As grocery prices soar, local expert says learn to play the grocery game

PITTSBURGH — It’s what so many of us are talking about every day. Your trip to the grocery store is costing you more than probably ever before.

“You have to rob Peter to pay Paul,” said Joseph Dudley of Natrona Heights, while doing his weekly grocery shopping with his wife Rhonda. “You got to get what you need, not what you want.”

We are all frustrated over inflation and rising grocery bills. Prices have jumped nearly 10% in the last year. Local grocery stores like Giant Eagle and Shop ‘N Save are trying to keep prices down but say it’s challenging.

Giant Eagle spokesperson Jannah Jablonowski says “behind the scenes we are working extremely hard with our supply partners and our vendors and national brands to say we can’t pass this along to our customers.”

While we are seeing prices change weekly, so are stores when it comes to dealing with vendors. Charley Family Shop ‘N Save in Murrysville and Greensburg is led by fourth-generation owners. The family opened grocery stores in 1900 and Vice President of Operations Tom Charley says they’ve never seen anything like this.

“So for me personally, as a professional, this is the first time I’ve ever seen inflation like this” said Charley. “Obviously, it’s been a long time since we’ve seen inflation in America, anywhere near this. I just got updates from my suppliers last week where we’re seeing 10% price increases across the board for things like Procter and Gamble and which are very large players in the market.”

So what can you do to save a penny here or there? There’s actually a lot. Both stores recommend shopping store brands, looking at weekly ads and checking for sales.

Jablonowski recommends using a reverse shopping list, “that’s a really great way to really create a meal plan, whether that be for the week or the month.”

For more tricks, we went shopping with AARP consumer expert Mary Bach, who shops the same stores we do and says everyone need to eat the bargains.

“We need to learn how to play the game,” said Bach. “So it is totally legal but it’s to our advantage.”

First, she recommends you watch for BOGO. The buy-one-get-one offers are popular.

“Unless there is a disclaimer saying that you must buy two then you can really only just buy one and actually it becomes a half-price sale,” said Bach.

Also, think before you buy those prepackaged bags of lettuce that are convenient but come with a cost.

“If you buy an entire head of lettuce, which would probably make at least two probably three bags of that salad,” said Bach. “You would really save money in the long run by buying a head of lettuce and then buying some of the other things that you want to go in your salad.”

If you are not a member, Back recommends taking advantage of the store’s loyalty programs — like Giant Eagle’s Fuelperks+ and its new MyPerks program. People should really understand the program and use them to your advantage.

“You can buy the gift card and then use it for your purchase and those perks will really add up quickly,” said Bach.

She suggests that besides buying them as gifts, you can buy them if you plan to go out to eat, when you are going to do yard work or even when remodeling for supplies at one of those big box stores.

Another way to save is with clipping coupons. Bach says you can use coupons on sale items and even use e-coupons with paper ones at certain stores.

Bach says that beside watching out for shrinkflation, it is important to understand the different price tags posted inside the stores.

“At Shop ‘N Save these blue tags mean that this particular item is on sale at all Shop ‘N Saves,” said Bach. “It was actually negotiated by their group of stores and so you’ll find this at this price and at all the Shop ‘N Saves. The red tags indicate an item is actually on sale in the flyer this week.”

Giant Eagle has a variety of tags, including ones that will alert shoppers to digital coupon offers that can be downloaded in its app and used at the register when you check out.

Another tag you might see in Market District and Giant Eagle stores are ones associated with their new program, called MyPerks. The new aspect of their loyalty program launched recently. It’s different from their Fuelperks+ program. The Fuelperks+ program rewards you with 10 cents of gas or 2% off groceries with every $50 you spend. The new MyPerks program rewards customers with $1 off gas or grocery with every 50 perks you earn. But you might be wondering, how do you earn a perk?

“We offer perk multipliers on our own brand products,” said Jablonowski. “So every time you purchase a Giant Eagle, Market District, or Nature’s Basket brand item, you’re automatically getting double or triple perks on all of the dollars spent on our own brands. So we have a lot of different opportunities in place to help customers really rack up a lot of perks really quickly.”

There are also opportunities to earn perks on certain days of the month and when buying gift cards or prescriptions. Customers must opt in to the MyPerks program and Jablonowski says that once you enroll, you can’t switch back.

“We feel very confident that folks that switch over to the MyPerks program are going to realize really great savings initially and immediately,” said Jablonowski. “We know that it’s great if you plan ahead and stock up and you accumulate your perks, but for a lot of people that’s just not realistic, especially in these times of inflation. You want to save more money, more frequently and that’s really what we built the MyPerks program around.”

Another new tag you will see in the store is MyPerks pricing on items. If you are a part of the program, you will save with prices set below the normal price.

There’s no way around it — your bill is going to go up. But Bach says that a little work in preparing for your shopping trips can help you save money, “so you have to play the shopping game. You have to know the rules and you have to be willing to maximize the savings for yourself.”

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