Faced with rising grocery prices, shoppers are changing their habits

Susan Pollack, a property manager who shopped one afternoon last week at a Costco in Marina del Rey, Calif., said she was surprised the price of a bulk pack of toilet paper had gone up from $17 to $25.

At his local kosher butcher, prices rose even more: over $200 for a 5-pack of ribs.

“I told my husband, ‘We’ll never have short ribs again,'” she said.

Global forces such as supply chain disruptions, severe weather, energy costs and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine contributed to rising inflation rates that spooked equity investors and put President Biden’s administration on the defensive.

But the pressure is felt most directly by shoppers doing their weekly shopping at grocery stores, where some once plentiful items have been missing for months and prices for produce, meat and eggs remain stubbornly high.

At a Stop and Shop in Elizabeth, NJ, Hagar Dale, a 35-year-old Instacart customer, pointed out that a single package of powdered drink mix that once sold for 25 cents soared to 36 cents in early May. Two days later, it was selling for 56 cents, she said.

“Lord forbid if you have a big shop to do,” Ms Dale said as she left the grocery store with a customer’s order. “You’re a penny pinch.”

Such price hikes have led to sticker shock, resignation and a determination to sniff out bargains.

“Looking for more deals,” said Ray Duffy, a 66-year-old retired banker wearing an “Unapologetically American” t-shirt that recently rolled out of a Lidl grocery store in Garwood, NJ.

“You’re going shopping,” he said. “It’s something you do.”

There are many supermarkets in South Riding, Virginia, where Susana Yoo lives.

But she drives nine miles to Centerville to shop at H Mart, a Korean grocery store, where fresh vegetables, like big bunches of scallions, cost a little less. From there, she’ll go to Trader Joe’s, which has “pretty good prices for meat.”

Then it’s Costco for non-perishable bulk items that can be stocked.

To save some money, “I have to go to three different places,” Ms. Yoo said.

Alyssa Sutton, a 53-year-old home theater company owner, left King’s Food Market in Short Hills, NJ, a grocery chain where a 13-ounce jar of Bonne Maman preserves was selling for $6.49.

“This inflation story is a real problem,” she said. “When you’re paying twice as much to fill up your gas tank and twice as much for everything, you have to be like, ‘Well, do I really need to buy everything at King’s?'”

Ms Sutton said she grabs basics at King’s and then heads to cheaper markets like Trader Joe’s, where she says fruit and vegetables are more affordable.

“It takes time,” she says. “It takes planning.”

Lisa Tucker, 54, of Gainesville, Va., drives a few extra miles to Giant because food prices are lower than at stores closer to her home. She buys in bulk when prices are favorable — on a recent tour, she bought eight boxes of cereal because they were selling for $1.77 each — and has signed up for several loyalty rewards programs.

“It’s strategic,” she said.

Ms Tucker is also looking for meat that is nearly expired – and therefore heavily discounted.

On Tuesday, Ms Tucker bought a soon-to-expire one-pound package of beef for $3.74, down from $7.49. To inform meat department employees of these offers, she said she would sometimes bring them homemade banana bread.

Ms. Tucker tells them: If a discount sticker is about to be put on Boar’s Head bacon, ‘let me know’.

Angie Goodman, a housekeeper from Culver City, Calif., usually eats meat once a week. But now that steaks have doubled in priceshe said she might have to cut back to once a month.

Ms Goodman, 54, said she earned around $15 an hour, a figure that has remained flat as the cost of living has soared.

“Basic things are very expensive,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

Isabel Chambergo, 62, a warehouse worker in Elizabeth, NJ, said the meals she once planned at home are now planned while she shops, so she can use her phone to scan items for digital coupons. This saves $10 to $15 per purchase, she said.

“That’s how I deal,” Ms Chambergo said as she left a Stop and Shop in Elizabeth with her husband, Arturo, 62.

“It helps a little,” she said. “It’s not a lot, but I try to buy healthy things that also fill us up.”

That is, if she can even find the ingredients she needs.

Ms Chambergo said she used to buy a mix of quinoa and rice from Stop and Shop which she used to make hearty soups. But it’s been off the shelves for at least two months.

Mr. Duffy, the retired banker, said he had struggled to find square-shaped spaghetti, his go-to for his favorite lo mein.

“The sauce sticks best to square-shaped spaghetti,” he said.

It’s normal for grocery stores to have 7-10% out-of-stock items, but the events of the past two and a half years – pandemic outbreaks, extreme weather, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – have pushed this number 3 to 5. points higher, said Katie Denis, spokeswoman for the Consumer Brands Association.

The availability of pasta and cereals has been particularly restricted by the war, with “Ukraine and Russia effectively exiting the market,” she said in an email.

“Weather in Europe last year also restricted durum wheat, which specifically affected pasta,” Ms. Denis said.

Buyers also refuse.

At the Giant in Gainesville, Virginia, Kimberly Heneault said she stopped in front of a display of coffee creamers and saw that they were double the usual price.

“Ah, you know what? I don’t really need this,” she thought to herself before moving on.

Ms Pollack, the California property manager, said while inflation isn’t hurting her budget, prices have caused her to reconsider purchases that were once impulsive. For example, she almost bought an electric razor for her son, but saw that it cost $90.

“I spend so much money all the time,” said Ms Pollack, 61, “and it’s like, ‘Wow. I didn’t buy anything fun today.

Al Elnaggar, 22, and Hamza Mojadidi, 23, students at the University of California, Los Angeles, were also shopping at Costco in Marina del Rey, where they purchased several items in bulk, including clementines, cartons of water and ramen noodles. .

Mr Mojadidi said he stopped buying eggs and cut back on Halal meat, which was already more expensive than other cuts because the animals are slaughtered in accordance with the Muslim religion.

Mr Mojadidi said they stopped outside the Costco meat market, looked at the lamb shanks and left.

He said he considers himself luckier than other students at the university. At least, he said, he has a car and can drive to Costco to buy food in bulk and save some money.

“I just take extra loans to pay my expenses,” Mr. Mojadidi said. “I’m maxed out on my credit cards.”

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