Don’t Pay the Packaging Company: Buy This, Not That at the Grocery Store


Example of an American grocery store aisle.

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Imagine going to the grocery store and your food was not prepackaged. Instead, after purchasing your groceries, the packaging company stood at the front of the store and offered to package your groceries for the trip home. Would you pay to put your fresh tomatoes in a can to keep them safe for transport, or would you skip the packaging counter on most items?


My local grocery store is a discount operation and charges for plastic bags. While I’m sure some people pay from time to time, my experience has been that people do not see much value in buying packaging at the point of sale. Yet regardless of whether you find packaging worth your dime most of the items you buy comes in a variety of packaging and the costs of that packaging get passed to you.

It means that depending on what you are purchasing, you may have options in the packaging and that can lead to a price difference, without sacrificing quality of the ingredients.

Buy 2 Liter Soda, Not the 20 oz.

Why do you keep paying the cup holder charge? That’s what I like to call the inflated price between buying a 20 oz. container of soda and a 2 liter. It’s a substantial difference too, about 33% more.

It’s not even the packaging company’s fault (unless you are buying 12oz. cans, then it is). Beverage companies know that a 20 oz. fits in your hand, your frig and your cup holder much better than a 2 liter. Thus 20 oz. soda drinkers are paying the beverage company a premium to not annoy them with a large container.

Yes, buying a 2 liter means you’ll look like a soda gulping lush and sure, it’s not going to fit in a cup holder, but what would you rather waste: soda or money?

Buy Rotisserie Chicken, Not Prepackaged Deli Meat Chicken

I get it! You don’t have time to cook up chicken and you just want something precooked that you can dump quickly into your dinner meal, but you can do far better than prepackaged deli meat chicken.

Sure the deli meat section is enticing for those looking to skip on cranking up the oven for the night, but most items there cost at least $6 to 7$ per pound. A cost effective alternative is to head over to the prepared section and pick out a rotisserie chicken. I’ve found my local grocers charge only about $2 to $3 per pound.

Not only will it absolve you from time in the kitchen, it is much better quality meat and leftovers freeze nicely. You can also save yourself from spending $2.50/quart for chicken stock buy using the rotisserie bones to make your own. Sure you are going to have to cut it up yourself and it’s not going to come in a ziplock plastic container, but the money savings will make it worth your time.

Buy Fresh Romaine, Not Prepackaged

It comes chopped, triple washed and in a re-sealable plastic bag. However, you need to ask yourself just how hard is it to run water over your romaine and spend 30 seconds slicing it into bite-sized cubes? Is the packaging worth doubling the cost? That’s roughly the per unit price difference for my local grocers

I should confess that I’m an avid rule breaker when it comes to bag over bulk lettuce. Hypocritical as I might be, I still think it’s worth pointing out that a little extra time can save you a little extra money.

Buy Wine in a Box, Not a Wine in a Bottle

Once upon a time, cheap wine was packaged in boxes so as to compete with other cheap wine makers for the lowest possible cost. The quality of boxed wines was so poor it was hard to tell if you were drinking the cardboard or fermented grape.

The stigma of boxed wines is still with us today. It’s common knowledge that you don’t put a good wine in a box, because customers think anything outside of a bottle tastes as cheap as the packaging. Recently however, some wineries decided to challenge the box stigma and believe consumers won’t pass on the savings simply because good wine is sitting in a box instead of a bottle.

I know that the refined wine drinkers in the reading audience might prefer something that provides their palate with a greater challenge, thus necessitating a greater price. However, if you are a middle of the road wine drinker looking for great value, check out some of the stuff in the cardboard, but still stay away from the stuff that tastes like cardboard.

When the goal of buying food is to eat food, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to pay extra for packaging. Remember that when shopping at the grocery store.

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