After moving apartments (yet again) earlier this year, I went to a big-box bargain store for some general supplies. And as an avid lover of grocery shopping, I couldn't not check out its aisles of food. What I found really surprised me.
Classy crackers that would automatically raise my social status! Craft sodas with trendy lettering! Sacks of milled flaxseed the size of an ostrich egg! Organic dried figs not in Fig Newton form! Specialty flours that would sit, untouched, in my cupboard for years!
Unlike the dollar store grocery section, which is comprised of approximately 97 percent junk food, this store had an eclectic mix of high-end food items at low prices. Before I knew it, I was loading up my cart with brands like Bob's Red Mill and LaCroix.
The store's name? Big Lots.
That's right: In addition to cheap couches, dangling Christmas lights, and suspiciously affordable face serums, this big-box store also has a remarkable grocery section.
Kathy Steward, a nurse and mother of four from upstate New York, has added Big Lots into her regular grocery shopping rotation. "The snacks are my favorite thing there," she says. "They have different foods that you don't find at [my local grocery store]. Plus the prices are really good." And because Steward's daughter is gluten-free, she also notes: "They have a nice gluten-free section, and it's less expensive than other stores."
While you couldn't rely on Big Lots as your full-time regular grocery store, as it only has non-perishables — no produce or chicken breasts, for example — it makes a great supplement for those of us with fancy tastes and not-so-fancy budgets.
On a recent visit, here's a sampling of what I found.
- Reed's Ginger Beer: $4.75 for a four-pack
- Carr's Table Wafer Crackers: $1 for 4.25 ounces
- Good Sense Roasted Sunflower Nuts: $1.50 for eight ounces
- Wild & Raw Organic Pitted Dates: $2.95 for five ounces
- Harvest Snaps Snapea Crisps: $1.50 for three ounces
- Beanitos Black Bean Chips: $2 for six ounces
- LaCroix Sparkling Water: $5 for 15 cans
- Rozassi Roasted Red Bell Peppers: $1.50 for 12 ounces
- Tolerant Organic Black Bean Mini Fettuccine: $3 for 12 ounces
- Nature's Earthly Choice Organic Tri-Color Quinoa: $3 for 12 ounces
- PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter: $4 for 6.5 ounces
- Kodiak Cakes Pumpkin Flax Flapjack and Waffle Mix: $1.50 for 24 ounces
- Bob's Red Mill Whole Ground Flaxseed Meal: $5 for 32 ounces
- Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Pancake Mix: $3.75 for 22 ounces
- Stacy's Pita Chips: $1.75 for 7.33 ounces
- KIND Banana Nut Clusters Granola: $3 for 11 ounces
Pretty incredible, right? Before you run off to your nearest location, however, you might be wondering: Where does Big Lots get its grocery items? This was a mystery I desperately wanted to solve, but, unfortunately, Big Lots ignored my repeated calls and emails.
So, to further quench my curiosity, I turned to the wise annals of Reddit, where one user posed the following theory: "A lot of the stuff is 'liquidated,' which means it belonged to another store and for whatever reason, that store needed to get rid of it fast. Sometimes this is because the other store went bankrupt … other times, someone might buy too much of an item … Big Lots essentially makes a profit from other businesses [sic] mistakes."
Who knows it that's true, but it sounds reasonable. And, for what it's worth, none of the food items I purchased were expired, although some were a few months away. (Not that you should really worry about expiration dates anyways.)
Bottom line: You can't steadily rely on Big Lots, as you never know what it's going to have. But for us fans, that's part of the fun. Shopping there is akin to a grocery scavenger hunt, or a day of looking for deals at Goodwill. One day you may find your favorite brand of organic coconut water; the next day you may find a new type of gourmet pickle to try. And if it fails to impress? Well, at least you probably didn't spend very much.