6 Unexpected Ways to Make Your Grocery Work for You

published Mar 17, 2015
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You don’t need a pile of coupons to get added value from your grocer.

Grocers have a lot to communicate to their customers, and unless you pick up that newsletter or get chatty with that cashier who’s been there since Crystal Pepsi was in stock, some of their offerings get buried under more urgent messages like 5 for $5 promos, cooking classes, or a new offering in the deli.

In my grocery marketing years, it was a struggle to communicate everything we offered because the list was ever-changing, and we pretty much did anything (within reason) that our customers asked.

I present the following list of little-known offerings with a caveat: There are thousands of stores in the United States and one size does not fit all. Most of the offerings below apply to independent, natural, and specialty grocers, but don’t write off your conventional (everyday low-price) grocer. It never hurts to ask.

1. Case discounts — on anything!

Costco isn’t the only place that sells packaged items in bulk. If you’ve got a favorite snack bar or a bottled drink that you go through on the daily, ask your store manager if you can purchase by the case. Committing to multiples is also an ideal way to purchase items that are atypical from a store’s regular line-up. Want chia seeds or goji berries from your conventional grocer? Ordering 12 units is a no-risk solution for them. (And you may just influence the buyer to start regularly stocking your request.)

Insider Tip: Many stores are happy to place special orders and apply a small discount (5-10% depending on the product) for the bulk buy.

2. Custom order meats, seafood, and produce

Banana leaves. Rabbit. Jackfruit. Live crabs. Need something your store doesn’t normally carry? Or need a large amount of something they do carry? Call your store of preference and pre-order. With enough notice (from 72 hours to 10 days, depending on how rare the item is), they’ll be able to hook you up with exactly what you need. (I like to order fresh lobster meat, vacuum-packed by the pound, from my local grocer. Perfect for no-hassle lobster rolls.)

3. Rain checks

“Stack ‘em high and watch ‘em fly” is the adage when it comes to merchandising. And when an item is on sale, the towers of cereal and fizzy water may reach Babel proportions. The exception to the rule usually lies in the perishable goods departments, where over-ordering is a liability for the retailer. Got to the store after they ran out of their hot deal on avocados? “We’ll rain check,” says Jenny Erickson, the Front End Supervisor at Kowalski’s, Hennipin in Minneapolis. “But it doesn’t happen very often. We know in advance what we’re having on sale, and we’re very cautious to make sure we have enough.”

4. Cut-to-order meats

Don’t own a meat cleaver? Most grocery store butcher shops are happy to help make it one step easier to bring that majestic cut to its rightful place at the center of the table. Whether you need a whole chicken quartered for a stew or standing rib roast cut and tied, you’re just one ask away. Just because you don’t see a boned chicken or lamb stew meat in the case doesn’t mean they won’t create the perfect meat solution for you on the spot.

5. Try it before you buy it

This is especially true for deli items and prepared foods. But many stores will do this for upscale things like cheese or pricey packaged goods. “You’re more than welcome to sample almost anything in our store,” says Alana, a Manager of Service at Bristol Farms, West Hollywood. That said, it’s in poor taste to hit the sauce aisle with a spoon in hand. Always ask the store’s policy on sampling before you open something on your own.

6. Complimentary knife sharpening

At many specialty markets, the folks in the butcher shop will sharpen your knives for free. “When you get close to the holidays,” says Jeremy Moore at Giant Eagle Market District in Dublin, Ohio, “we get a lot of people who want knives sharpened.” In order to keep friends behind the meat counter, do this one knife at a time, and during slow hours.

In this column, Jill Moorhead is sharing the knowledge she’s accrued in her years of working in grocery stores on both the marketing and wholesale sides. It’s our hope that this industry insight will make your weekly shopping a pleasure. We’re changing the way we shop, and grocery stores are paying attention.