Posts Tagged ‘supermarkets’


New Four Square!

December 6, 2009

Well, there were two guys handing out pamplets for a free coffee from the new Tory Street Four Square, so we grabbed one, and popped down there this morning.

In short, I think we’ll shop there more often.

Checking out the prices, the place was pretty competitive. Certainly the range is more limited, but there are weekends where we don’t buy that much dry food from New World anyhow. Plus, on account of buying our fruit and vege from the farmer’s markets we’re often not actually getting much from the supermarket.

What they didn’t seem to have was a large number of loss-leading products, but… no worries. We can always pop just down the street to New World to buy stuff like that.

Most importantly, what they did have was a friendly guy who ran the place. The owner spotted our one-year-old and popped over for a chat. Now, this is what makes community to me. A shop-keeper who’s more that happy to chat to you like you’re a person, and who you can see is putting his own sweat into making his own coin. When I compare that to some minimum-wage teenage clerk who isn’t paid to care about who I am, then I’m shopping with the local guy every time.

After all, New World won’t miss my money. There are plenty of unconscious shoppers who will habitually stop in there anyway. But for personal interaction, and actually supporting my local area, I’d much rather give my money to a real person with a real vested interest in my coming back.

So, Four Square (corner of Tory and Cable), you’ve got my business whenever I need to stop by.


Secrets of the supermarket ninjas

October 27, 2009

In a previous post I claimed that we were “supermarket ninjas” and Mellopuffy asked how we managed on so little each week.

I’ve been thinking about this, and I think comes down to these things:

1. Kathy is a vegetarian, and I only eat meat dinners maybe half the week. When I look at our grocery bill, the priciest regular items are wine and meat. If we both ate meat in typical New Zealand portions every night, our grocery bill would be a lot larger.

2. We buy very little in the way of processed food. No biscuits, no cakes, no muesli bars, no pre-made sauce, no packet mixes or tinned soups. I make our bread from scratch, and usually our yoghurt. If I want baking to take somewhere, or for an occasion, I bake. I have a good repertoire of dinner dishes that don’t take much when I’m tired, so I don’t need sauce in a jar.

I think the bread in itself is good for about $10 in savings a week. We would normally go through three loaves and that would be over $12 at supermarket, whereas the ingredients for a home made loaf total less than a dollar.

Because of points 1 & 2, we incidentally have a pretty healthy diet, which is a happy bonus effect.

Of course cooking everything and avoiding treats is a lot easier when you don’t have children, and I know that plenty of grownups would balk at not having any snack food in the house. Well, tough. That’s how it’s done. My Mum always said if you weren’t hungry enough to eat an apple or make a cheese sandwich, then you weren’t hungry.

Cooking is like any other skill — if you do it every day, you can achieve a tolerable level of efficiency, whereas if you only do it when you have plenty of time, you will probably stay an inefficient bungler and packets really will always be easier.

Example super cheap, fast meal for low-energy  evenings:

Pasta with broccoli sauce. Chop broccoli into tiny pieces, mince a couple of cloves of garlic, saute in olive oil with pepper until broccoli is cooked (put a lid on the pan for the last couple of minutes and the broccoli will steam). Toss through rigatoni or similar with grated cheese on top and maybe some more oil. Should take 20 minutes or less, and is very tasty.

I find Italian cookbooks particularly inspirational because lots of country food from that region is cheap, fast, and based around seasonal vegetables, and tasty with a little sharp cheese, oil and pepper. An interesting thing I’ve found is that nice cheese and good oil seem like luxuries, but they’re actually condiments that you use in small amounts to make much bigger quantities of cheap stuff nicer. So I tend not to be so hard-arsed about olive oil and cheese.

3. I buy our fruit and veg at the market on a Sunday, and that’s about 30% cheaper than the cheapest supermarket I know of. It is another trip in my week, but on the other hand I enjoy the market as a social experience. I often spend some of the savings on a roti or a dim sum or something too…

4. We shop at the cheapest supermarket in the area. Last weekend I spent a New World gift voucher, and I noticed how much more expensive New World prices are compared to the Kilbirnie Pak’N’Save, confirming for me the claim that they are the cheapest supermarket in Wellington. I’m pretty sure I’d have to spend a significant amount in transport to go anywhere cheaper.

5. We are sensible buyers: we stockpile when staples are on special, diligently compare unit prices, and always use a shopping list.

6. We buy in bulk when we can. For example, I buy my bread flour in 5kg sacks. If I had suitable storage, I’d probably buy 10kg ones. Likewise I buy olive oil in 4l tins, onions in 5kg bags, and meat by the half carcass when the freezer has space. Moore Wilson wholesale is not as cheap as it used to be, I reckon, but still turns up some good prices on catering sized stuff. Basically, if it doesn’t go off before we can finish it, and we have room to store it, I’ll invest in any large portion.

In summary, I’d say it’s cooking our own semi-vegetarian diet that really makes the big difference. It’s the nice food from simple ingredients that backs my claim “we eat well.” But there are some other things that help too, allowing me to blow some money on wine and chocolate out of the surplus.


Sneaky, sneaky b-tards

August 16, 2009

Here’s a word of warning if you’re shopping at New World.

Something that’s happened to use a few times in the past week (at both downtown New Worlds) is that items have big signs on them stating 2-for-$XX!! This is usually a good deal, so we buy them, only to get to the cashier and discover that it is some other brand entirely that is on sale.

When I wandered back to check it the label did indeed say “Molenburg”, but the bread under the sign was Freyas. So technically the supermarket isn’t actually doing anything wrong. The sign and the bread are different, therefore I am not paying enough attention, and it is my fault that I end up with more bread than I need, at a higher cost.

But another way to look at it is: these sneaky, sneaky b-tards are fooling me into buying more, in the expectation that I will not kick up a fuss, and socially embarass myself, at the cashier.

However, no amount of grumpy people in line, or sending cashiers off to sort this out, will deter this curmudgeon from getting his $3.50 saving…


A field trip to The Reduced to Clear Store in Rongotai

August 2, 2009

Yesterday I visited the Reduced to Clear Store in Rongotai.

This shop sells short-dated grocery items at a discount to normal retail. It’s been the subject of some controversy as health professionals see it as a source of even cheaper high-calorie/low-nutrient food. (I don’t really want to get into that debate, but on their website the picture they have chosen for “kids lunches” is hilarious — a lovely healthy sandwich and a piece of fruit, misleadingly illustrating a  list of starch and sugar-rich processed foods.) Anyway, I was hoping that they might have pantry staples that don’t spoil and so on.

I have to say I was a bit disappointed. I really like the concept, and I was hoping I’d see a somewhat supermarket-like range of dry goods. But the shop is quite small, and the range seemed limited, mostly to confectionary and packaged snack food of a low-grade sort. I did see some cheap sugar (can sugar spoil? I don’t think so) but it was not markedly cheaper than the cheapest sugar at Pak’N’Save up the road. The only useful basic thing I saw there was liquid laundry detergent.

It’s possible of course that they are ramping up and that in months to come there will be a bigger range with the kinds of things I’m interested it. Reduced to Clear have a good website which describes a bigger range than what I saw. I presume it’s what’s available in their Auckland branch. The website would be even better if it had prices on it. Woolworths have all their prices on their website, New World have their special prices listed — I’d hope that a feisty upstart whose proposition is that they are cheaper would have their prices available for me to check before I leave home too.

Right now, I wouldn’t go there unless I needed to cater a 5 year old’s birthday party in a hurry. But I’ll pop in again in a month or two and see what the shelves look like then.


Do yourself a Favour

February 10, 2009

And do not buy your fruit and vegetables at the supermarket (if you can help it).

I just got back from New World and was shocked to see that, other than being a minimum of $3 per kilo more expensive than our weekend markets, the stone fruit on offer wasn’t RIPE!!

It also tends to be much larger than market-fruit, meaning it is more watery, and less flavoursome.

Now, when stone fruit is the absolute best season, and cannot be substituted, the last thing you want to be eating is gigantic sour apricots at $7.99 per kilo… Let alone crunchy peaches.

Seriously, W.T.F?


An exercise for the reader

December 16, 2008


It's a deal!

Or is it?

The 300m roll did come with a dispenser, but we already have one—and I’m not sure a plastic wrap dispenser is really worth almost $2.


Value for money in legumes

November 30, 2008

Following up on Stephen’s post on the musical fruit, I thought I’d weight up my options on chickpeas, one of my favoured legumes.

Chickpeas are blimmin great, they’re moister than most legumes, they make dishes like hummus (one of everybody’s favourites), and spicy pumpkin and chickpea soup.

The question you have to ask yourself is, is it better to buy dried or tined beans? From an environmental point of view you’re going to go for dried. Other than the cost of heating the water to cook the legumes, the only other cost is transportation of said legume to the market in which you the consumer purchase it. Tinned things on the other hand are heavy, using more fossil fuels, and need additional products like tins to be manufactured.

So no real competition there.

But. And there’s always a but. Are they easier on the back pocket?

100g of dried chickpeas from the local New World costs $0.99, and that seems like a pretty good deal right? Even with the cost of cooking them added in, they’re still going to come in cheap (incidentally, if anyone knows the kw/h used by a typical household stovetop, I’d love to hear it. The interweb has been useless in this instance).

I took my 100g of chickpeas, soaked and cooked them, and ended up with ~230g of ready to eat peas.

In the tinned variety, you can buy 415g of cooked chickpeas from the Pams range for $1.55. That’s almost twice as many peas for only $0.56 more, right?! Wrong. Once you tip off the brine they use to preserve the peas after cooking them for you, you end up with ~245g of peas.

My shonky maths stands to be corrected, so lets run through this carefully.

  • Dried chickpeas are $0.99 for ~230g ready to eat, making them $4.30 per kg.
  • Tinned chickpeas are $1.55 for ~245g ready to eat, making them $6.33 per kg.

What this tells me is that the manufacturer has added 68% more value to their product by cooking them for you, which is lovely for them but not so lovely for you – or the environment.

And this is why frugality is so important to me. By getting it together to cook my own chickpeas I’m not only saving myself money, I’m preventing communal resources being squandered on useless commercial activity. Worse, supermarkets are full of this type of crap. Instant pasta sauce? I’m looking at you, buddy…

UPDATE: There’s an “Turkic” store of some kind in Newtown that sells pulses. Their chickpeas are $5 a kilo. This would add up to $2.15 per kilo cooked. I’d say you’re hard-pressed to find a better bargain than that.

The place is on the corner of Constable/Riddiford St, heading towards New World. Which I was.


Segmentation, supermarket strategy, and being a cheap bastard

October 24, 2008

Do you have a supermarket strategy? We do.

Before I go on, I want to talk about market segmentation by price.

This kind of segmentation is one way that companies try to maximise their profits. Here’s how it works.

Imagine that we sell eggs. They cost us $3 per dozen wholesale.

We’ve figured out that we get the most profit by selling eggs at $5 per dozen.

At $6 per dozen enough people are put off that even though we make more per egg, our total profit is lower.

At $4 per dozen, the decreased margin means we don’t make as much money per egg.

$5 per dozen it is then. Most people will buy at that price. Those people are normal.

But wait. We know that there are some people who would pay $6 per dozen. The hungry, the tired, the careless, and the people who are bad at maths. It would be neat to identify them and give them a separate price, and pocket the extra $1 per dozen. If only we could cull them out from the herd so they don’t perceive the deal that others see. Hmmm. Let’s sell them premium branded eggs in delightful bijou boxes and capture the increased margin! Let’s put those eggs in a colourful display with maximum visual impact at eye level! Let’s call those people… suckers.

There are other people who are going to hold out, and not buy until we hit $4 per dozen. If we could find a way to offer them that price without tipping off the others in the market, we could sell even more eggs, and still make at least something on them. We’ll have to make it off-putting so that only the hold-outs take advantage. Unwieldy poo-tinted boxes at floor level it is. Those hold-outs? They are cheap bastards.

You can see this pattern a lot. There are only two supermarket companies of note in New Zealand, but they have multiple supermarket chains between them, with different images, branding and pricing to attract those different segments of the market. Within each supermarket, most product categories have different lines that are equivalent in quality but marketed differently so that the normal people buy the obvious choice, the suckers are fleeced, and the cheap bastards have something to reward their effort.

Our mission as cheap bastards is to accept the challenge marketers set us. Treat it like a game with a prize. They want to confuse us or at least make us work for the best deal. That’s why they put the items they want to sell the most at eye level, that’s why the essential toilet paper is right across the from the non-essential chocolate, that’s why the bulk package is inexplicably more expensive per kilo than the small one.

We accept that challenge. This is how we play the game.

(I got the idea for this part of the post from Joel Spolsky, who wrote a neat article about segmentation in a rather different kind of market).

Have a list

In our house, we have a template that we print off with all our usual items on it. We cross off the things we don’t need before we set out. That way we don’t forget anything. If an item gets added by hand a few weeks running, it goes on the template.

Work out the unit price on everything

We always do this when comparing different brands of packaged goods, going so far as to check ingredient lists on food packets to ensure there’s no cheap filler. We have good mental arithmetic, but there is no shame in using a calculator. (Doesn’t your expensive mobile phone have a calculator?)


Buy in bulk to stockpile if:

  • It is something you usually buy.
  • The expiry dates show that you can consume it all while it is still good.
  • You can store it somewhere where it won’t go off.
  • The discount is more than you would obtain by investing the money over the period it would take to consume (eg, if you could save 5% off a year’s supply of toilet paper, but could get 6% in the bank, you would be better off putting the money in the bank and paying the normal price for toilet paper).

Example: our local supermarket was selling peanut butter, the brand we like that’s still not made in China, at about 40% off a couple of months ago, expiry date middle of next year. We bought four jars. We’ve just finished the last one, and I regret not having got a dozen.

Avoid temptation

Don’t use a basket if you can carry all the items; don’t use a trolley if they’ll fit in a basket.

There is no reason to go through aisles that don’t have something on your list.

Never take things from tempting display until you’ve checked the usual shelf for cheaper options.

Eat before you go lest your hunger makes you buy something stupid.

So, what did I miss?


Saturday grocery notes

October 4, 2008

Down at Kilbirnie Pak’n’Save today.


Whole lamb forequarter for $8 kg and reasonably lean. Boning out the blade and arm bone is fiddly but leaves you with a nice roast once tied with string, or you could cut it in chunks for a large stew.

Balducci pasta (acceptable in my book) for $1.18 per 500g. I stockpiled.


18 packs of toilet paper on special, which on close inspection are actually more expensive per roll than the 12 pack. They take us for fools!


When you’re starving, buy a bag of sugar

September 24, 2008

What is the cheapest staple in the supermarket? We took notes today. I looked for the cheapest brand, and the best price per unit. Food values obtained from labels, or the Food Standards Authority. Yes, I accounted for the banana peel (by weighing a handy test banana; didn’t have a taro to hand, sorry, and you can eat kumara and potato peel if you scrub them).

I’ve sorted this table by price. I reckon if you sorted it by nutritional value, it would pretty much be reversed.

Food Weight (kg)
Price ($) Price/kg kJ per 100g kJ per $1
Kumara 1 3.98 3.98 335 842
Banana 1 2.48 2.48 229 923
Taro 1 3.98 3.98 469 1,178
Brushed potatoes 10 9.98 1.00 263 2,635
Rolled oats 0.75 1.98 2.64 1590 6,023
Pasta 0.5 0.99 1.98 1530 7,727
White rice 1 1.85 1.85 1470 7,946
Standard flour 5 6.48 1.30 1450 11,188
White sugar 3 3.00 1.00 1600 16,000

And we wonder why poor people are fat.