Grocery shoppers have become resourceful amid America’s ongoing record inflation, which has spiked grocery prices by 13% over the last year.
According to a September Food Dive study, six out of 10 of the 2,000 surveyed consumers reported buying foods close to the expiration date due to affordability, with 46% saying they disregard the printed expiration date altogether.
While discount grocery shopping isn’t new, the report did find this eye-opening stat: 16.6% of those shopping for bargains started doing so this year.
Just ask Ron Rojas — the owner of Chicago, Illinois, discount grocery store Continental Sales Lots 4 Less.
While he has been selling food up to the expiration date or past the expiration date for 40 years, it wasn’t until recently that Rojas had to make renovations for growth.
“In the last six to eight weeks, we just had to add two more shopping lanes to accommodate all the increased traffic. Sometimes you see a line that goes back as far as 200 feet,” Rojas said. “I would say, starting in September, it really started picking up more.”
It’s a trend others should consider jumping on, being that 68% of Americans say they have felt the biggest impact of inflation in their monthly grocery expenses, according to a recent online WalletHub survey
At Rojas’ store, you can catch savings of up to 90%. He even has the mega savings broken down into tiers.
“When it’s approaching expiration dates, I call it phenomenal pricing — like half off or more of the normal retail. When it goes to the thrift section — past our expiration date — it can be anywhere from 75%, 80%, 90% off. We call them stupid prices when they get to that point,” Rojas said.
But buying close-to-expiring discounted food may be the best alternative to combat prices for another reason: expirations labels do not determine food quality.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “if the date passes during home storage, a product should still be safe and wholesome if handled properly until the time spoilage is evident.” The site goes on to say that, “to reduce food waste, it is important that consumers understand that the dates applied to food are for quality and not for safety.”
“It’s not something that we outwardly market because of product sensitivity, but it’s definitely legal and safe to eat and we guarantee everything that we sale here and it’s rare that we have anything returned,” Rojas said.
Rojas does say there are limits to what his store will not sell when it comes to expiration dates.
“Generally speaking, we try to keep it at three to six months past expatriations dates,” Rojas said, admitting that his store definitely does not sell “anything like baby formula or baby food out of date. That’s definitely illegal.”
Pinched for money or not, rethinking the approach to food labels is a practice the majority of individuals should adopt, as more than 80% of Americans discard perfectly good food because they misunderstand expiration labels, according to a survey from Recycle Track Systems.