I hunt for clearance items like a bloodhound, visiting stores any time I’m in the area.
I try to limit my shopping to within a 30 mile range. The closest store to me is a Walmart about 20 miles away. I go there in a pinch, but I prefer Kroger or Aldi. I like Costco too, but fresh food is bundled in too big a package for just the two of us.
All stores have different policies and setups, but they do have similarities. Take a day to stroll the aisles, preferably without kids or spouses because you want to study the labels without distraction.
At my Kroger, I look for store closeout tags. They’re small white tags with red and black type. Whenever they decide to discontinue an item, it goes on closeout which is usually considerably cheaper. It’s not expired or damaged in any way. They’re items that could be seasonal, or older stock that needs to be moved to make way for new stock. Discounts vary, but I’ve picked up items for as low as 75% off. It all depends how quickly they want to make room on their shelves.
Many times non-grocery items are slashed too. The items aren’t always cheaper than big box stores, but the quality is usually a bit better. They usually don’t mark them down as low, though sometimes you get lucky.
For fruits and vegetables, look for out-of-the-way end caps, near doorways or at the entrance of the produce section. Kroger likes to bundle produce in mesh bags and mark them down to 99 cents. These are perishable so they want to move them as quickly as possible. Think about soups and stews. You can build a meal for next to nothing.
Note: For the cheapest (non-discounted) produce, Aldi is still the best choice. They don’t have the broadest variety, but what they do carry is priced well below their competitors. This has not gone unnoticed by retail giant, Walmart, who is trying out a program similar to Aldi’s in several key locations. Whether they roll it out in other cities will depend on how well their customers respond (ie: how much money they make).
Meat and dairy have their own little refrigerated sections. I generally don’t find meat priced low enough at Kroger, but Walmart marks down meat to move fast. Pork roasts, briskets, and ribs are exceptional buys here. Aldi, too, can mark down meat and dairy at giveaway prices. For dairy and refrigerated items, Kroger has Walmart beat.
Price setting seems to come down to the manager’s discretion. They also decide the ultimate fate of products; whether they’re marked down, resold, or trashed.
For example, I rarely see cans and non-perishables marked down at Walmart. My guess is Walmart resells these items to a middleman who then resells them to grocery auctions, or grocery outlet stores. Kroger, on the other hand, has a special section in each store that is usually brimming with dented cans or less than perfect packaging. Make an active search for these clearance shelves and get to know the person who stocks it.
There was one young man who stocked our local Kroger like clockwork. I could always count on him to have everything out by 11am. Sadly, he’s moved on. The person who’s taken over is not nearly as diligent, so it’s been hit or miss on knowing when these shelves are restocked.
If something is damaged on a regular shelf, don’t be shy about asking the manager for a markdown. It’s almost always granted. If a shelf with a closeout tag looks empty, take a deeper look. Many times there are still cans/packages hiding in the back or pushed to one side.
There are weeks when I’ve stocked my pantry solely on markdowns. Always examine the package carefully before purchasing. Even though the mark-downed items have long expiry dates, I try to use them first just in case the can/package is more impinged than what I can see with the naked eye.
Do you ever buy items on clearance? What are the major grocery chains in your area? Are they far from where you live?