7 Insider Secrets for Saving Big at the Deli Counter

published Oct 13, 2022
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Sales clerk looking at female customer while assisting at supermarket
Credit: Getty Images/Maskot

Who knows more about saving money at the deli counter than the hardworking people behind it? They’re constantly learning about new products and promotions and are also ready to answer questions and make recommendations based on what’s best for your budget.

With all of this insider knowledge, I was curious to learn more about the money-saving tips they have up their sleeves. So I chatted with Stephanie, a deli worker at a grocery store in Pennsylvania, to get some pointers. She happily shared some intel about shopping efficiently, scoring deals, and buying the best items. Here are her top seven tips.

1. Learn the sales rotation. 

Most grocery stores offer sales that switch up every week. (Sprouts Farmers Market sales change every Wednesday; Stephanie’s store changes on Thursdays.) While it’s helpful to know what day the new sales come out, Stephanie advises you take things a step further and track the sales from week to week to figure out when a particular cheese or type of roast beef is going to be on sale. She’s noticed there’s a pattern to the rotation!

Credit: Joe Lingeman

2. Make room in your freezer for dual-discounted cheese. 

In addition to weekly sales, Stephanie’s grocery store also accepts manufacturer coupons, which you can easily pile on top of one another. During a recent sale, says Stephanie, “Shoppers were getting $2.50 off a pound of cheese,” so they came in every day during the sale to stock up on cheese and stash it in their freezer. Pro tip: The freezer can slightly affect the texture of the cheese, so using those frozen slices for cooking (like in the most delicious grilled cheese sandwich) is actually the best approach.

Stephanie hasn’t tried this with meat, but she knows customers who have. If you’re curious, she suggests testing it out by freezing a few slices of leftover turkey, then sampling to see if you like it.

3. Don’t sleep on the store brand.

The store-brand items might not be front and center in the deli case (name brands pay for that prime real estate), but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t seek them out. Generally speaking, they’re going to be cheaper. Beyond the lower price, what many shoppers don’t realize, according to Stephanie, is that these items often come from the same company that manufactures the name-brand stuff. At the store she works at, for example, the meat (turkey, roast beef, ham) is made by Hatfield. The assortment might not be as varied, but Stephanie has a solve for that too.

Credit: Sarah Crowley

4. Use spreads to layer on the flavor.

Where Stephanie works, honey turkey is currently $9.98/pound (on sale), while hickory-smoked turkey is $4.00 cheaper (at $5.98/pound). Rather than pay near double-digit prices per pound, she recommends skipping the more expensive flavored meats and use spreads to add flavor to your sandwiches instead. You likely have a few in your fridge already, but if not, the condiment you buy “is going to last you multiple weeks,” she adds. 

5. Snag the meat and cheese ends when you see them.

Like many grocers, the deli counter where Stephanie works ends up with oddly shaped pieces of meat and cheese after cutting and packaging these items for sale. Whether the piece is too small to sell, didn’t sell quickly enough, or didn’t meet a shopper’s expectations (i.e., cheese slices that are too thick), these nubbins are sold at a heavily discounted price. The cheese is sold in packs that are about three-quarters of a pound, according to Stephanie, for roughly $2. “A lot of people use it to make macaroni and cheese,” she adds. The meat ends are great for soups and stews (one woman came in and grabbed ham to use in split pea soup). They do tend to “fly off the shelves,” she says, so snag them whenever you see them.

6. Ask what’s been opened the day you shop.

Did you know that once a block of cheese is opened, the grocer has 14 days to sell it? Similarly, meat can be sold for seven days after opening. Which means the closer you buy your cheese (or meat) to its opening date, the fresher it will be and the longer it will last. The easiest way to find out if an item has been opened that day is to politely ask the people working behind the counter. Ironically, Stephanie said she’s never had someone ask her this question! 

Note: If there are a lot of people waiting to order, it might be better to observe what’s being opened for yourself or come back at another time when the staff is less busy. 

7. Think twice before you purchase the prepared foods.

If it’s relatively easy to make, like egg salad, Stephanie advises you to consider making it at home. “It’s expensive,” she says. She did make an exception for one very popular item: The store’s rotisserie chicken salad, which is made in-house using leftover rotisserie chickens. Different deli departments make different dishes in-house, so ask at your store for details.

Have you every worked as a grocery store deli worker? Do you have a tip to add to the list?