Every week as I steel myself for meal-planning and grocery list-making, I sigh anew at the loss of Thrifty Foods. Without any particular loyalty to any grocery store, I now base my shop around whatever whole foods are currently marked down as loss leaders. I scour the flyers and – if I am feeling energetic – I double check the price book app on my phone to see if the “deal” is really any good. With six mouths to feed in this house, groceries add up, so the time is worth it to me. This week, I thought I’d share my plan in case it helps any of you who are trying to figure out your shopping lists this weekend too.
I prefer to shop close to home, and I don’t like to go to more than one big box grocery store. I price-checked the advertised specials at Safeway, Buy-Low and Save On over the weekend (May 29-31), and this time, it looks like Safeway gets my Big Shop dollars. This week, there are some great prices for tomatoes (99 cents/lb) and strawberries ($2/lb) at Safeway. Armstrong cheddar is also a pretty good price at Buy Low and Save On ($7.99 for 700g), and Save On also has nectarines for 69 cents per pound, cucumbers for 99 cents and a pound of butter for $3.49. But the best local value seems to be chicken, because you can save a lot of money on meat by stocking up and freezing it for future meals.
Whole chickens are selling for $2.29 per pound at Safeway this weekend, and bulk packs of chicken thighs are almost as cheap at $2.99/lb. Compare that price to the cost for chicken breasts: $7.99/lb! And you can’t even make stock if you buy only the breasts! To get the cheap price, you have to buy a bag of three birds, but I have a Chicken System to maximize the number of meals each chicken will provide for our family. You can squeeze a lot of meals out of a few chickens, and even more if your family is on the smaller side. I plan to bring home the limit of six chickens in my grocery cart this weekend, aiming for three meals (each feeding six people) per chicken. I’ll probably freeze four chickens for later, and prepare two birds at once to save time & energy.
Here’s what I plan to do:
Chickens #1 & 2 I will roast side by side in my turkey roasting pan, along with potatoes or beets on the bottom rack of the oven. The skins shall be drizzled in oil, salted & peppered. The cavity will be filled with lemon slices and fresh herbs (probably rosemary, maybe sage or parsley). About half to 3/4 of a whole chicken feeds three adults and three children at our dinners with the addition of salad, potatoes or rice, and some steamed carrots or other kid-approved vegetables.
The remainder of chicken #1 will be dedicated to soup: meat stripped from the bones and saved for soup, bones then simmered on the stove or in a slow cooker overnight with the ends of carrots, celery, onions and parsley stems that I have been saving in my freezer. I find it very satisfying to make stock using bits of vegetables that would otherwise have been thrown away. The stock is cooled, skimmed and stored in various sized jars: several 1-cup mason jars of homey comfort put by for future sick days or to be used in rice, sauces or stir-fries, and at least one large container ready to turn into a later meal of chicken noodle soup with homemade biscuits (a cheap and filling favourite meal around here).
As for that second roasted chicken, I will strip the meat from the bones and use it to make a chicken pot pie and, later, a pasta dish with a little chicken tossed in. The carcass will go in my freezer until I need more soup stock.
Even with all that chicken, I am tempted to also go for the chicken thigh deal. While a whole roasted chicken is a regular favourite around my house, chicken thighs are convenient and easier to make different kinds of meals. If I go for the thighs, I will have to separate the big package into meal-sized portions, to be frozen along with a marinade or packaged together in a crockpot kit with seasoning and vegetables so I can just dump it in the crockpot on a day when I don’t have time to cook. I may also cube some of the meat for kebabs or to add to soups, stews or sauces. It is a lot of work to prep large packages of meat in this way, but it is a big time and money-saver later on. Chicken thighs are also better than breasts for long-cooking dishes like crockpot curry, and although I know how to cut up a chicken into parts, I don’t like doing it.
Did you spot any local grocery deals this week that I missed? What are your strategies for saving money on food without resorting to Kraft Dinner and canned beans?
I have a confession. I have a Thrifty Foods problem. I grew up in Mill Bay BC (home of one of the first Thrifty Foods) so it holds a special place in my heart. I dream about the cheese scones and I wax philosophically about the marinated meats. It’s grocery nirvana. The first time I brought my husband home to the island, I told him we HAD to go to Thrifty Foods.
“Its just a grocery store, “ he said, “ I hate grocery stores”
“Not this one”, I smugged, “It’s special. It’s the happiest place on earth…it’s the Disney of grocery stores!”
“The new Thrifty’s in Sapperton is open 24 hours seven days a week! HOORAY!”
“Oh great”, he responded “ I’ll never see you again”.
Islanders are passionate about Thrifty’s. Its a community grocery store that is more locally and sustainably focused than other big grocery chains. The outer perimeter of the store is filled with BC produce, local artisan baked goods and sweets, ocean wise seafood and, of course, Island Farms dairy products (yum). Grocery items in the centre of the store range from well known brands to locally canned preserves to Thrifty’s own label. Price wise, they are comparable on most things, but they do tend to be a bit higher priced for butcher items. The quality and selection is beyond compare. Think Whole foods without the big price tag.
Have I mentioned the scones?
The best thing for me about Thrifty’s has always been its staff. They are almost freakishly friendly.. Today, I had a cookie handed to me by one of the managers from my ‘hometown store’ who just came over to help. He had a friendly smile and nod (and cookie) for everyone who passed his way, chatting with them about the new store and how happy they were to be in New Westminster. I later was in the cereal aisle looking for oatmeal when out of nowhere, a helpful Thrifty-er explained the multiples pricing structure. Then thanked me for hanging out at their new store.
I think they might put something in the cookies…
I do wish that the outer perimeter was a bit wider to allow for carts and strollers to navigate through easier. The grocery aisles were nice and wide, but I did get in a traffic jam at the scones…they really are that good. I’d also recommend walking or taking the train if possible. Not only is it better for our planet, but the parking lot underneath the store is $5 an hour for parking. They do validate, but it’s still a bit steep. And with only one machine to pay for parking at, it can also get a wee bit busy.
All in all, I think this store is going to be a great addition to the New Westminster community. They already have scads of events coming up partnering with the Royal Columbia Hospital Foundation, and the store is sure to be a welcome addition to an area that doesn’t have many grocery stores in easy access.
Now, if you’ll excuse me…I hear a scone calling my name…
Today was the big reveal of Donald’s Market at River Market. Wow, can you believe that it was back in April that we finally learned who the New West River Market grocer tenant was? “Who would it be?” we all asked after months of guessing and deduction and mercelessly prodding River Market owener, Mark Shieh. But he wouldn’t say. Like Chuck Norris being interrogated by ex-soviet uranium smugglers, he vowed never to reveal the secret…. until finally, on March 31, he did.
And now, on the first day of snow at the beginning of the great winter of 2010/2011, more than half way through November, we can all see what Mark and his team from River Market have been building. I had my preconceptions: It would be small. It would be overpriced. Everything would be a little too crunchy, a little too righteous – a little too trendy for me and the gal I go with.
But I was happily surprised! Sure there is a bit more space for Seventh Generation detergents and Happy Planet and Enviro Kidz and Nature’s Path, but they are part of the mix along side specialty foods, imported brands and food products from small producers and cottage industries. This was what I found to be the most compelling about this store: it has manages to differentiate itself from other options in town while not alienating the majority of potential shoppers with hard-to-sell product choices.
Other pluses: the prices are pretty good. Produce was of great quality and reasonable selection, at prices better than most New Westminsterites are used to (especially those reliant on the IGA). The quality was so good that even the small amount of fruit that we did buy (49c bannanas BTW) tasted noticeably better than the average. Prices through the whole store were in line with Safeway or Save-On-Foods – and better in some cases, as you would expect for a Grand Opening Sale. The Store was crowded and a little hard to move in but the staff were keen and helpful and obviously proud of their opening. Lots of Island Farms and Olympic Dairy products, Saltspring and Latin Organics brand coffee, bulk foods etc.
I’m not going to lie. I had my doubts, especially given that the renovations dragged on for so long and at least one of the tenant choices seemed goofy. When I heard the Vancouver Circus School was a tenant I was skeptical. What the heck is a circus school doing in a market? After attending the grand opening today, I found out what it’s doing there: being awesome. After all, which grocery store would you rather go to: normal grocery store with just groceries or grocery store where there’s a guy doing a handstand all the way down the escalator and a girl juggling all the way up? I pick the grocery store with the circus school. (In addition to classes, they are also going to offer birthday party packages.) I actually got a little teary-eyed on the drive home, thinking to myself that this marvelous place is in New Westminster.
I will be cautious in my criticism, as I am sure Donald’s and the River Market have a lot of work left to do, but there were some points I wanted to raise:
1)It is a tightly packed space. Sure it was crowded today, but even with normal foot traffic, I cannot see how anyone in a wheelchair, scooter or large stroller could navigate without a series of blushful apologies. The arrangement of cashiers doesnt help, but it is plain that Donald’s is making the most use of the space available.
2) Parking. It is the rare supermarket that requires a 200-meter walk to a paid parking lot. Donald’s will cater to a core clientele of condo-dwellers from the Quay and Downtown New West buying 2-3 bags of groceries, and it will feature a bicycle delivery service. But those of us in Queens Park and the West End who appreciate the curated inventory Donald’s offers will begrudge paying a $2.50 parking bill for the honour of lugging fancy groceries to the other side of the Fraser River Discovery Centre. I suggest a golf cart with a trolley behind it, like a hayride but no, um, hay. “Aaaaawll Abooord! River Market to Riverside Park by way of parking kiosk A and B!”
3) Similarly, the way into the rest of the market from Donald’s seems restrictive; like a too-narrow hallway. Do they need that wall there? For a packed space, they should use all of the free air space they can get.
That is about it! I think Donald’s will help to disperse the malaise that has settled in the minds of locals since the Quay Market closed. The New Westminster Quay Market is Dead. Long live River Market!
I had to take a field trip to answer this question. So over the past two weekends I jumped on the Skytrain, shopping bags in hand, to visit each of the Donald’s locations. First up, Commercial & 8th Avenue.
The first thing I noticed upon entering was the vast selection of beautiful produce. For a market its size they were very well-stocked. Typically there’s an inverse relationship between price and quality for produce, but a few quick spot checks revealed very reasonable prices. I was particularly impressed by the wide selection, having some non-traditional items for North American grocers such as enoki mushrooms and garlic stems (items I typically have to head toT&T for).
I began wandering the store exploring what other wonders it held. It’s a small store, packing a lot in to a small footprint. Knowing the size of the River Market building and making a guess about how much Donald’s will take up, this is a good sign that this merchant is willing to maximize space usage. Too often, small store size means small selection. Not here. Every inch of space was used; staff were continually wandering around restocking shelves.
Going down any aisle typically involved a polite “excuse me,” while sucking in your gut to squeeze past (some of us more than others these days. I’ll definitely take advantage of the opportunity to walk home with my groceries). But again, here I noticed the difference from your typical Safeway or Save-On-Foods: a lot of specialty items and organics.
The Asian food aisle was like a T&T highlights mini-store – almost everything I use when cooking the other half’s cuisine. The Italian section … I’ve never seen such a large selection of whole grain pasta. It was difficult to spot one that wasn’t either whole grain, organic or both. But this didn’t mean huge mark-ups either. Turning around to the opposite side of this aisle, there was an amazing selection of sauces, pestos, antipastos – everything you’d need for an authentic Italian meal. I know there’s a balance between 100 mile and supporting authentic, non-industrial producers of products that may not be made locally, but I won’t get in to that discussion at this point.
The next weekend I went to visit their other store on Hastings at Nanaimo. This store is about twice the size, giving a little more space in the aisles and a lot more shelf space. I’m sure the security guard was wondering why this guy was slowly walking up and down every aisle, examining every product. As someone who’d have become a chef in another life, I was like a kid in a candy store.
The first thing I noticed was the hot food counter. I remember Mark Shieh from the River Market said Donald’s customizes its stores for the local neighbourhood. The Commercial Drive store had more of an Italian feel, but this store with its hot Chinese food, sticky buns, and such counter had more of an Asian feel. Makes me wonder what localization the New Westminster store will have.
This store was also busy! That doesn’t mean crowded, but like the Commercial Drive store it was unquestionably popular with the neighbourhood. This didn’t slow the checkout lines, however. Both stores had enough staff at the checkout, typically with line-ups no more than one customer long. A nice change! I also noticed a lot of people carrying bike helmets, which I hope we’ll see at the River Market store.
But the thing that made me squeal for joy the loudest was the fact that Donald’s carries Island Farms products. Don’t ask me why, but I just find Island Farms milk tastes better. I’ll quote my father on how he describes milk from the other main regional dairy (which I shall not name), “Sometimes it tastes like they forgot to rinse the cleaner out of the tank.”
I’m not going to give a 100% positive review. Despite all this good, there was one item glaringly missing: a butcher. There was packaged meat, as you’d expect from any grocery store, but there wasn’t a butcher or fish counter with products such as thick-sliced bacon or fresh-carved fish fillets. However, having heard Mark’s vision for the River Market, I’m sure this is an item that will be addressed either through Donald’s or through separate butcher and fish vendors setting up shop in the market. I need to find a closer source of the pork belly for my Chongqing recipe that goes along with the garlic stems mentioned before!
I was already excited about getting our market back, but after seeing for myself this shop which my one witness had raved about, I’m even more excited! Donald’s will be a fantastic addition to the Quayside and Downtown neighbourhoods.
How many grocery choices does a small city need? New Westminster has gone for so long with only a few megastores, and now suddenly we’re being inundated with them.
Perhaps there’s something we don’t know. I’d love to see the market research behind the decisions to locate new stores here. Big chains like Wal-Mart, Save-On and Thrifty Foods don’t open new locations on a whim.
My hunch: this is one more indication that the pace of change is about to accelerate in this city. Those new condo towers are finally ready to be filled with empty nesters and young professionals priced out of downtown, and the big box stores know it. New West is about to get a lot livelier.