The socio-economics of where you buy groceries

No, I’m not writing about organic, fair trade, or locally produced foods.  (Although the better selection of organic foods at my favorite grocery store IS part of the reason I shop there.)  I’m writing about the three criteria by which most people choose where they buy groceries: price, location, and personal comfort.

I live in a small town, and we have four large grocery stores: Grocery Outlet, Shop Smart, Ray’s Food Place, and Safeway.   Their prices vary from very inexpensive to expensive.  Their locations vary (though Ray’s and Safeway are almost next door to each other), so their convenience is based on how close they are to where a person lives (and whether that person is on foot, a bicycle, uses public transportation, or has their own vehicle). 

Though location can mean a lot, I suspect people chose where to shop based on price and personal comfort.  When you are broke, price is all important, and much can be tolerated for the sake of the budget.  Been there, done that.  But personal comfort often comes from the surroundings (clean, wide aisles, well-lighted), from the attitude of employees, AND from how much the other shoppers are like you.  This last item is more important than you may realize.  I occasionally shop at a CoOp in a larger town, and it took me almost a year to feel comfortable there, because it seemed so many of the shoppers gave off a “holier than thou” attitude.  In our little community, I finally switched stores (and paid slightly more) because I was tired of listening to mothers yelling at (and sometimes slapping) their children in public.  The deciding event was listening to a man and woman argue over whose turn it was to buy the beer.  The psychosocial cost was greater than the few dollars I saved. 

This is on my mind because of a small thing that happened a couple evenings ago.  My husband has been in law enforcement in this area for about 29 years, so he knows a lot of people, some of whom are former “clients.”  He generally gets along even with them, but it always makes it interesting when we shop together.  Three former clients were in line behind us the last time we bought groceries, and we had some light conversation with them.  But when I got home and unpacked the groceries, there was fresh gum stuck to two of the packages.  A minor thing, but disconcerting.  My personal comfort was challenged.  I LIKE shopping at this store — the prices are okay, and their selection of organic items is good (the organic produce is better than at the more expensive store).  But . . .

So, give some thought to where YOU shop.  Why do you shop there?  What do you look for in a grocery store?  And how big is personal comfort in your decision?

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About judithornot

Lives in semi-rural Northern California, happily married, retired counselor, night person, knits, plays WoW.
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4 Responses to The socio-economics of where you buy groceries

  1. Well, I shop at a Safeway that is only two blocks from my house. Location is obviously a huge part of that decision. I also like them because they carry a lot of organic and healthy foods of all kinds, and because they’ve just recently greatly improved their selection of meat, fish, cheese, and bulk foods. The Safeway also has good prices and discounts (including 10c off gas prices).

    The downside is their organic produce is not great. It’s not local, often comes from very far away, and is not in good shape (the regular produce, by contrast, is wonderful). I shop for organic produce at another market about 10 blocks away, or at the farmer’s market in Olympia. None of these neighborhoods are likely to have any clients that bother me (in either direction) so I haven’t noticed the effect you’re describing.

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  2. Coppermoon says:

    Where I shop is extremely important to me – after having 15 stores within a five mile radius and access to anything and everything, coming here was a wee bit of a culture shock – still, we have two stores on opposites sides of a road so shopping is convenient here. One store has a much larger, vegetarian-friendly selection, but we most always stop in both stores to see what’s on special or who has the best bread that day. Prices are higher, we don’t always find everything we want, and sometimes I get bored with the selection. But even tho there is a huge Wal-mart 22 miles away, I prefer to shop here.

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  3. ironwing says:

    From where we live, any shopping is a 30-mile (or more) round trip, so we try to combine errands. We buy some things at Basha’s because it is on my husband’s way home from work, and because I get prescriptions from the store’s pharmacy. For produce, meat, and some other staples I shop at Food City, which serves the Latino community and is on the way home from my volunteer job at the cat shelter. Produce is smaller and less varied than at Anglo stores like Safeway, but it’s also cheaper, more seasonal, and more local (from Mexico, not California). Meat is mostly the inexpensive cuts which I prefer anyway. For spices, nuts, rice, yogurt, ground lamb, and other exotica, we shop at a tiny Middle Eastern market.

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  4. judithornot says:

    Am very much enjoying the stories of where people shop and why. 🙂 Thank you for your responses!

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