Want to Save on Groceries? Try an International Market

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Japanese grocery storeOver the past few years as household budgets have slimmed and thrift has come back into style, consumers have cast about in search of new and better ways to save money. But while many money mavens have exhorted the newly cash-strapped to cut out the Starbucks lattes and start carpooling to work, most have ignored the incredible values available at international grocery stores. These unassuming little markets, which can be found in most towns with even small international communities, often have great deals on common staples.

The major supermarket in my neighborhood is an Associated, a New York City regional chain with 130 stores. Around the corner from me, though, an Indian family operates the Naveen Halal Meat and Grocery Store, a hole-in-the-wall market filled with aromatic spices, exotic sauces and ingredients from around the world, in addition to a wide selection of more familiar foods.

To get a feel for the savings to be achieved through international grocery shopping, I compared prices at the two stores. (It's worth pointing out that, as I live in New York, prices at both stores are considerably higher than they would be almost anywhere else.)

Lower Prices on Rice -- and Peanut Butter


If there's one thing that Asia is famous for, it's rice, so it's not surprising that the popular grain would cost a lot less at the Indian market. What was stunning, however, was how much the prices varied: Naveen charged $3.99 for five pounds of jasmine rice, almost 60% less than the $9.49 that Associated charged. Flour was also a great deal: Naveen offered five pounds of Gold Medal or Pillsbury all-purpose flour for $3.50. Associated's prices were almost 25% higher, at $4.39 for exactly the same brand in exactly the same size.

Salt and baking powder were marginally cheaper, but the best deals lay in cooking basics like oil. At Naveen, vegetable oil cost roughly two-thirds of the price that Associated charged, and olive oil clocked in at just 46% the price that Associated was asking.

Surprisingly, many of my family's favorite brands also found their way onto Naveen's shelves -- at very good prices. Jif Creamy peanut butter was available at a sharp discount, as were Heinz ketchup and Goya canned beans. Hunt's canned tomatoes and Contadina tomato paste were especially good deals, -- about a third less than at the nearby supermarket. The biggest surprise, however, was Lea and Perrin's Worcestershire sauce, which cost about 20% less and, unlike the sauce made for the American market, didn't contain high-fructose corn syrup.

This isn't to say that everything is cheaper at the international market. Brown rice, which is largely disdained in Asia, actually cost less at the chain supermarket, as did red wine vinegar, white vinegar, and canned tuna fish. As a general rule of thumb, expect items that don't fit into traditional Asian cuisine to cost a bit more. However, given the wide variety in Asian cuisines, the chances are good that a lot of your favorites are available for a lot less money in your local international market.

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171 Comments

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Nichole Jones

I am a regular online frugal shopper and mostly use cash back portals like FatWallet, ShopAtHome, AAfter Search and Ebates.

May 01 2011 at 2:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
jim

walmart might bring you prices down in NYC.

April 11 2011 at 7:27 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
mtracht508

Your experience may not be duplicated all over. The catch with small, independent markets is that you do not know where they got their merchandise, how close they are to meeting health standards for cleanliness, if they are past-date items or even if the goods were delivered or fell off the back of a truck.

One thing you might want to consider is doing bulk shopping once a month in NJ if you have access to an automobile. There, prices are far lower and you can use stores like WalMart, BJ's and Target for much of your shopping. The prices are so much lower, that if you are buying staples in quantity, you can save far more than what it costs to travel there.

April 11 2011 at 3:00 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
fcfendr1

I love shopping at ethnic grocery stores. Better customer service, prices are atleast on par with the big grocery stores and a HUGE range of fruits and vegetables (some of which, I've never heard of). It's like visiting a different culture without leaving the neighorhood.

I am pretty sure that Lea and Perrin's Worcestershire sauce being sold is the same Heinz product that is sold in every other store, just at a lower cost. And maybe if Larry would open his eyes, he would realize that supporting local shops helps his local community more than shopping at the large food chains.

The reason the food is cheaper is because the local shops are usually independantly owned, no unions to pay, no coorporate overhead, lower insurance premiums and lower rent.

April 11 2011 at 2:52 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to fcfendr1's comment
WatergirlHawaii

Dont be so sure about the worchestershire sauce, I assure you different countries definitely do use different recipie formulations in different markets; even Coca-Cola!

April 11 2011 at 4:20 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
gburr75

SAVE !!! LOL...yeah right... not from an international market !! Like I read in previous comments.....buy from you're local farmers...like in my area,at flea markets, or roadside stands......or better yet, grow you're own!!

April 11 2011 at 2:35 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
larry

Why would I want to shop at an international market ??? Most of that crap comes from China, Korea, Samolia and India with their leaded paint, melamine, additives and polutants, not to mention most of us would like to spen our money on items made and manufactured in the U.S. This is the ultimate insult to american workers and supports "outsourcing".

April 11 2011 at 2:09 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mark

Not a lot of little ethic markets around the corner in most of the country. Saying that, I lived in a area of Southern California that had a high Latino population in a nearby city. I frequently shopped at the smaller grocery stores that catered to them. I was able to save quite a bit on produce, meat, poultry and other items. It was also interesting seeing all the differnt types of food available and a little humbling being the only white person in the store.I also enjoy going to the Asian and Middle East markets for the same reasons.
But still, I do most of my shopping at the local Albertsons.

April 11 2011 at 1:37 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
edithhead

And how does this apply to the rest of the nation. NYC is not the standard of the world, even though people who live there may wish it so.

April 11 2011 at 12:37 PM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply
gmini10

I know what's going on now, it took me awhile to figure it out but now i know, JESUS is coming and boy is he PISSED!

April 11 2011 at 11:40 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to gmini10's comment
Shaun

I think, well, no - KNOW that you are wrong. A supreme being like JESUS can not harbor hate, or madness, or any of the negative emotions like us humans do on a daily basis. You think jesus was just a man, well, I KNOW he is a GOD sitting right next to the almighty creator - an ambassador to all humans in all galaxy's and universes - past and present. How dare you think of jesus as being so - human - you people spouting hate and corruption on the part of jesus, he doesn't HATE you for it, he knows that you "knows not what you do". And he loves you for it! Because you are evolving - spiritually. God/Jesus does not possess the vehicles for any of the lower vibratory emotions. He is only light and love.

May 21 2011 at 5:46 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
lakada3

Sorry but I don't trust these type markets. How long is the food sitting there and where is it originating from? Why is it so cheap? Is it because a major food chain would not accept it? Damaged goods or expired? It maybe cheaper for a reason and not a good one.

April 11 2011 at 11:13 AM Report abuse -1 rate up rate down Reply