It is said that ignorance is bliss. But ignorance about food can cause major health issues. However, being informed about food means that the pool of acceptable food choices grows ever smaller. Pesticides, GMOs, artificial dyes and flavors, growth hormones, and antibiotics are all chemical concerns from food. Then you add ethical issues of animal treatment, environmental hazards, and community impact. The more you know, the harder it is to just stop on the way home and pick up something for dinner.
My co-human describes my eating and food-shopping habits as “fussy.” I suppose they are, but I think I’m fussy with good reason.
My grocery budget living alone was $300 per month. Adding another person, it has grown to a budgeted $600 per month but winds up being more than that. It’s become a grocery budget black hole. Obviously this is driving me slowly insane as money leaks out of our combined income un-budgeted.
Between February 21, 2014 and March 3, 2014, I spent over $250 on groceries and supplements. One of the northeast Ohio Earth Fare stores was having a 30% off liquidation sale and I went a little crazy. The wellness inventory was a whopping 40% off so I stocked up on supplements, castile soap, and cold remedies because co-human and I were both fighting off some respiratory bug.
Ahem. Anyway. I shopped a bit stupid instead of shopping smart, and I am now more resolved to shop smarter and spend less at the grocery store. I think it’s ridiculous to be spending $700ish per month on two people. This has to be able to be done on a better maintained budget.
My first move was to suggest a no-spend March, save for fresh food items like bread, eggs, dairy, and meat. Nothing in a packet, jar, can, box, or bag. This way, we could deplete our stores of foods in the pantry instead of just buying more shelf-stable items that would likely sit around indefinitely. (Our first attempt at this limited-spend month was about 90% successful – we still ended up buying some condiments and a box of granola).
In an effort to shop smarter and cut the grocery bill, I also took co-human’s suggestion to try a different grocery store. I primarily have been doing the shopping at Earth Fare, a chain store based out of North Carolina with a food philosophy I feel comfortable with. At Earth Fare, there is no high fructose corn syrup, no artificial fats or trans fats, no artificial colors, no artificial flavors, no artificial preservatives, no artificial sweeteners, no antibiotics or synthetic hormones in meat or dairy, and no bleached or bromated flour. Earth Fare also has a humane treatment policy on all their animal products. When I shop at Earth Fare, I feel safe. It’s a big relief to know that anything I pick up in that store meets my bare minimum of food-fuss. I am aware that I pay a premium for that safety, though, and it’s possible to put in a little effort and find similar food in more affordable venues.
Enter Heinen’s, a regional supermarket chain in Ohio. Heinen’s has a selection of organic and natural foods similar to Earth Fare, though they also sell the conventional processed food items of the Standard American Diet. While I scoff at the fact that they sell GMO-Os next to the organic granola in the cereal aisle, I relent to my co-human’s growing frustration with my high maintenance shopping standards. Let’s give Heinen’s a shot. Note, there’s also a local Giant Eagle I have started casing for Caitlin-approved groceries. More research needed.
First, the commute. Earth Fare is roughly 18 miles away from home, and it takes around 25 minutes to get there. Heinen’s is about 10 and a half miles from home and the drive takes just under fifteen minutes. Point, Heinen’s. (Also a point for Giant Eagle, because it’s less than five minutes from home, but it’s not my top choice).
Second, the selection. Heinen’s has a decent spread of organic produce, a humane treatment policy on their house brand animal products, and select brands for sale that I trust. Selection is acceptable and comparable between stores, though at Earth Fare there’s less research involved because I already have a baseline of trust based on their food policies and philosophy. Point, Earth Fare, but Heinen’s an acceptable second. (Giant Eagle definitely third place in this competition but does have some acceptable selection).
Third, the price. I will readily admit that Heinen’s won on some price points, but Earth Fare does continue to have better deals on other items. Giant Eagle wins my heart with my preferred brand of ice cream at a serious deal ($3.99 per pint vs. $5.99 per pint at Earth Fare) but I haven’t compared prices on other common items with GE vs. the more natural-based stores. Overall, point to Heinen’s, but some items just make sense to buy at Earth Fare.
A breakdown of common items on my list below:
Bacon: Depends on who we’re buying for
- Canadian Bacon (his favorite) – Earth Fare sells a brand called Garrett Valley, sold for $5.99 for an 8-ounce package. Heinen’s house brand Canadian bacon is thicker cut, has less annoying packaging, and is $5.75 per pound. Point, Heinen’s.
- Thick-sliced bacon (my favorite) – Earth Fare’s house brand is $21.99 for a 3lb package. An 18-ounce package of Garrett Valley at Heinen’s was $10.99. Point, Earth Fare.
- Applegate Uncured Sunday Bacon (his second place favorite) – Earth Fare, 6.99. Heinen’s, 5.59. (Target, $5.00!). Point, Heinen’s, unless we’re at Target.
Lunch meat: Earth Fare is ideal, Heinen’s is acceptable in a pinch
- Applegate Turkey, prepackaged – Earth Fare, Heinen’s, and Giant Eagle, all around 5.99 or 6.99 per 6-ounce package depending on sales.
- Applegate Turkey, from deli counter – 11.99/lb at Heinen’s, a much better deal per pound.
- Deli counter turkey – Earth Fare’s house brand is 8.99/lb. I didn’t check Heinen’s house brand because I am waiting to hear back if it falls under the same ethical treatment policy as their other meat (it’s a different brand name, and I am still gathering data). I trust nothing from Giant Eagle’s house brand. Point, Earth Fare, especially when comparing to the Applegate at the deli counter of Heinen’s.
Dairy and Eggs: Earth Fare
- Snowville Creamery milk – I can drink this, so it’s the winning brand. Snowville Creamery pasteurizes at the lowest possible temperature for the shortest possible length of time to be deemed legally pasteurized. As such, it still contains many of the beneficial enzymes available in raw milk. Raw would be my ideal, but I’ll take Snowville as a reasonable second place. Half a gallon is $3.89 at Earth Fare and $4.29 at Heinen’s. Point, Earth Fare.
- Snowville Creamery yogurt – NEVER WITNESSED AT EARTH FARE. Comparable product pricing pending a visit to Earth Fare. $5.29 at Heinen’s. Point, Heinen’s, for the selection if not price.
- Butter – Based on my cursory evaluation of the selection at Heinen’s, I give this point to Earth Fare. We didn’t need to buy butter this time around so I didn’t pay close attention.
- Cheese – I didn’t get a good look at Heinen’s selection, so I am unsure if they carry my preferred raw farmer’s cheese. They do have Organic Valley American-style slices, however, at the same price as Earth Fare, $4.99. Tie.
- Eggs – Grade A, Large, from happy chickens. $2.27/doz at Earth Fare. $2.89/doz at Heinen’s. Point, Earth Fare.
Bread: Earth Fare
- Sourdough bread – I have found out that I can tolerate sourdough bread without any ill effects on my stomach, hooray! A boule (round loaf) at Earth Fare is $3.59, while a smaller loaf at Heinen’s is $4.29 and has questionable ingredients. A big sandwich-style loaf is $3.99 at Earth Fare, making sourdough a no-brainer win for Earth Fare.
- Sandwich bread – Co-human does not dig sourdough sandwiches, so we often buy a softer bread like challah or “english muffin” bread. For price and ingredients, the points still go to Earth Fare.
- Ezekiel bread – This bread is made from sprouted grains and is also tolerated by my digestion, woohoo. It’s far cheaper at Earth Fare and Giant Eagle than at Heinen’s. I didn’t look closely at the price, but I tentatively give this point to Earth Fare. Giant Eagle an acceptable second in a pinch.
- Apples: $2.99/lb at both Earth Fare and Heinen’s. Tie.
- Mushrooms: $2.59 for a package of button mushrooms at Heinen’s. Similar at Earth Fare, $3.99. Point, Heinen’s.
- We didn’t buy much else in the way of produce so I will have to evaluate more over time, but Heinen’s appears to have better prices on organic produce
- We bought no meat this week, so this will require more research.
Overall impressions of Heinen’s are good, and I will be evaluating our actual receipt with a comparison of what we would have paid at Earth Fare for the same amount to get a better idea of how to prioritize our shopping trips. I really do want to get bread, dairy, and eggs at Earth Fare if possible but I am very optimistic we can reach a compromise on grocery shopping that makes us both happy!
Update: I worked out a comparison between a few staples so far.