Thursday, January 28, 2010

Consider Your Perishables

I had a very informative conversation with the meat manager of my local grocery store today. I am rethinking the way I purchase some of my perishables as a result. This was off the cuff and fairly early in the day. The store was almost empty and the parking lot was lightly covered in snow.

Tim was a wealth of knowledge about the grocery industry in the Denver area mostly due to his buddies from the weekly poker game. I tell you this so that you can gauge his comments for yourself. He noted that in his store the 80% ground beef is made from the trimmings from the meats cut there in the store. It can be a combination of trims from sirloin to chuck. My guess is that on weeks where the higher grades of meat are on sale, that it might be a great week to stock up on the 80% ground beef. I noted that I have a difficulty digesting a lot of ground beef products and he said that the higher grades of ground come from the company meat plant and they are repackaged on site. I wondered just how many cows might be represented in on of those big packs of ground meat.

We went on to speak of other meat counters and produce venues in other stores. Hands down the best meat in the area is at Whole Foods especially when you are looking are grass fed organic. We agreed that the price reflected that as well.

Some of the smaller chains in town and those that are becoming smaller as I write do not have local warehouses. Much of the stock for the Denver market comes from Phoenix. As reality it is in the stores two days after leaving the warehouse. I guess for a box of cereal that would not matter, but meat and produce could be a bit trickier for freshness. It would make me think twice about shopping at those spots on weekends since they do not get shipments those days. Although it may be difficult to see the freshness at the meat counter do check the expiration dates on the labels and look over at the produce and maybe the status of tomatoes and grapes will tell you something. I will be looking much more closely for the produced in Colorado labels for a fresher product.

I tend to like shopping the sales of meat and produce where turnover of product is important. I avoid the first day of the sale since sometimes the same items they could not sell last week are still there on sale day. Usually I like to shop early on Fridays as the stores tend to stock well for the weekend and the trucks have often just been in from the warehouse. For sales by the same measure I will look at the meat coming off the sale week for bargains that have not been there very long.

Where you shop makes a big difference too. The grocers in the higher income area have a bigger turnover of higher priced product. I go out of my way to buy the holiday sale roasts to where the best selection and turnover of product is. When whole organic chicken is on sale I head for the other shops as I have been told how few chickens will get allocated to my local store. Do get rain checks as the other stores in the chain will usually honor them. Yes I do recognize that I have not confronted the issue of how long something may be in the warehouse before delivery.

Take some time in the next few weeks to talk to the employees at the meat counter, stocking the produce bins and the dairy case. they are a wealth of information. I have found that management likes seeing them interact with the customer. The information I have learned has taught me everything from how to pick great Eggplant to the best preparations for Ham. Leave me a comment and let me know what you have learned at the grocery store.

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