comments 3

What’s the deal on coffee prices?

Since I’ve become “Retirement Man”, I do more of the food shopping around 27th Street and while I’m not the smartest shopper around, eventually some things sink in, such as: THE PRICE OF COFFEE MAKES NO SENSE. At home we drink your basic drip grind coffee that comes in big tubs from our local No-Frills. Today they have a huge display, proud to advertise the tubs at $7.97.IMG_7849.jpg

Fine, except 2 weeks ago it was $6.97 and the week before that it was a whopping $14.97 and the week before that it was at $5.97. It comes around at $5.97 every few weeks and when it does I buy 3 or 4, and stick them with the paper towels in the netherworld above the kitchen cupboards. Sometimes they keep it at $14.97 for a couple weeks. That’s over twice the lowest price. Does anyone actually buy coffee at that price?

The other item I’ve noticed with very uneven pricing is tins of sardines. Now I don’t like tinned sardines and neither does Tuffy P. However, the Partners – Ruby and George – love some fish mixed in with their kibble and I believe the fish oils can only be as good for them as they are for us. When I see them at $0.99 for a can, I stock up. They’ve been at $1.49 for some time now.

I can better understand more seasonal items like blueberries, but my local Loblaws had them on at one point this winter for $7.00 for a pint. The produce manager was out on the floor and I said to him, geez I’d better buy some of these before you start selling them by the berry. He shot me the look that said, I’ve had a bad day and I don’t need another smart-ass, but he actually said, “we don’t make the prices, sir.”

As my brother the trout once said to me, “Eugene you’re not as stupid as  you look….you couldn’t be”.


  1. Miss Polly

    Salvelinas Fontinalis I read your entire comment in earnest. Something about it resonated with me and I think I am ready to pay more attention and adopt this approach (in as much as a person living in a small urban condo can do so)…. With all that said however I come back to Eugene’s comment about the price of blueberries. What is the strategy as it pertains to fresh foods? Just pay them the money? Shop the fresh flyer cover items only?

    • Salvelinas Fontinalis

      Produce prices are dictated by supply, demand and greed. You cant grow strawberries in Ontario in February so stores have to source produce from some place where it is in season. Even then there are times when those far away places can not supply us. When that happens the price gets bid up to ridiculous levels and you see the result in the prices in the store. Things like berries dont store well so unless you have frozen or dehydrated berries when they are cheap then your choices are to pay the high price or buy something else that week. I dont attempt to preserve fruit and I wont pay $7 for a half pint of blueberries so I eat some other kind of fruit that has a lower price. The good news is that those price spikes tend to be short lived and in a couple of weeks the price will drop down again. I just tough it out. You can buy frozen berries if you like them.

  2. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    It isnt just coffee prices, it is pretty much all grocery items. I blame 2 things, technology and lack of real competition in Ontario.
    First lets look at technology. The grocery chains know precisely how many tins of coffee they will sell at each of the various possible prices. Precisely. Same for every product in the store. They also know precisely how much total profit they need to remain very profitable. They diddle the prices every week first so that it becomes difficult for customers to know what a good price really is and secondly they will nudge the price of some products to new highs for a week just so they can know what the maximum price is that a customer will pay and they do this relentlessly. Their programs can predict their weekly profit and keep adjusting prices until they get the whole package where they want it. Doesnt have to make sense to anybody it just has to ensure the profit.

    As far as competition goes there isnt enough to keep prices low. There are weekly flyers and customers think geez the stores are good, look they are giving us a discount. But that isnt at all what is happening. In general there are 2 parts to a grocery flyer. There is the front page, and there is the rest of the flyer. The items on the front page are the legitimate deals. The store generally sells them at close to their cost and in many cases their supplier will provide a further discount. Some stores will pass that further discount along to their customers and some stores just say thanks and pocket it. That front page though might have only a half dozen items which isnt a lot considering a grocery store might stock 15,000 items. The rest of the flyer is typically not a big deal. Because there isnt enough competition the stores are in control and if one of their suppliers wants their product to be promoted they probably have to lower the price they charge the store and the store can add their usual margin to this reduced cost. You can see a slightly reduced cost but it isnt all coming from the store’s profit.

    The thing is that the store doesnt really care what you buy. You have to eat and that means you are going to spend all of your food budget on something while you are in the store and they will make their margin on whatever you decide to buy. Dont like the price of broccoli? Maybe you will buy frozen peas instead, the store really doesnt care. They might even raise the price of the peas when broccoli prices are high just to give their margins a boost. It is really hard to beat them because they know exactly what their customers will buy in total at every price level.

    There is a way though to sort of get even. You probably mostly buy the same stuff every week and if you keep track of what the prices are you will know when a price is near its low point for the season. When that happens you want to really push the bounds of reasonableness and really stock up. For example I drink instant coffee and the brand I buy swings from a low $2/jar to a high of $6.49. I know that my price is 2 bucks and when I see it there I will buy 12-14 jars. I havent paid more than 2.49 for coffee in 10 years. Cambells mushroom soup costs 50 cents, not $1.19 and when I see it at 50 cents I top up so that I have enough to last 6 months. If you try to take that approach for as many of your grocery items as you can then something really strange happens. You find that when you go to the store you dont need to actually buy very much because you have a loaded pantry. Dish soap $3.49 for 750 ml? No thanks, my price is $2 for a full liter and while I might add 2 to my pantry at my price Im not buying any at full price. I think you can pretty easily save 35% on your grocery bill this way and maybe even as much as 45%. You just have to be serious about not playing the store’s games. Next week Nofrills has boneless skinless chicken breasts for $1.97/pound. That is my price. 2 breasts/week for 12 weeks, I will buy 24 breasts and pop them in the freezer then laugh when I see them priced at $6.49/pound.

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