December 8, 2010

Last minute shopping – dairy, meat and produce markdowns are your friend

I promote stockpiling and buying items when they are on super sale to avoid paying full price. By purchasing items ahead of time you avoid running to the store last minute to buy full-priced groceries, and you save yourself those expensive “stop in to pick up dinner” shopping trips. BUT. . .there is one exception, when shopping last minute actually pays off, and that is with dairy, meat and produce markdowns.

Every time I go to the grocery store I scan the dairy, meat and produce sections for manager markdowns.  These are items that have been specially marked down for quick sale. There can be many reasons for why they are marked down – they could be close to their “use by” or “best buy” date, they might have too much in stock, they could be discontinuing that product, or it could be as simple as the deli/meat/produce manager going on vacation –  you just never know!

Regardless of the reason for the markdown, if you are looking for dinner or a meal in the near future, these markdowns can be a great way to avoid paying full price.

A couple weeks ago I went to QFC, my favorite place for manager markdowns. I was sooo excited to find organic basil marked down for only $1.79 a container. This stuff is generally $4-5 a piece, especially this time of year! I picked up four of them. I also found Aidell’s sausages for $2.99 and I had $1 coupons – making them only $1.99! I picked up four organic yogurts for only $0.50 cents each and two tubs of organic romaine lettuce.

The sausages had a couple days left before the use by date, but I knew we wouldn’t eat them before then, so they went right into the freezer when I got home. I do this a lot with meat – just freeze it until you want to use it. We used the romaine for dinner salads and the yogurts were quickly eaten over the next couple days.

The basil, oh the sweet basil, how I love you so. . . but you usually aren’t in my budget. Well I took that home and made pesto! Have you made pesto before? It’s sooo easy, and delicious, and versatile. I made up a bunch of pesto and froze it for future meals.

Pesto is super easy to make. I bought some bulk Parmesan cheese and pine nuts from my local co-op. Pine nuts are super expensive (I didn’t realize just how much until I got home and looked at my receipt), I recommend substituting another variety of nuts. I have seen recipes that call for walnuts, brazil nuts, cashews – just Google a pesto recipe with whatever nuts you might have around the house. I had fresh garlic and olive oil on hand. (Here’s a basic pesto recipe.)

Throw all the ingredients into the food processor.

Tah dah! Super fast and easy to make.

Then I vacuum sealed the pesto into meal size portions using my trusty Food Saver. I little bit goes a long way.

Not only did we have some for dinner but I now have seven (7) future meals! You can use pesto on sandwiches/burgers, chicken, pasta, and lots more. My disclaimer: I am not a cooking expert, this is not a cooking blog, so try this at your own risk! 🙂

So if you are going to shop for last minute dinner items, I recommend checking for manager markdowns first. Think creatively – if there is someway you can cook up veggies, or use the ingredients to make a meal you’ll be saving yourself from paying full price!

Here are my tips for making the most of manager markdowns:

  • Find out the markdown schedule – Find out what days your local store generally marks down the items in the meat and dairy sections. For example, do they always markdown on Mondays and Thursdays? Shop the same-day as the markdowns to get the best selection.
  • If they are coupon savings, they are generally store coupons – Some times, especially on meat products, the manager markdown stickers says a certain dollar amount off. For example $2 off for quick sale. These are store coupons, so if you have a manufacturer coupon, you can use that too (this happens a lot for cheese or deli meat).
  • Check the dates – Don’t assume that they are close to their expiration dates. Markdowns can happen for lots of reasons – packaging changes, overstock, etc.
  • Freeze meat – If I find meat that is dated within a day or two, I’ll take it home and freeze it immediately. Remember when you go to defrost it that you should use it immediately after defrosting.
  • Know the good spots to look – My favorite place to look for markdowns are the deli counter cheese section, lunch meats, sausages, yogurt and milk. Some stores have a specific “clearance” or markdown section.
  • Make the call based on your comfort level – Use your best discretion on the viability of dairy products that are close to date. Some people claim yogurt is good for weeks after it’s “best by” date, I prefer to eat mine within a day or two of the “best by” date. When in doubt, throw it out. Meat is another story all together – it’s recommended you don’t take risks on PAST-dated meat. It should be frozen or cooked by the date on the package.
  • Use your coupons – Combine with coupons (either printable or e-coupons) whenever possible and you can get even better deals!
  • Pay attention at checkout – Make sure your cashier scans the marked down price. Sometimes it requires a coupon be peeled off or a different bar code be scanned – so watch carefully when you checkout.

Here’s some information I pulled from the USDA Food Safety web site that explains the different dating methods used on food:

  • A “Sell-By” date tells the store how long to display the product for sale. You should buy the product before the date expires.
  • A “Best if Used By (or Before)” date is recommended for best flavor or quality. It is not a purchase or safety date.
  • A “Use-By” date is the last date recommended for the use of the product while at peak quality. The date has been determined by the manufacturer of the product.

You can get some really helpful information at the USDA Food Product dating Web site.

Do you shop manager markdowns? What are your favorite stores to find markdowns? Do you  have any tips to share?


    Leave your comments here...


  1. you can get pine nuts at costco we usually keep them in the freezer

    also you can add baby spinach to the pesto it blends right it and tastes great and your kids wint know theres extra veggies

  2. I try to buy organic or cage-free chicken and natural beef if I can and buying it marked down is the only way to go on a budget! I have found Top Foods has the best meat mark-down specials and a good variety. I’ve just started shopping there so have only gone a couple times, but have been thrilled with the deals both times! Thanks for your post!

  3. I go to my local grocer after 7:30pm, and ask the butcher if he/she has any hamburger left from the meat case, and offer to buy it all if I can get a good deal on it. I’ve gotten it for as little as $0.99 a pound! An average price seems to be about $1.49/lb, which is still fantastic for 7%! They usually have the case cleared out by 8pm, and have marked it all down for “quick sale” and put it out with the other hamburger. They do pull it by 9am the next day, and will not sell it once they pull it.

  4. Mimsi The WonderDog says

    As someone who spent 14 years in the grocery business… meat is good ‘literally’ 1 or as much as 2 weeks beyond it’s sell by date. In my store we’d let meat expire but put it in the back room for a few days to age….then we would buy it(at a discounted rate). This is only true for red meat. Yogurt, eggs, butter, etc… it. It’s good for weeks and even months past the date. Milk is even good past the date, but only if temp control has been maintained, and unfortunately milk is ‘lowest’ on the totem pole. After receiving, milk will always be the last to make it to the cooler. Never trust milk that’s within 3 days of the labeled ‘Use By’ date. Seriously…given the current liability environment, if it’s out for sale you have at least three days as a safe bet.

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