MONEY groceries

National High-Price Bacon Nightmare Is Over

150127_EM_Bacon
Ray Lego—Getty Images

Bacon lovers, rejoice. The heartbreaking, seemingly endless rise of pork prices appears to have subsided.

After hitting record highs over the summer, bacon prices have come down to earth—and even cheaper prices are on the way.

The retail price of bacon hit an all-time high during the summer of 2014, but has since retreated, dropping 5.7% by early December, according to Bloomberg News. What’s more, all signs indicated at the time that prices for pork, ham, and bacon would keep on decreasing. “Hogs and pork are almost surely going to be cheaper, particularly compared to beef, next year,” Doane Advisory Services economist Dan Vaught said.

Sure enough, pork prices are plunging in early 2015. On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported that farmers have rebounded from a virus that decimated pig herds in 2013 and early 2014, and that the nation is riding high on the hog in terms of a record number of pigs approaching slaughter weight. Forecasts call for an all-time high of 23.9 billion pounds of pork to be produced in the U.S. in 2015.

“It’s amazing. We’ve gone from ‘We’re going to run out of pork!’ to ‘What are we going to do with all of this meat?’” John Nalivka, president of the Oregon-based agriculture-advisory firm Sterling Marketing Inc., told the Journal.

Well, one thing they’re clearly going to do is cut prices. Hogs are currently trading at four-year lows on the futures market. Supermarkets are paying less for pork wholesale, and they have begun passing along the savings in the form of cheaper ham, pork loins, and yes, bacon. Last summer, the average retail price for a pound of bacon was over $6 per pound. By December 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a pound of bacon was averaging $5.53 in U.S. grocery stores, and $5.10 in the Midwest.

The funny thing about bacon is that people love it so much that demand stays incredibly high even when prices rise, and the masses are prone to panic with the slightest hint of bacon being in short supply. And when bacon prices become cheaper, that’s a justification for some bacon lovers to take their bacon consumption to the next level. Businesses that profit on bacon-aholics will surely be more than happy to help. Look for more bacon to be incorporated into restaurant menus and on sale at supermarkets in the months ahead.

MONEY consumer psychology

Panic Shopping! How a Blizzard Turns Us into Irrational Hoarders at the Grocery Store

A long line of shoppers wait beside mostly-empty shelves in the bread aisle of a grocery store, as people stocked up on items ahead of an approaching snowstorm, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 February 2014.
A long line of shoppers wait beside mostly-empty shelves in the bread aisle of a grocery store, as people stocked up on items ahead of an approaching snowstorm, in Alexandria, Virginia, USA, 12 February 2014. Michael Reynolds—epa/Corbis

Weather forecasts aren't nearly as reliable as the reaction by shoppers when a bad storm has been predicted. And by reaction we mean overreaction.

Almost exactly a year ago, supermarkets cashed in as shoppers rushed in and ransacked store shelves in anticipation of snowy weather and the polar vortex’s subzero temperatures hitting a broad swath of the country. This week, it’s largely the same story in the Northeast, what with a historic blizzard said to be threatening New England and much of the Mid-Atlantic region.

Over the weekend, the panic hoarding began, with shoppers emptying grocery store shelves and grabbing every last loaf of bread, carton of eggs, and bottle of milk in sight. On Sunday, shoppers at one New Jersey supermarket reported it being nearly impossible to find a parking spot outside the store, while inside the scene was one of empty coolers where milk used to be, employees fighting through crowds to restock shelves, and endless lines snaking away from cash registers. Likewise, shoppers have been sharing photos of the crazy mob scenes over the weekend inside grocery stores in Boston, New York City, and elsewhere with #Snowmaggedon2015, #Blizzardof2015, or whatever your preferred nickname is for the storm.

By now, this kind of pre-storm mad rush at the supermarket is to be expected. Heck, it’s far more reliable than the actual weather forecasts ever are. And to some extent, this behavior is reasonable. We’re relentlessly instructed to take precautions, prepare for the worst, go the route of better safe than sorry, and … you get the gist. You don’t want to be stuck in a blizzard without a shovel or enough food to last for a few days, after all.

Yet, as with so many other things involving human beings, there’s a tendency to go completely overboard. What starts out as a prudent and sensible shopping excursion can quickly devolve into a frenzied, agitated exercise in hoarding at an overcrowded supermarket or hardware store, as the ugly, primal side of humanity rises to the surface.

During the polar vortex of early 2014, for instance, some supermarket customers reported that meat and bread were swiped from their shopping carts while their backs were turned. Ever since Superstorm Sandy left gas stations without gas and led to some instances of price gouging where gas was available, drivers have been known to flock to the pumps to fill up when a big storm is in the forecast. Far more often than not, of course, it’s wholly unnecessary to wait in line for 30 minutes or longer just to top off your gas tank.

What is it, then, that pushes us over the edge? Why do shoppers head out to the store in preparation of some snow and perhaps a couple days without power, and then they (OK—we) wind up hoarding all manner of goods as if preparing for the apocalypse?

Part of the explanation is mob mentality. When we see others streaming into stores and snatching up perishable goods by the cartload, we feel pressure to do the same. Perhaps, we think, these crazed shoppers all around us know something we don’t? It’s easy to see how this mentality snowballs—excuse the pun—when an epic blizzard is expected. This kind of thinking also pushes consumers into the realm of irrationality on days like Black Friday, when the bustle of crowds and competition causes people to overreact and buy things they wouldn’t have had there not been dozens of shoppers fighting to get their hands on some supposedly hot, must-have holiday purchase.

Consumer psychologist Kit Yarrow, an author and frequent TIME and MONEY contributor, explained via email that no matter if it’s Black Friday or the day before a blizzard or hurricane is about to hit, when crowds descend on stores we essentially revert to cavemen. “Clearly we’re responding to emotions and crowds, and our brains are a few steps behind,” said Yarrow. What else could explain the act of rampaging through the supermarket and “greedily grabbing the last can of Spam”?

“It starts with a normal impulse to stock up on things that might not be available for a few days,” Yarrow said. “Panic hits when the stores are jammed with other shoppers and the shelves look a little bare. It’s not so much a thought as it is an impulse that hits, and it’s associated with the caveman parts of our brain that take over when we perceive we might be in physical danger. We are prewired to fight for food when we sense that resources are scarce.”

Afterwards, we’re likely to look back on our behavior with puzzlement, and perhaps embarrassment. “Shoppers are going to find that canned food in the back of their pantries someday and wonder what they were thinking,” said Yarrow. “The fact is, they really weren’t thinking. Primal brain took over.”

Try to keep this in mind when, inevitably, the next “historic” storm is on the horizon and your supermarket seems to have been invaded by hoarding barbarian masses. By then, however, it’ll probably be too late. You’ll be in the store, not thinking, and instead following the primal impulse to race to get the last loaf of bread before it’s gone.

Speaking of which, anyone have any good recipes that involve Spam? Somehow, I have a bunch in the pantry, though I don’t remember even buying them.

MONEY Shopping

5 Everyday Items You Paid More for in 2014—and 3 That Got Cheaper

A few of America's favorite items for snacking, cooking, and recaffeinating got a lot more expensive this year. Meanwhile, one big cost has gotten much cheaper.

Inflation causes the slow, steady rise in prices for all manner of goods and services. But the price hikes incurred by the five common expenditures below have far outshot inflation. Over the past year, chances are a much larger portion of your household budget has been allocated to the following expenses.

 

  • Olive Oil

    Bottle of olive oil
    Sue Wilson—Alamy

    Olive Oil Times noted recently that “2014 will go down as one of the worst years in recent history for olive oil production in Italy.” Production has slowed significantly in Spain and Portugal as well, thanks to a range of factors including a fruit fly infestation and a cold spring followed by a hot, humid summer—followed by hail storms. The end result is that global production of olive oil could be down as much as 27%, and prices for high-quality European olive oil are soaring: Recently, wholesale prices for extra virgin olive oil in Italy were up 121% compared to a year ago.

  • Beef

    T-bone steak on white butcher paper
    Foodcollection.com—Alamy

    Virtually all meat prices rose in 2014, thanks largely to long periods of drought in the American West colliding with increased global demand. Yet beef prices rose swiftest of all this year, with live cattle futures hitting an all-time high in November and retail prices being pushed up 18% to 20% compared to a year ago. And get this: Skyrocketing beef prices are being blamed for what appears to be the return of cattle rustlers, who presumably made off with 150 cows that were reported missing in Idaho, and that are worth over $300,000. Perhaps worst of all, bacon prices have been rising nearly as steeply as beef.

  • Chocolate

    Hershey's, Mr. Goodbar and Krackel chocolate bars.
    Kristoffer Tripplaar—Alamy

    Surging cocoa prices led both Hershey’s and Mars to raise prices by 8% or so on your favorite chocolate candy bars this year. And because the supply of chocolate appears unable to keep up with demand—which is soaring in particular in Latin America and Asia—chocolate prices are expected to keep rising going forward.

     

  • Airfare

    Airport planes
    Nicholas J. Reid—Getty Images

    The average round trip flight in the U.S. surpassed $500 in 2014, and the cost of flying domestically has been rising nearly 11% over the past five years, after adjusting for inflation. What’s puzzling—not to mention frustrating—for travelers is that base prices for flights have been soaring at a time when airline fees and airline profits are both sharply on the rise. Lower fuel prices have served to make profits even larger, and while the airlines have kept prices high thus far in the new era of cheap oil, costs have declined so dramatically that some are anticipating slightly cheaper airfare in 2015.

  • Coffee

    The Starbucks Corp. logo sits on carboard coffee cups inside a Starbucks coffee shop.
    Jason Alden—Bloomberg via Getty Images

    Starbucks, Folgers, and Dunkin’ Donuts are among the well-known coffee brands subjected to price increases in 2014. Persistent drought in Brazil, the world’s largest coffee bean producer, has been blamed as the main reason for the price hikes. And while it may seem as if coffee drinkers will pay any price to get their java fix, a recent report noting falling coffee sales from Smuckers, maker of Folgers, indicates that the demand for coffee has its limits. Meanwhile, Starbucks’ new plan focuses on a luxury retail concept, where a haute cup of Joe will run around $6.

    On the flip side, you paid less for these three expenditures in 2014:

  • Gas

    Mark Monaham, owner of the Raceway gas station in McComb, Miss., changes his fuel price billboard, Friday, Dec. 19, 2014. Gas prices throughout the region continue to fall as oil prices plummet.
    Daniel Lin—AP

    Thanks to an increase in supply and lower consumption due to more fuel efficient vehicles and other factors, gas prices launched into a slow, steady decline last summer that hasn’t really ended. The national average hit what was then a low for 2014 in early October, at $3.27 per gallon—a rate that seems quite expensive of late. Prices dipped under $2 per gallon in a few stations in Oklahoma in early December, and government forecasts are predicting a national average of $2.60 per gallon for 2015, down from $3.51 in 2013.

     

  • TVs

    A Walmart employee helps a customer with a 50" TV on sale for $218 on Black Friday in Broomfield, Colorado November 28, 2014.
    Rick Wilking—Reuters

    It’s no surprise that the price of most electronics drops year after year, thanks to increasingly lower production costs and the fact that any technology available for more than six months is deemed old and unhip—and therefore must be discounted. Even so, the dip in TV prices in 2014 has been pretty amazing. In October, the Labor Department reported that TV prices were down 14%, and that decrease of course occurred well before the rollout of super cheap TV deals on Black Friday and the rest of the holiday period. As Consumer Reports noted recently, it’s now pretty easy to find a 40-inch TV for less than the price of an 8-inch tablet.

     

  • Cellphone Bills

    Pedestrians pass a Verizon Wireless store on Canal Street in New York.
    John Minchillo—AP

    The past year brought with it more changes in cellphone plans than we’ve seen in perhaps the previous five years combined. In addition to a sharp shift toward more possibilities in “non-contract” plans, in which you’re not locked into a two-year deal, wireless providers have been especially aggressive this year in terms of rolling out new plans and bonuses in order to win over customers from the competition. In August, for instance, Verizon and Sprint both introduced significantly cheaper plans to new customers—potentially cutting one’s monthly bill by 50%. More recently, Sprint promised a new unlimited talk and text deal that would cut in half the bill currently paid by any AT&T or Verizon customer.

    None of this necessarily means that your household’s smartphone bill actually went down in 2014. But considering the increased competition and wide range of new individual and family plan offers on the table, you should be paying less. If you’re not, it’s time to start shopping around to get a better deal. You might not even have to switch providers. Sometimes it’s as simple as calling up and asking for a cheaper option.

TIME Diet/Nutrition

Kalettes: A Brand-New Veggie You Should Know About

Kalettes

Kalettes, a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts, are the latest hybrid vegetable to hit the U.S. market.

The new veggie was created by Tozer Seeds, a British vegetable-breeding company that brought the vegetable to the United States in fall 2014. The non-genetically-modified vegetable took 15 years to perfect. “The inspiration behind Kalettes came from a desire to create a kale type vegetable that was versatile, easy to prepare and looked great,” Kalettes’ website reads. “Crossing kale with brussels sprouts was a natural fit since they are both from the brassica oleracea species, which also includes cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli.” Kalettes, like many dark leafy greens, are very high in vitamin C. They’re also high in vitamin K.

In the early stages of Kalettes’ development, Brussels sprouts were dropping out of popularity in the U.K., and the new hybrid was thought of as a potential way to increase the veggie’s popularity, Modern Farmer reports.

Kalettes look similar to a small cabbage and are available at Trader Joe’s nationwide, as well as at some regional groceries like Whole Foods and Costco. Kalettes are are simple to prepare and cook quicker than Brussels sprouts, the company says. Taste wise, Kalettes have a nutty, savory flavor.

MONEY groceries

Rumors Are Flying of a Thanksgiving Turkey Shortage

Turkeys in a grocery store
Richard Levine—Alamy

You may have heard that there's a turkey shortage, and that prices are rising just in time for Thanksgiving. Hogwash.

Supermarkets have plenty of turkeys, and prices are incredibly cheap right now. How cheap? How about 79¢ per pound? That’s what the Kroger chain of supermarkets is offering in a special deal valid through Thanksgiving, so long as the customer buys an additional $35 or more in groceries.

If that’s too pricey, check out the offer from Meijer: When a customer spends at least $20 in the store, the chain’s own brand of turkeys are 50% off, which translates to 54¢ per pound for frozen birds and 98¢ per pound for fresh ones. In competitive markets such as western Michigan, meanwhile, some local grocery stores are selling turkeys for as little as 49¢ a pound. The latest Stop & Shop circular is advertising frozen turkeys for 59¢ per pound with a $25 purchase, and the chain says it will match the turkey prices of any grocery competitor. Yet another large player in the grocery field, Hy-Vee, has a coupon valid for a free 10- to 14-lb. Honeysuckle White Turkey for customers who purchase a Hormel whole ham. And ShopRite is giving reward club members a free turkey once the customer meets certain spending requirements (usually $400) over a period of a few weeks.

So why are so many headlines are making the rounds lately indicating that turkey is getting expensive?

It’s true that production is down, and that wholesale prices are up for turkey. But the important takeaway for shoppers is that neither of these factors is necessarily translating to rising prices in stores.

Due to long periods of drought and rising prices for feed, production of all manner of livestock has been on the decline in recent years. Beef prices, for instance, have increased to the point that consumers needed smart strategies to keep barbecue costs down over the summer. The Associated Press recently reported that American farmers will produce a total of 235 million turkeys this year, “the lowest since 1986, when U.S. farmers produced roughly 207 million birds.”

It sounds pretty dire. And yet, there’s nothing remotely true about the idea of there being a turkey “shortage,” as some have called it. A shortage means there’s not enough to go around—that the supply can’t keep up with demand. But as no less an authority than the National Turkey Federation noted that Americans collectively consumed 46 million turkeys at Thanksgiving 2012, and 210 million turkeys during the year as a whole. That, combined with the fact that there are ample supplies of turkeys at supermarkets all over the country, should dispel any claims of a “shortage.”

As far as prices go, wholesale prices may be rising—reportedly up 12% in October compared with last year—but, as USDA agriculture economist David Harvey explained to the AP, “There’s really no correlation between what grocery store chains are paying and what they’re selling them at.”

This year—and every year around this time—supermarkets use turkeys as “loss leaders.” The stores advertise exceptionally low prices on turkeys, knowing that doing so will be a draw for customers. The grocers don’t care if they make little or no money, or even if they lose money, on turkey sales; shoppers who come for turkeys almost always buy plenty more groceries when they’re in the stores, especially when they’re required to do so, as the best deals stipulate, and it’s in these purchases where the supermarkets make their money.

What’s more, the idea that there is a turkey shortage and/or that turkey prices are soaring is a myth that pops up regularly around this time of year. Last year’s “shortage” turned out to be hype because, once anyone read past the headlines, it was clear that even as the supply of one particular kind of turkey had declined, the vast majority of turkeys (and consumers) were completely unaffected.

In a story published today by the New Jersey Star Ledger, Ashley Myers, co-owner of Ashley Farms, is quoted laughing off the idea of there being a shortage of turkeys. “They say that every year,” she said.

And every year, everyone who wants to buy a turkey for Thanksgiving is able to buy a turkey very easily, generally at very low prices—or even free. This year is no exception.

MONEY groceries

Lawsuit Could Force Upstart Condiment Brand to Hold the ‘Mayo’

141111_EM_JustMayo
In a lawsuit, food giant Unilever says that Just Mayo must change its labeling because it is not real mayonnaise. Jim Wilson—The New York Times/Redux

In a David vs. Goliath battle over sandwich spread labeling, things could get messy.

Unilever, the food giant that owns the Hellmann’s brand of Real Mayonnaise, recently filed a lawsuit against Hampton Creek, a well-funded startup backed by the likes of Bill Gates. The upstart company is being accused of false advertising because its sandwich spread brand Just Mayo contains no eggs and is therefore not real mayonnaise.

The Food & Drug Administration stipulates that any product calling itself mayonnaise must contain one or more “egg yolk-containing ingredients,” and Just Mayo is made with yellow peas instead of eggs. The rules also require genuine mayonnaise to be at least 65% vegetable oil—which is why Kraft’s Miracle Whip, which doesn’t meet that standard, is not a mayonnaise and is technically classified as a salad dressing.

Unilever is demanding that Just Mayo change its labels, and it is seeking unspecified compensatory damages. The “harm is impossible to quantify because of the difficulty of measuring lost good will and sales” for Hellmann’s and other mayonnaise makers, the suit states. The suit claims that the “Just Mayo false name” has “caused consumer deception and serious, irreparable harm to Unilever,” and that it’s “part of a larger campaign and pattern of unfair competition by Hampton Creek to falsely promote Just Mayo spread as tasting better than, and being superior to, Best Foods and Hellmann’s mayonnaise.”

On its website, Just Mayo states its spread is “outrageously delicious, better for your body, for your wallet, and for the planet.” In recent months, the product—which is vegan but isn’t marketed overtly as such—has appeared on the shelves of national retailers such as Whole Foods, Costco, and Walmart.

Putting taste aside because that’s a subjective matter, how can Just Mayo label itself mayonnaise when it’s not mayonnaise? Well, actually Just Mayo never says that it is mayonnaise. The product is always referred to as “mayo,” not “mayonnaise.” Hampton Creek maintains that there’s a difference, that it never claimed the product was genuine mayonnaise, and that the lawsuit is the result of Unilever and Hellmann’s feeling threatened in the marketplace. “We’re competing directly with a company that hasn’t had real competition in decades,” Hampton Creek CEO Josh Tetrick told the Wall Street Journal. “These things happen.”

Andrew Zimmern, the celebrity chef and Travel Channel personality who is quoted calling Just Mayo a “must have” on the Hampton Creek website, has created a Change.org petition against Big Mayo, asking others to join his effort to get Unilever to “Stop Bullying Sustainable Food Companies.” The online petition, which urges Unilever to drop the lawsuit and “focus more on creating a better world rather than preventing others from trying to do so,” has already registered more than 15,000 signatures. Look for the movement to spread.

MONEY groceries

Why Amazon Wants to Deliver Your Groceries

AmazonFresh delivery, San Francisco, CA.
SiliconValleyStock—Alamy

Amazon's next target: The place where you do 20% of your spending.

Selling groceries is a horrible business. Competition is stiff. Margins are tight. And it’s heavily capital intensive.

You’d be excused, in other words, for wondering why a company like Amazon.com AMAZON.COM INC. AMZN -0.8138% is so intent on not only selling groceries, but on delivering them to your doorstep the same day you order them.

I’m referring to AmazonFresh, the e-commerce giant’s grocery-delivery subsidiary. Launched in Seattle in 2007, the service has now expanded to include Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City.

While perplexing, my guess is that the source of Amazon’s interest is actually quite simple. Namely, aside from sales of general merchandise, groceries make up the next largest category of retail sales excluding car sales.

In 2013, total grocery sales in the United States added up to $580 billion. By contrast, sales of general merchandise (Amazon’s bread and butter) totaled $653 billion. Meanwhile, the third-largest category, building materials and garden equipment, came in at $312 billion.

On a percentage basis, this means that nearly 20% of all domestic retail sales are associated with groceries. Thus, for a company that aspires to be the “everything store,” it seems obvious they’re a necessary offering.

amazonfresh_large

It’s worth noting, moreover, that Amazon’s desire to tap into the grocery business fits snugly into its emerging business model, which is in the process of fundamentally altering the retail landscape as we know it.

Over the last five years, the Seattle-based company has accelerated the construction of fulfillment centers across the United States. At present, it now has mammoth facilities perched on the outskirts of nearly every major metropolitan area in the country, including New York City, Chicago, and Los Angeles.

Aside from reducing the time it takes to dispatch goods from warehouses to customers, this positions Amazon to wage a direct assault on a host of once-sheltered brick-and-mortar retailers.

Large appliances serve as a perfect example. When Amazon only operated a handful of fulfillment centers in places like Kentucky, Delaware, Indiana, and Washington, it wasn’t feasible to ship a refrigerator to a customer in Dallas. But now that Amazon has a 1-million-square-foot facility in neighboring Fort Worth, that barrier has largely been eliminated.

It stands to reason that any retailer even remotely vulnerable to disruption is now within Amazon’s crosshairs. And first and foremost among these are businesses like grocery stores that shoulder the expense of owning or leasing high-priced real estate in densely populated areas.

Does this mean grocery stores will soon go the way of the dodo bird? No, not completely at least, as Amazon’s ability to generate a reasonable rate of return from AmazonFresh remains to be seen. At the same time, it doesn’t require an extraordinary leap of faith to assume that Amazon will find a way to crack this nut and begin devouring yet another large category of retail sales.

MONEY groceries

Whole Foods Is Losing Its ‘Whole Paycheck’ Reputation

141106_EM_WholeFoods
Justin Sullivan—Getty Images

Whole Foods is winning over customers based on the pitch that high food standards don't necessarily have to come with high price tags.

In Whole Foods’ fourth-quarter results released on Wednesday, investors found out that total sales increased 9% year over year, while comparable-store sales inched up 3.1%—”in line with its expectations, but marking its worst growth rate in over four years,” the Wall Street Journal noted.

Nonetheless, investors were plenty pleased with the direction the company is going, sending Whole Foods shares up more than 10% early Thursday.

Investments aside, what’s most interesting for everyday shoppers about the results—and about Whole Foods’ plans going forward—is that the supermarket often dubbed “Whole Paycheck” for its high-end and high-priced selection is experiencing success in a broad initiative to lower prices.

Last spring, Whole Foods shares tanked after it began to look increasingly difficult for the company to dominate sales of organic foods, since Walmart and other mass retailers had widely expanded their offerings. Organic foods are incredibly important to Whole Foods, as co-chief executive officer Walter Robb explained via statement yesterday:

“Natural and organic products are increasingly available, yet no one offers the shopping experience we offer. We hold the idea of ‘food’ to a higher standard, banning more than 75 ingredients commonly found in other stores, and we believe our unparalleled quality standards are a large part of why we maintain a broad base of loyal customers and attract new customers aspiring to a natural and organic lifestyle.”

Yet it’s not just Whole Foods’ “higher standards” that have given store sales a boost. In recent weeks, the company launched its first national ad campaign featuring the slogan “Values matter.” That’s values plural because of the standards mentioned above, as well as the old-fashioned value of a dollar. Whole Foods has been trying to rein in prices for at least two years—after all, it’s easier to attract new customers to the “natural and organic lifestyle” when it doesn’t cost an arm and a leg to do so. The initiative has hurt gross margins, which fell from 35.7% to 35.4%, but it has helped Whole Foods win over new shoppers and keep loyal customers at a time when it’s easier than ever to find organic foods elsewhere—at increasingly lower prices, no less.

In October, the company introduced a new “Responsibly Grown” system for rating produce at several hundred Whole Foods stores. On Wednesday, co-CEO John Mackey told analysts that he was “encouraged” by what he’s seen in the new system, which rates produce and flowers as Good, Better, or Best according to various sustainability measures. The ratings are supposed to help shoppers evaluate and make an informed decision to buy, for instance, a bag of green apples that’s double the price of a nearly identical one right next to it in the store. Or to help them make the informed decision to do just the opposite and choose the less expensive option.

Mackey said that going forward, Whole Foods will put special emphasis on offering more and more goods at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. “We remain committed to the highest quality standards and to expanding our value offering,” he said, noting there are “opportunities to broaden our selection of products at entry-level price points, increase promotions and narrow price gaps on select known-value items.”

In the future, Whole Foods hopes to expand its Good, Better, Best system to all perishables. The supermarket chain is already testing such a plan at five stores in Austin, Texas, and analysts say the initiative could pay major dividends in terms of changing the company’s upscale, overpriced reputation and broadening its appeal to the masses.

“Price is still a significant barrier in the way people look at Whole Foods, and it will take a while to change the ‘Whole Paycheck’ perception the company has,” said Kate Wendt, senior analyst with Wells Fargo Securities, according to Supermarket News. “But lowering prices in perishables — the category where people shop most frequently at Whole Foods — could help accelerate a change in that perception.”

Read next: Target Is Closing Another 11 Stores

MONEY Shopping

Here’s How to Save Hundreds on Groceries

Shopping Carts
Baldomero Fernandez

These 29 surprising and easy moves will help you find the best prices, avoid the sneakiest store tricks, and prevent those costly impulse buys.

Regardless of whether you’re feeding just yourself or a whole family, you probably find that groceries take a big bite out of your paycheck.

Food is the third-largest household expense, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports. And for a family of four, the average monthly tab runs between $568 for the super thrifty to $1,293 for those on a more liberal budget, according to the USDA.

MONEY consulted supermarket-savings experts for strategies that would help you trim the fat, without giving up the foods you love. Employing just a few of these 29 tricks—because let’s face it, you hardly have time to cook let alone turn shopping into a project—can take your bills down by 25%.

In other words, you could realize between $1,700 and $3,900 in annual savings.

Now that’s pretty delicious.

Plan Ahead

1. Do an inventory. Take stock of your pantry and freezer once a month to get a sense of what items you need and what you can skip buying, says Annette Economides, co-author of Cut Your Grocery Bill in Half with America’s Cheapest Family. Her husband and co-author Steve adds, “you don’t want to get in a panic when you’re in the grocery store and impulse buy an item at full price only to go home and find you’ve already got it.” Use an app like Out of Milk to help with your inventory.

2. Plan meals by the ads. “A lot of people make a weekly meal plan and then go look for a deal,” says Steve Economides. “Instead, look first at the deals and plan your meals around what’s on sale. This way, you can get meals for half price.”

3. Use up your pantry. Americans typically toss about 25% of the groceries we buy, according to the National Resources Defense Council. To prevent your food from turning into wasted money, sort through your fridge and pantry about once a week for items that are about to expire and place those in a designated space so that you remember to eat them before they go bad. Plug in what you’ve got at Supercook to find recipes that will help you use up your ingredients.

4. Shop only once a week. “The less you shop, the more you save,” says Annette Economides. Reduce impulse purchases and save gas by planning your shopping list so that you get a week’s worth of groceries in one shot.

5. Look for substitutes. Review your last grocery receipt and circle your most expensive purchases. When you’re next in the store, consider swapping these items for lower-cost alternatives—like ground turkey for ground beef. Subbing out a few items each trip can add up.

Get the Best Price

6. Do some reconnaissance. Pick the 10 or so items you most commonly buy (e.g. milk, cereal, bananas, chicken, detergent) and make a one-time mission to a few stores in your area (supermarket, Walmart, Target, Costco, dollar store) to compare the prices. A spreadsheet like this one from the Balancing Beauty & Bedlam blog can help. Your goal: to find out if you’re actually shopping the store with the lowest overall prices for your needs, says Stephanie Nelson, founder of the CouponMom.com.

7. Know the rock-bottom price. Learn the price range of the items you buy most frequently so that you’ll be able to recognize when they hit their lowest and stock up then, says Nelson. “For my family, one of our biggest grocery expenses is boneless chicken breast,” she says. “In my area, they’ll drop to $2 a pound and peak at $5 a pound over the course of three weeks. By stocking up at the lowest price, I’ve saved nearly $500 a year on just one item.”

8. Be wary of 10 for $10 sales. Or any promotion in which a store is offering several items for one price. Check the price of the item to make sure it is actually discounted, and not just clever signage making you think 89¢ cans being sold 10 for $10 is a steal. Also, if it is actually a discount, keep in mind that you don’t need to buy 10 to get the lower price.

9. Weight it out. Compare items by not just the sticker price but the price per ounce or pound to be sure you’re getting the best deal. Most stores post this number on the label on the shelf. For meats, look at the cost per serving instead so the bones and fat included in the weight of the item don’t mislead you.

10. Download coupons… Couponing doesn’t require circulars and scissors anymore. Visit Coupons.com, SmartSource.com or redplum.com to easily see what coupons are currently available in your area, then either print them out or load them onto a store loyalty card so you don’t even have to remember to bring them with you, says Nelson.

11. …then deploy them wisely. “When we find a coupon, we feel like we must use it right away,” says Nelson. “But wait until the item is at a really good sale price. This way you get savings from both the store discount and the coupon.”

12. Buy for 10 weeks at a time. Sales run through cycles, typically on an eight to12 week rotation, lifestyle and money-saving blogger Leslie Lambert of Lamberts Lately found. So if you know you’ll go through a box of cereal a week, buy 10 when they’re a deal to see you through the weeks when the item will be at full price.

13. Get an IOU. If a sale item is out of stock, ask the store for a rain check. It’s a slip of paper that grants you the sale price once the item’s back in stock regardless of whether the promotion is still running. Or if you don’t want to come back into the store, ask a manager if you can sub a similar item for the one on sale, recommends Annette Economides.

14. Photograph your receipt. You can earn cash-back on your groceries with apps like Ibotta, SavingsStar and Checkout51. These services offer weekly cash-back deals on a range of goods and all you need to do is take a photo of your receipt showing you bought the item to take advantage of the kickback, says Nelson.

Be Smarter in the Store

15. Be loyal. Pick one grocery store and one drugstore you go to frequently. “Sign up for their loyalty programs and get familiar with the promotions they run and what rewards they give out,” says Nelson. Understanding the program will help you concentrate your efforts so that you can get items for free, she notes.

16. Learn the layout. The more aisles you walk down, the more likely you are to add things to your shopping basket that you hadn’t initially intended to buy. Shoppers who decreased the number of aisles they visited checked out with only half their items being unplanned purchases vs. 68% of items for those who visited most or all aisles in a shop, according to a Marketing Science Institute study.

17. Go alone. The larger your shopping party, the more likely you are to make impulse purchases. About 65% of the items in our baskets when we group shop are unplanned, an eight percentage point increase over shopping alone, according to that same Marketing Science Institute study. So leave your spouse and your kids behind.

18. Pack mints. Or eat before you go. A study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that consumers are likely to spend more if their appetites have been stimulated beforehand. That’s probably why baked goods and rotisserie chickens are placed by the entrance of the store. Combat those tempting odors by eating a mint—which satiates hunger and can help overwhelm other scents—or by making sure your belly is full.

19. Bring your own soundtrack. Studies show that stores play music with a slower beat to encourage you to move more slowly through the aisles. That slower pace can lead shoppers to buy 29% more, found Martin Lindstrom, author of Brandwashed: Tricks Companies Use to Manipulate Our Minds and Persuade Us to Buy. Create your own mix of upbeat songs.

20. Use a Goldilocks cart. Lindstrom told CNBC that doubling the size of a cart makes people buy 40% more. And opting for those handheld baskets can be equally dangerous. A study from the Journal of Marketing Research found that the strain of carrying the basket made us more likely to pick up “vice products” like candy and soda as an unconscious reward for putting up with the hassle. Opt instead for a smaller wheeled cart.

21. Look high and low. Avoid the middle shelves and end caps. Companies pay to place products at your eye level—and your kid’s. Scan the top and bottom shelves instead as most of the time you’ll find the less expensive brands and best deals there.

22. Check yourself out. Impulse purchases dropped by 32% for women and about 17% for men when shoppers used the self-checkout line instead of a staffed checkout, found a study by IHL Consulting Group. The reason: There is less merchandise for you to pick up last minute around self-checkout stands, and the wait time is typically shorter—giving you less time with those tempting items.

Save on Specifics

23. Skip the deli. Whether you’re buying freshly cut meats from behind the deli counter or pre-sliced by the hot dogs, you’re spending more on cold cuts than you need, according to Steve Economides, who instead opts for large chunks of prepackaged meat called chubs. He then asks the deli or the butcher to slice the chubs for him. “At the deli, I can get a pound of ham for $7 to $9,” says Economides. “If I go to the meat counter and have a chub of ham sliced, it costs between $3 and $5 a pound, meaning I can save up to 66%.” You could also cook up larger portions of a meat, say a roast beef, and slice up those extras for sandwiches.

24. Do your own slicing and dicing. Prepackaged and single-serving foods are easy mark-up territory. (Example: Through New York City’s Fresh Direct delivery service, we found a cut and cored pineapple cost $5.99 while an uncut pineapple cost $3.99.) Though it may be more time-consuming, buy the whole chicken, block cheese or pineapple and do the chopping yourself. You can create your own smaller servings—say, for school lunches—by dividing up the food into baggies or Tupperware.

25. Don’t get milk at the supermarket. Moo juice sold at drugstores and convenience stores typically costs 30¢ to 50¢ less per gallon, Teri Gault, founder of TheGroceryGame.com, told Reader’s Digest.

26. Grow your own herbs. Stop buying bundles of herbs—at $2-plus a pop—that you’ll never be able to use up in time and instead plant a couple pots with fresh herbs to keep in your kitchen or porch. For a one-time cost of around $5, you’ll always have fresh herbs ready, and you won’t end up wasting any.

27. Follow the produce cycle. “You can save 30-50% on the price of produce by buying what’s in season,” says Annette Economides. If you do want those berries in the off-season, buy extra when they’re cheap and freeze them so you can enjoy them year round. For a guide to when certain produce is in peak-season, see this chart from the USDA.

28. Check seafood labels. At the counter you’ll find products labeled “previously frozen” in small type. That product is often the same thing you can find in the frozen-food aisle for as much as 40% less. Buy frozen and do the thawing yourself. Your fish will be fresher and you won’t have to use it right away.

29. Get meat in bulk. Washington-based Zaycon Foods offers consumers very competitive rates—e.g. chicken breast for $1.79 a pound—for those willing to buy orders starting at 40 pounds. To get these deals, you’ll have to order online and then pick your food up at a prearranged time from the back of a refrigerated truck waiting in a church or shopping center parking lot. Can’t store 40 pounds of meat? Split it with a friend, and you’ll both save.

Read next: Amazon Will Start Delivering Fresh Groceries in New York Today

MONEY online shopping

3 Reasons Google’s Same-Day Shipping Looks Like a Game Changer

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Nick and Laura Allen—AP

Google already dominates search. If the big expansion of a same-day shipping service proves successful, it could be on its way to dominating online shopping too.

On Monday, Google announced that the express online shopping-and-shipping service it has been testing for months in northern California and parts of Los Angeles and New York City is expanding to three more cities: Boston, Chicago, and Washington, D.C. The service, originally dubbed Google Shopping Express and now shortened to just Google Express, allows shoppers to place orders online or via mobile device with partner retailers such as Walgreens, Costco, Staples, Barnes & Noble, and Sports Authority. Google promises same-day shipping on all such orders, at a cost of $4.99 per delivery or flat subscription plans of $10 monthly or $95 a year.

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt mentioned this week at a conference that Google’s biggest rival isn’t Yahoo or Bing but is in fact Amazon.com, and the expansion of Google Express into Amazon’s online shopping turf is a clear indication that Google takes this rivalry very seriously. While Amazon is still the most dominant player in e-retail, Google’s newly expanded service is arguably superior and a better value compared to anything Amazon currently offers. Here are three reasons why Google’s service is particularly compelling:

1. Same-day delivery that’s “free.” Consumers increasingly demand free shipping with online purchases. Things have gotten to the point that free shipping is so readily available—via a coupon code here or reaching a minimum purchase threshold there—that the idea of paying for delivery can now be a deal breaker.

Thus far, the phenomenal success of Amazon Prime has most clearly demonstrated the power of shipping when it’s not only reliably free but speedy as well. Prime subscribers receive free two-day shipping on most orders placed via Amazon.com, and the service has proven so popular and indispensable that enrollment numbers have continued to climb even after prices rose recently from $79 to $99 annually.

Overnight and same-day shipping are more costly services than two-day delivery, however, and Amazon Prime members must pay extra for these expedited options—typically $5.99 for same-day shipping, where and when it’s available. That’s on top of an annual subscription fee.

Like Amazon Prime, Google Express is available via subscription, priced at $95 per year (just a smidge under the cost of Prime) or $10 per month. Members then get free same-day delivery of all orders with a minimum purchase of $15. (As an alternative, nonsubscribers can pay a flat $4.99 delivery fee per order.) One of the big differences between Amazon Prime and Google’s subscription service is that the former includes two-day shipping at no additional charge, whereas the latter covers same-day delivery. Prime has many other benefits—free video streaming, for instance, not to mention a much broader selection of products than Google’s service—but in terms of speedy shipping, Google Express has the edge.

Bear in mind that you’re paying for whichever service you choose. These services are presented as featuring “free” shipping, but that’s silly. Subscribers pay a membership fee to cover the costs of shipping, and there’s nothing free about it. “Prepaid” may be a better way to describe the shipping offered by these services. A subscription is a potentially good value in the same way that an all-you-can-eat buffet is a smart buy for someone who eats (or orders online) a lot, but it can be a waste of money for others.

2. Same-day delivery of stuff you actually need that day. Based on the success of Amazon Prime, plenty of consumers are more than OK with two-day shipping on the vast majority of online purchases. After all, when you’re buying a new TV, or a winter coat, or batteries or coffee pods or a Christmas gift for your aunt, or any other thing you might purchase at Amazon, there are generally no pressing needs that might require you to be in possession of them on the very day you place the order.

Likewise, same-day shipping would seem to be less of a necessity for the products typically purchased from Google Express partners such as Sports Authority, Guitar Center, and Toys R Us. It’s often a different story, though, for the goods one needs from drugstores and supermarkets, because when you need cold medicine or diapers or food on the dinner table, you tend to need them right away—not two days after placing an order. The normal approach in these situations is to handle the errand the old-fashioned way, by making a physical run to the store. But because Google Express’s early partners include Walgreens and grocery chains such as Giant, Stop ‘n Shop, and Whole Foods, these kinds of everyday errands can be crossed off your list quickly online, without even the need to pay extra for same-day delivery. (Same-day delivery from another Google partner, 1-800FLOWERS.com, is probably even more of a necessity among certain shoppers on certain anniversaries and birthdays.) For the sake of comparison, Amazon has already introduced an online grocery service in select markets with same-day and overnight delivery, but its subscription runs $299 per year.

3. Same-day delivery on stuff that’s a hassle to buy in person. Another intriguing partner of Google Shopping Express is Costco. The warehouse membership club giant is beloved by bulk-size-loving patrons, yet much about the shopping experience is less than ideal—starting with the huge size of much of its merchandise and ending with the absence of shopping bags for carrying one’s purchases. What’s more, Costco has had some trouble attracting younger customers because fewer millennials have cars, which are all but necessities for any Costco shopping trip, and they tend to want to live in urban areas rather than the suburbs where most Costcos are located.

Many of these issues disappear when Google and its same-day delivery service enter the equation. If Google is handling the pickup and delivery, customers no longer have to worry about being strong enough to maneuver gigantic tubs of laundry detergent into shopping carts, then into one’s car. Heck, there’s no need for a car at all because, again, Google is taking care of the shipping.

While Google’s service is still in its infancy, it’s probably being helped greatly by the fact that that a popular retail brand like Costco is a partner. But who knows: Down the line, it could be that Costco membership numbers rise because same-day delivery is available via its partner, Google Shopping Express.

Read next: Google Express Expands its Same-Day Delivery Reach

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