Discount stores

Fighting Food Costs: Discount Stores Turn ‘Working’ Vegetables Into Bargains

Asparagus cost $ 1 a pack at Freestone Produce.

On the floor, Brhanu Brhanu’s hands flew trying to keep the display counter full as customers grabbed the deal. The parking lot outside was crowded, even though it was midweek, and the aisles were full of shoppers sorting out persimmons and bananas for half the price.

This is the world of discounted products, where excess products in the system are offered at low prices, and high inflation in the grocery industry means business is booming.

  • WATCH: Find out how busy some discount grocery stores are.

Freestone Produce on 32nd Avenue NE is one of Calgary’s oldest discount stores. When we asked people where to get a good deal, they also pointed to Basha International Foods, H&W Produce, and Fresh Produce at Sunridge Mall, all located in northeast Calgary.

This is where this type of independent discount store is concentrated. South of the city, The Crisp Apple opened in Douglasdale amid the pandemic.

Customers say the quality of products at these stores is mixed. But the rising cost of food has taken a toll on many Calgary budgets, so we surveyed owners of three stores to understand where the food comes from.

Brhanu Yassin Brhanu stocks asparagus at Freestone Produce. (Elise Stolte / CBC)

Mike Soufan is the owner of Freestone Produce. He says the price for that asparagus was set to go off the shelves because it’s a consignment deal with a supplier he knows in the south. The supplier had too many of them; he sent a charge to Soufan with instructions to simply move them before they deteriorated and share in the profits.

Soufan’s cucumbers last week were also a consignment contract – 20 pounds for $ 10.

But the bananas were on sale because another grocer in town was not selling them fast enough; he rejected this shipment on arrival rather than accepting them and browning them on the shelf.

“We must act quickly”

This is called “jobbed” products in the industry.

“There’s nothing wrong with them,” Soufan said, pulling the lid off a 40-pound box in the warehouse. “Tips are green. Another nice mix of yellow and green. The same bananas you might buy at any department store in town.”

“We sell them 49 cents a pound, sometimes 29 cents a pound, depending on what we have,” he said. “The products are under pressure. We need to move them quickly. “

Mike Soufan is the owner of Freestone Produce, a discount merchandise store in northeast Calgary. (Elise Stolte / CBC)

According to business consultant Martin Gooch, 1.5 to 2.0% of all shipments are typically rejected for various reasons. He has seen small, nimble independent product stores thrive across the country as they take advantage of these kinds of offers.

But discount stores say rejected or “sit-down” products are only a small part of their business. They also get deals on quality products just by buying smart, focusing their energy, and taking advantage of their small size.

The Crisp Apple just off Deerfoot Trail in Douglasdale gets some of its produce from local Hutterite communities, who can’t supply enough to work with the larger chains.

They also turn products into fresh salsa, guacamole, and smoothies before they spoil, and try to offer a range of prices and quality. Last week they had a big bag of lightly crumpled peppers for $ 1.99 and oversized kiwis for $ 1.69 / lb. But they also had perfect looking plums for $ 3.49 / lb.

Tam Huynh bundles lemongrass to help it sell faster in the Freestone Produce warehouse. (Elise Stolte / CBC)

At H&W Produce, Jonathan Harrison says it’s about making decisions on the spot, paying bills quickly, building relationships with suppliers, and targeting every purchase to what customers in that neighborhood are likely to. ‘to buy.

It’s the heart of the business, what it takes for an independent grocer to thrive.

But this “staple” product can be fun.

‘Start the car!’

H&W Produce has six small stores, in Calgary and Edmonton, each with large coolers to handle the surplus if a Walmart, for example, turns down 30 pallets of strawberries.

Officially, the original store will say there is something wrong with them. But often, Harrison says, they’re just looking for excuses because business is slower than expected. His team loves to receive those urgent phone calls from the stranded provider.

“We can put (these strawberries) at a price that Edmontonians and Calgarians go crazy,” he said. “It’s what you feel like a good deal. It’s like, “Start the car!” ” That sort of thing.”

The Crisp Apple in Douglasdale is a family business owned and operated by TJ and Neeraj Khurana, with help from their daughter Gurpreet, middle. (Elise Stolte / CBC)

Beware of overripe products

CBC Calgary has invited those concerned about the cost of food to join our text messaging community.

On this platform, some Calgary residents told CBC that they no longer shop at discount stores because some products get too ripe too quickly. They may be surprised at the poor quality, and these places can be difficult to access for people who don’t have a car.

But others swear by the deals they find here, sometimes shopping with friends to take advantage of the wholesale deals and budgeting their time to chop it up and cook it up quickly.

Back at Freestone, Soufan says this is exactly the approach they are promoting.

He jokes about a man who walked in and was so excited to find a watermelon for $ 1 a piece, he bought 20. Later he came back complaining that the price was actually $ 20 a piece. since he only ate one before the rest deteriorated.

“Just buy a little,” Soufan said. “We won’t be leaving. This is just the start.”

CBC Calgary takes a look at the high cost of groceries this fall due to large increases at the grocery store.

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