocery stores. One is a big chain store and the other is a typical turkbutik, a mom’n’pop store run by immigrants from the Near East. Whenever possible, I have favoured the little store. I have often gone there first and then gotten only the stuff they don’t carry from the chain store.

The little store does not carry superior wares. Its assortment is far smaller than the big store’s, and there are very few items there that you can’t get at the chain store. I have shopped there for emotional and aesthetic reasons, just to favour the little guy, and I have had no idea if there is a price difference.

Now, the keeper of a small shop is of course no more noble than the owners of a store chain. He would in all likelihood prefer to own a chain, he just hasn’t quite gotten there yet. Neither store is a co-op. My choice is strictly between a large capitalist and a small one. Both stores employ immigrants who live in the area.

Today I bought two bags of groceries from the little store. Then I took the receipt to the big store and compared prices for the first time. Eleven of the objects I bought have close or identical equivalents at the big store. Six are cheaper at the big one, three are cheaper at the little one. The whole two bags of groceries cost 291 kronor at the little store and would cost 250 at the big one, that is, 86%. And on top of that, the chain store sends us refund cheques in relationship to how much we spend there.

So I guess mom’n’pop won’t be having me much as a customer anymore.

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Comments

  1. #1 Phillip IV
    December 31, 2009

    My choice is strictly between a large capitalist and a small one.

    In the short run, that is. In the long run, the choice might come down more to having two capitalists or only one around. At the moment, the chain store might have better prices than the small store, but what happens if the small store closes? Without direct competition, it would be completely illogical for the chain store to keep prices that low – they’d rise them as far as they think they can before luring another competitor to the area.

  2. #2 Martin R
    December 31, 2009

    I think the chain in question competes on the national scale without any eye to the local situation of each store.

  3. #3 Jonathan Lubin
    December 31, 2009

    But is price the only factor in your decision-making? And should it be? In the first half of the years I spent in Providence, there was a wonderful little mom-and-pop grocery around the corner. Run by a Lebanese-American couple, as it happens. And their prices were not low. But they were the most wonderful neighbors, delightful people, and if I could have bought all my stuff there, I would have, just to help them to succeed.

  4. #4 Martin R
    January 1, 2010

    In this case there is no such charm there to sway my decision.

  5. #5 Barn Owl
    January 1, 2010

    Happy New Year to you and your family, Martin!

    Small mom ‘n’ pop stores are few and far between in my city, and the grocery biz here is utterly dominated by a large chain started by a local family. There is one small Middle Eastern specialty store where I occasionally stop to buy a few items on my way home from work, but that’s an exception. The large chain stores are closer and more convenient, have much better prices, and carry local and organic produce, meat, and dairy.

    It would be inefficient and expensive for me to shop at small stores, just as it would be inefficient and inconvenient for me to leave work and drive around to shop at the farmers’ markets here when they’re open. There was one CSA in this area, but it collapsed several years ago. OTOH, I can buy organic, local produce at the nearest chain store, and I can buy organic foods at Costco (just bought organic peanut butter and a case of organic soy milk). I share trips to Costco with my friends or with my parents, and often split the bulk packages of various items. It saves money and trips to the store; I have a smallish house (by US standards), but nevertheless I have room to store things, and a small freezer helps immensely. I eat more healthy foods this way, even when I’m pressed for time because of long work hours. I grow a few vegetables and herbs in the backyard, but 2009 was a crappy harvest year here. There’s the idealized world of productive backyard gardens, farmers’ markets, CSAs, and mom ‘n’ pop stores, and then there’s the reality of living and working in a city where such things are limited.

  6. #6 N N
    January 2, 2010

    The little store owner pays taxes and he uses his profit where you live. The bih store owner never spends a dime in your community. The little store owner helps the community to pay for healtceare and other community service so in the long run it is much more cheaper to buy in the little store owners shop.

  7. #7 Martin R
    January 2, 2010

    That’s not a bad argument, but the situation here is little unusual. My housing area forms a small island dominated by working-class people and immigrants within one of Sweden’s most affluent middle- and upper-class municipalities. Whether or not that shopkeeper pays taxes is not going to change the fiscal viability of Nacka kommun. Also, I don’t know if the owners actually live here. The former ones did not.

    (The fact that the local government unit in Sweden is called a kommun does not mean that they’re all run by communists or even social democrats. Nacka has had a conservative local government for decades. Though Swedish conservatives are of course best compared to the Democratic party in US terms.)

  8. #8 Jim Thomerson
    January 4, 2010

    Back in the late 1940′s we visited a city some 60 miles away from our little town (which had several small grocery stores). Mother shopped at two supermarkets in the city. When we got home my father took the receipts and priced the items locally. I don’t recall how big the bills were, but the city was $70 dollars cheaper than the local stores. Needless to say, we went to the city more frequently thereafter.

  9. #9 Krystal D'Costa
    January 5, 2010

    This is really interesting. It leads me to wonder if more small shop owners aren’t profiting from a misperception held by patrons suggesting that they will save/gain more value from mom ‘n pop operations.

    Brands can be scary to some people. Just the other day, while I was waiting for breakfast from the local deli I overheard the counter guy tell a customer that he didn’t shop at one supermarket chain because it was too expensive. When he named his preferred supermarket chains, I was surprised because the disliked competitor was actually less expensive, but more well known.

  10. #10 Martin R
    January 6, 2010

    Of course, if the little guy sells better, more locally produced food, then that changes the equation. But my local mom&pop import a lot of their stock from the other end of Europe and beyond via Turkish foodstuff firms in Germany. And I soon learned that though they have a huge exotic biscuit section, not one of those cookies are to my taste.

    Also, there might be issues with how chain stores treat their employees. Swedish ones are generally very good in that regard.

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