Saturday, May 25, 2013

Is that a helpful smile or a smug smirk?

Unless you haven't been paying attention, I have a love-hate, passive-aggressive relationship with the area's largest retail grocery store.  To give credit where credit is due, I like and appreciate the convenience of the local Hy Vee stores.  Within my regular routes of travel, I have several options to dash in and get some things.  I also appreciate the financial investment into the local stores.  If nothing else, they are all quite nice and clean.

All of this gets derailed, of course, when I actually have to go inside and make purchases.

Meat pricing has driven me absolutely bonkers for years.  It's an absolute scam.  Case in point.  Just last evening, I had to stop and get a couple items to fulfill a dinner request at home.  While strolling by the meat counter to get some chicken breasts (the ones on meat trays for $3.49 a pound as opposed to the exact same ones in the full-service counter for $3.99 a pound), I noticed some nice big T-Bone steaks offered for $15 a piece.  The little sign says they are like 1.5 pounds.  Right next to them were the exact same steaks, cut a little thinner, for something like $8.99 a pound.  Do the math.  I did and confirmed that bigger steak was over-priced.  If you buy steaks, or pork chops, or whatever, by the piece out of the Hy Vee meat counter, there is about a 98 to 1 chance you are screwing yourself. Check it out.

Last week I needed a pound of bulk Italian sausage for a breakfast recipe.  I didn't have time to make sausage.  Fortunately, Hy Vee had some bulk sausage in the meat case.  Unfortunately, it was pre-packaged.  I hate that because you can NEVER get a pound.  The stuff is ALWAYS portioned in the range of 1.2 to 1.4 pounds.  (Unlike the green beans mentioned below, you really can't re-package this yourself.)

Of course, this sort of chicanery occurs all throughout the store.  Over in the dairy aisle, you will find the blocks of ubiquitous Hy Vee brand cheese- sharp cheddar, mild cheddar, Monterrey Jack, mozzarella, etc.  The blocks generally come in three sizes- 8 oz, 16 oz and 24 oz.  The pricing, however, can go all over the board.  If ONE of the sizes is on sale, get out your calculator because the helpful smiles are trying to screw you.  Actually, you might also need some scratch paper, because the price is probably further shrouded in a "three for $x" scheme.  Check the price of the 16 ouncer and then do the math.  Chances are, one of those sizes is being sold at a disadvantageous price, and it very well could be the one on sale.  I have literally purchased two 8 oz blocks for less than the price of the 16 oz block.  Don't even get me started on the pre-shredded cheeses.

This sort of thing follows over into the produce section.  Compare the price of a head of romaine to the cost of a package of three hearts of romaine.  You might have to venture over to the scale to determine which is the better deal.  Oddly enough, it very well could be the hearts in the bag, which runs totally contrary to the general rule that more handling (washing, stripping off outer leaves, packaged) equals more expensive.  But what REALLY bends my tines in the produce section is when green beans or Brussels sprouts are pre-packaged in gallon zip-lock bags.  They are priced per pound, but most shoppers just pick up the bag, because they think they have to.  I don't.  If I want a couple handfuls, I open one of those suckers up and select the ones I want (in other words, the nice ones and not all the stems) and place them in another bag.  Once.  Just once, I saw un-pre-packaged green beans at my go-to Hy Vee.  They looked like total crap, so I skipped them in favor of the bag trick.

And.  Yes, annnnnd, as if these little math problems weren't bad enough, now Hy Vee has introduced the Fuel Saver card which interjects per gallon of gasoline discount for the purchase of certain grocery items.  Beware, this takes obfuscation of pricing schemes to a whole new level.

Look, I don't mean to be a total Nellie Negative here.  There are some decent prices on some things once in a while.  My point is that it's nearly impossible to figure out.  Thanks to Fuel Saver, figuring out the best deal requires the use of calculus.  If you see someone with a slide rule and a Hewlett-Packard HP 15C scientific calculator at the meat counter pricing out steaks, that's me.

Unfortunately, the smug executives in West Des Moines have no incentive to strip away the gimmicks and return to quality and value.  Hy Vee has effectively stripped away most, if not all, barriers to its business model here in Sioux Falls and bought out  most of the competition.  Can Fareway make a dent?  Doubtful with that crappy location on 41st Street and being closed on Sunday.

Thank God, it's farmer's market season again.  At least I can buy fresh foods from people who have some pride in their products who don't rely on complicated pricing gimmicks.


Unknown said...

You are being pretty kind to Hyvee. Along with the math needed to decipher pricing there are plenty of other problems. The meat selection has steadily gone downhill. Most of the c02 packed Hormell mystery meat in the meat shelves is soaked in various chemical solutions (some disclosed, some not). Some of the meat case offering seem to be marginally better quality but not by much. They day Hyvee wanted $8.00 a pound for chuck roast in the c02 packs I knew I needed to find other options. My other gripe with Hyvee is that about 90% of the shelf space it taken up by overly processed packaged foods distributed by the big corporate food giants. While some of that is to be expected Hyvee has quietly ditched some of the smaller brands and also some of the shelf space for basic food items in favor of more packaged, overpriced stuff loaded with junk.

I find shopping at Hyvee rather depressing anymore. Nice big stores or not the prices are sky high. Groceries in SF are always higher than Minneapolis or Chicago stores.

I have started buying more staples at the Coop or online and seeking out more options but in SF it still is quite a challenge.

Hyvee also has a problem with things past their date. They will leave both perishables and shelf items out well past the expire date and I have seen this at multiple locations.

Anonymous said...

I hope Costco can motivate the HyVee monopoly to offer better meat and produce and fairer prices.

I came from San Francisco, one of the most expensive cities to live in and I spent much less for groceries there than Sioux Falls and of course the quality of produce was infinitely better.