By Barry Zander
When my wife and I discovered the grocery section in dollar stores, it was an “AHA!” moment. “These folks are selling food packaged for RV-size storage and refrigerators… And it’s $1!”
Costco and Sam’s Club were forbidden shopping stops for us when we started full-timing. Only the biggest rigs can fit a 48-roll package of toilet paper in the storage bins, and we know of owners who gave away rolls rather than sacrifice under-the-floor space. Even standard food stores mainly sell packages that present storage problems, particularly for Class B and trailer refrigerators with mini-freezers.
When we swallowed our pride along the road to wander into a dollar store just to explore, we ventured into the back and, to our surprise, found an extensive grocery section. We had never experienced that before … but now, it seems every dollar store is giving over more and more precious space to foodstuffs.
What quickly caught our attention were the sizes of boxes, particularly in the frozen and cold units. They were relatively small, a sales gimmick I’m sure to appeal to budget-minded customers. But wait, isn’t small good if you’re making do with a 3- to 5-cubic-foot refrigerator?
There are, of course, suspicions that the food is on the verge of the expiration date, and that may have often been true 10 years ago, but it’s probably less likely now that food sales appear to be expanding. While we find unfamiliar store brands, national brands seem to make up a larger percentage of the products offered.
And what about cost? Since almost everything in most of the national dollar store chains is priced at $1.00, it’s obvious that there are winners and losers here. That’s when size may be the deciding factor.
What has really become impressive are the bins teeming with glistening fresh fruit and vegetables, obviously shined up to compete with supermarkets. In the early days of dollar-store food, if there was any produce, it was a meager selection. Last week, however, I went into a 99-Cents Only store to pick up kitchen sponges and walked out with two bags of fruit. Too cheap not to buy at a dollar each!
Canned goods are similar to the big-guys’ stores and are what you’d expect in a grocery that caters to those with limited resources. If you haven’t already been thinking “outside the grocery box,” it’s time to give it a try. In some rural communities, a dollar store (such as Dollar General) might just be your only option for groceries anyway.