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Tri-Valley Foodist: Saving money at the grocery store

At the Safeway deli, a half-dozen people, not all shown here, patiently awaited the next batch of freshly cooked fried chicken. The eight-piece, $5 special includes four-each of drumsticks and thighs.

Grocery stores are hungry for our money at holiday time.

Ads pop up in our mailbox, emails, apps, and TV. Buy our frozen turkey! Order table-ready turkey dinners with free delivery!

Marketeers aim to lure us to buy more from our regular list and to purchase other products that match our preferences. Every week I get two grocery emails and check one store app. Having recently attended a cybersecurity lecture, I am leery of allowing too many businesses to follow and digitally store my buying habits.

Tri-Valley Foodist Deborah Grossman. Photo courtesy Grossman

Like clockwork, supermarket ads clutter our Tuesday snail mail. I don’t always read them. But when I do, certain photos in the ad may trigger a forgotten need to buy an item or entice a trial of something new. I then pop on my hunter’s cap and target Wednesday bargains.

A scan of a half dozen Tri-Valley markets from Draeger’s to chain stores and Grocery Outlet display a diversity of styles in communicating sales. Most stores layer limited-time or special sales with weekly ads.

I smiled at the Lucky California ad for “Tender Lovin’ Tuesday.” At the Pleasanton store, fresh, hand-breaded chicken tenders sell for a reduced price every Tuesday. The ad also touts special three-day prices on select items from Friday to Sunday and other online-only sale items.

Reading the full print ad also led me to a special Lucky limited time offer. One can earn up to $20 in gas rewards at selected stations by purchasing specified items in one transaction. We use the Safeway gas rewards program which gives 10 cents off a gallon at a Safeway pump for every $100 spent with some exceptions.

Raley’s and Nob Hill stores also run sales from Wednesday through Tuesday. Digital deals are displayed on the front page of the print ad with a pull-back panel revealing their $5 Monday items. The $5 Panera soup special looked promising, but I aimed for a weekly deal on Talento gelato for a taste reminiscent of recent forays to Italy.

If it’s Friday, that means $5 specials at Safeway. Though Safeway is my closest grocery store, I rarely shop on Friday. Thinking some specials were grouped together, I asked Front End staff member Bobbie Mehner-Miller for their location. She replied, “It’s easy. Look for the gold balloons.”

At the deli, a half-dozen people, not all shown here, patiently awaited the next batch of freshly cooked fried chicken. The eight-piece, $5 special includes four-each of drumsticks and thighs. Nearby was a meal-appropriate side of potato salad, 48-ounces for $5. I didn’t join the chicken line, but I bought kale and chocolate bars, adding to the rewards in my digital Safeway gas bank.

Some folks broadly categorize upscale groceries as overly expensive. But these stores also host sales. Family-owned Draeger’s in Danville breaks the mold by having two-week-long “weekly promotions.” Assistant Manager Phil Obee noted that specials on meat and produce are especially popular. Four times a year, the store holds a sale on their well-curated selection of wines. The first week in November is their holiday wine sale.

Gene’s Fine Foods in Pleasanton is also a higher-end, family run business based in California. Monday is their $5 day. When featured, $5 bottles of wine or Angus beef boneless ribeye at $5 per pound grab customers’ attention, said Assistant Manager Meghan Puckett. A unique feature of Gene’s newsletter is the weekly “Unseen Special,” an extremely low-priced item from sausage to paper towels.

Grocery Outlet follows a different business model for their 400 stores including Livermore and Pleasanton. The company buys brand-name products with excess inventory caused by packaging changes or large manufacturing runs. Grocery Outlet offers 20 percent off all wines in November and April without a minimum purchase. At the Pleasanton store recently, another customer and I did a cart dance in a crowded wine aisle.

Headquartered in Emeryville, Calif, each Grocery Outlet has an independent operator who can choose from corporate inventory based on what products best suit their local community. Michelle Russo, Grocery Outlet’s Marketing Coordinator, mentioned the company’s Tuesday emails with Wow alerts. The operators assess their inventory and highlight these sale products on a “Wow Wall.”

On the Pleasanton store’s “Wow Wall,” I saw the deals and two posters of value to the community—a bi-weekly discount for seniors and for active and retired military and first responders, $3 off on a minimum purchase each visit.

We all have our individual shopping habits. My husband hates to shop, but the military discounts may entice him to accompany me. Some folks like to shop in a sustainable way at one favorite store to avoid driving around and wasting time to scope out the deals. Other stores such as Trader Joe’s rarely or never hold sales in a traditional way.

With selected everyday and holiday grocery items, it may make sense to hunt down sales. Which reminds me, it’s time to find sales for gift list items, too.

Editor's note: "Tri-Valley Foodist" is a new blog for Embarcadero Media by Pleasanton-based culinary writer Deborah Grossman.

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