MARTIN SLOANE | Supermarket Shopper It pays to know your grocery prices

Are the dollar stores a good source for grocery bargains? That is the question asked by Francis Chapman, a reader in Edgefield, S.C. I decided to find out.
My telephone directory included five retailers with the word "dollar" in their names. I visited several: The Dollar Hut, the Dollar Plus Stuff and the $1 Store in a local enclosed flea market. Each was independently owned. Each had about 100 grocery items, mostly snacks and candy. Clerks told me shoppers did not come to purchase groceries, and snacks and candy sold best, because they were impulse items.
Dollar General is the largest dollar store chain in the United States with more than 5,100 stores. The Dollar General store I visited had several hundred grocery items. Some were priced at a dollar, many were higher. I found a few national brands such as General Mills and Kellogg's cereals, Pampers, Luvs and Charmin. The prices were comparable to supermarket prices. I found some good buys on Dollar General's house brand, Clover Valley: The 15.5-ounce Salsa was $1.50, and a four-bag box of microwave popcorn was $1.
The Dollar Tree chain has more than 2,100 stores around the country. I found several hundred grocery items all priced at $1. They included one or two items each from well known names like Hunt's, Keebler and Nabisco. The box of Snackwell's crackers seemed like a good buy until I lifted it off the shelf. It seemed light. The box was the typical cracker box size, but it only had 5.5 ounces of crackers. What seemed like an interesting buy was the Malt-O-Meal Big Bowl Instant Oatmeal, with 12 single serve packets. The box was specially marked "Save 40-cents next purchase coupon inside." I found the coupon inside but Dollar Tree does not accept manufacturer coupons. So far, my hunt for grocery bargains at dollar stores was disappointing.
During my store visits, I asked if anyone knew of a dollar store that carried a larger selection of groceries. I was told about a store called 99c Stuff in Deerfield Beach, Fla. By dollar store standards, this store was huge. At the front entrance, I could hardly believe my eyes at the big display of 99-cent produce. I began loading my shopping cart with bunches of good looking young asparagus at two bunches for 99 cents. Mangos and red bell peppers were both two for 99 cents. Plums were six for 99 cents, and 10 bananas cost 99 cents. Big beefsteak tomatoes, about 12 ounces each, were two for 99 cents. Big 20-pound plus watermelons were an unbelievable 99 cents each!
When you shop at 99c Stuff or any dollar store, it pays to know your grocery prices. Not everything is a bargain. And, when a supermarket has similar items on sale, they may be better buys, especially if you also use coupons. Unfortunately, most dollar stores, including 99c Stuff, do not accept manufacturer coupons.
United Feature Syndicate

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