Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Grocery Store Woes

It seems silly to get worked up about the demise of a grocery store, but it's happening.

Recently, a regional chain decided to exit the Twin Cities, and sold off many of their stores to a competing chain. The outgoing store, Rainbow, was my favorite of the local grocery stores - consistently great produce, good prices, and something about the atmosphere that I can't quite explain. The staff at my local store have all been friendlier and more helpful than I'm accustomed to, and the store looks nicer, cleaner, and more upscale than its prices would have you expect. The new owner, Cub, on the other hand, has always been my least favorite chain to shop at. The produce is not good, prices are higher, the layout of the stores is weird, and the design of the store resembles something more along the lines of a Costco or an Aldi - like you're shopping in a warehouse with no thought given to presentation. Which is totally fine with me if I'm saving a bunch of money, but that's not the case in this instance.

Anyway, my local store is one of those slated to become a Cub, and I've tried to be brave about it, but I am really sad. Mostly I'm hoping that the employees get to keep their jobs, because I like them. I'm also sad to be losing some of Rainbow's store brand items, because the quality was better than Cub's. And I'm sad that overall my grocery bill will be going up, but my shopping experience will be getting worse.

It's been upheaval for the last few weeks. Rainbow has sold out of nearly all of their store brand items, leaving only name brand stuff, which is mostly fine, except in the case of things like milk - the store brand cost around $3/gallon, and I often had coupons to get it cheaper. Now the name brand is $4.39 per gallon, and that's the only option they've got. Ouch! The prices on produce have already gone up, although thankfully the quality is still the same. Maybe the new Cub will keep the same suppliers, many of whom are local. The changeover is still happening, but after this past weekend I think I will be staying away until the changeover is complete. It's too weird to only be able to get about half the things on my list because so many of the shelves are completely empty.

Today I stopped into another Cub location to pick up some things that weren't available the last time I was at Rainbow, and I scoped out the prices on things I buy regularly while I was there. I was disappointed for the most part - everything from soy milk to produce are 10-20% more expensive, frozen vegetables are more expensive (but they do carry some things that Rainbow doesn't have anymore, like frozen squash), and overall, my bill was a lot higher. Also, Rainbow used to double coupons once or twice a week, and I don't think Cub does that at all. I did find that baby food (I still use baby food fruit and meat for Baby M's blends) is cheaper than Rainbow and the same price as it is at Target, so that's nice.

I think I'm going to have to rethink my grocery shopping strategy again. I get some staples at Costco and go to Aldi about twice a month - I can get really great deals on a lot of things there, but there are some things that just aren't as good quality or that I simply can't get - for example, they don't carry whole milk at my location anymore. I have also been popping into Trader Joe's when we are near one - they have some very good deals on certain things but it's not worth a trip specifically for grocery shopping. Rainbow was worth a weekly trip on double coupon days and to get fresh produce (and it is directly on the way home from the freeway, whereas all other stores require a purposeful trip in their direction). I've also been doing a little more shopping at Target, because their baby food prices were so much cheaper than Rainbow.

It's been about two years since I did my price book experiment - maybe once the new Cub is open, I will repeat that exercise and see how I can best maximize my grocery spending while cutting down on the number of trips I'm making to various stores. It's not so bad in the summer when I can drag Baby M with me (which she loves) but I don't want to put her in a germy cart during cold and flu season so I will need to figure out a way to streamline the process by winter.

In the meantime, I'm going to feel silly about it, but I'm going to do a little mourning over the loss of my Rainbow. To your lovely produce, your well-laid-out aisles, your double coupons and your cheerful staff - you will be missed.

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