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A Reduced Produce Primer

How to save money by buying from the reduced produce section. What to watch for and how to get the best deals!

Go Green at the Grocery!

How to save money by buying from the reduced produce section. What to watch for and how to get the best deals!

Does your supermarket have a reduced produce section? …Not that they sell fewer fruits and veggies than they used to, but that they reclaim bruised or nicked items and sell them at a reduced price to their customers. My store has a sign saying, “Just as good for many uses.”  I agree. I’m a big fan of the reduced shelves, and I check them out every time I go. Here’s a short primer on what to look for in the reduced produce section and a letter to share with your store if they just throw out all their useable but ugly produce.

Why Buy Reduced Produce:

  • Save moneymoney
  • Reduce the waste at the supermarketearth
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables (if your budget wouldn’t otherwise permit it)health

Good Finds:

  • Apples and pears – usually reduced because of bruises, which can be cut out easily (or made into applesauce)
  • Citrus and potatoes – usually reduced because some items in the bag went bad and the bag had to be opened. As long as citrus isn’t squishy and potatoes aren’t visibly damaged, go for it!
  • Peppers, sweet and hot – there’s a big range here. You’ll notice everything from small imperfections that can be cut out to spongy parts that are unacceptable. Peppers can be so expensive, though, that as long as you’re paying less than $1.50/lb, and they look decent, you’re getting a good deal. I love buying a tray of spicy peppers, because they’re often 29 cents a pound and don’t even weigh enough to charge up to a dollar for a dozen or so. (See this post for what you can do with all these peppers!)
  • Berries – again, a big range. Be picky about moldy or rotten berries, but again, because berries are so expensive, they can be a sweet treat in the reduced section.
  • Lettuce – often reduced because the outer leaves of organic or bulk lettuce got wilted. Look for crisp leaves and decent color. Because they are very lightweight, romaine hearts are often super cheap.
  • Zucchini squash – often reduced because of nicks that should not affect the quality too much once you cut them out.
  • Cauliflower – price check with your store’s sales, but as long as the veggie isn’t too spongy, I think you can trim the brown spots and call it dinner!
  • Best time to shop: mornings, usually, or whenever your store stocks the shelves.

Cautions:

  • Vegetables particularly can lose vitamins and nutrients as they get farther from the field. You don’t want to bother with broccoli that’s lost most of its color, for example.
  • Make sure items aren’t too mushy. Common culprits: avocados (if you can press a finger into it at all, it’s too ripe!), peppers, grapes.
  • Do the math. Make sure you’re not just paying sale price for something that was on sale last week. Remember that you’re doing the store a favor, and you should be getting produce inexpensively. Two examples:My store once had reduced Clementine oranges for $1.99 for about a dozen or so. Five pounds goes on sale for $5, and these were clearly not a very good deal. I almost got taken…but I did the math and put the tray back.
  • Avocados are notorious for being wayyyyy too soft. They’re totally unusable when they get beyond ripe. BUT – if I can buy a tray of five for a buck and two are acceptable quality, I’ve still gotten a good deal. Just don’t forget to use them right away!

Related: Produce – The Dirty Dozen

Meat Too!

Also pay attention to reduced tags in the meat department. Stores aren’t allowed to sell items past their expiration date, so they try to get rid of meat that is approaching its date by cutting the price. If you can cook with the meat that night or freeze it immediately, go for it! Just beware again of being enticed by an orange sticker that doesn’t really herald a good deal. Always compare with the best sale price you know of and make sure it’s below. One of my stores generally only reduces meat by 20% – no good – but the other will go 40-75%, and I sure love to see their orange tags!

Styrofoam Bummer

One of my pet peeves is that when I buy reduced produce, it always comes on a Styrofoam tray. Even though I try to reuse these for craft projects, I’m drowning in them, and I feel so badly throwing them away. I sent a letter to the produce manager asking them to change their practice. You’re welcome to use it if your store does the same thing! Just a little call to action for you. I am also including a letter that I would love for you to send to your local store if they don’t have a reduced produce system in place. You, your neighbors, and the environment can all benefit if you can convince the store to waste less food…as long as they don’t use Styrofoam trays every time!

Did you appreciate these tips? Find more ways to make easy changes in your kitchen at the Monday Mission checklist.

Kitchen Stewardship® is dedicated to helping people balance God’s calls to be good stewards of our earth, health, budget and time. Find out more about the mission here.How does KS work? Posts will include Food for Thought to give information, Monday Missions to share simple steps toward making changes in your kitchen, and Mary and Martha Moments to help you be more prayerful in your kitchen.

The basis for all my craziness in the kitchen:  On Conscious Thought.

Letter to Request Reduced Produce Section

To Whom It May Concern:

I am a frequent customer at [insert store name here], and I would like to suggest a new procedure that would save your store money in the produce section. Did you know that America throws out $75 billion in food, 27% of the edible food available, each year?

Many stores reclaim produce that is slightly bruised, or perhaps the good items from a bag with a few rotten ones, and sell them to consumers at a reduced price. I would love to see [insert store name here] adopt a reduced produce system. The store could find income where there once was only garbage, and conserve environmental resources at the same time. Many people would be interested to find fruits and vegetables at a price that wouldn’t impact their crunched budget quite so much!

Thank you for taking time to read my letter.

Sincerely,

Letter to Request More Eco-Friendly Packaging

To Whom It May Concern:

I truly appreciate that [insert store name here] takes the time to conserve resources by selling slightly damaged produce at a reduced price. However, I am concerned by the fact that all the reduced produce is on Styrofoam trays that are then disposed of by the consumer. It bothers me to save money and prevent food from being thrown away, and then turn around and generate such waste with the trays.

Might I recommend using produce bags instead? Customers can still see through them almost as well as the clear plastic wrap you use now, and the store would probably save money in the long run. For some items it might be possible to simply wrap them in plastic wrap and skip the tray, if visibility is an important issue.

Thank you again for adopting the practice of conserving food as much as possible. We can do our part to reduce the 96 billion pounds of good food thrown away each year in America!

Sincerely,

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.

13 thoughts on “A Reduced Produce Primer”

  1. Pingback: 10 Steps to a Styrofoam Free World | Green Your Way

  2. FoodNET collects day old produce and bread and gives it to the needy. Then there are fewer day old food racks in local stores, but much less waste.
    http://members.cox.net/foodnet/index.htm

  3. Adrienne @ Whole New Mom.com

    Just poking around on your site and found this. Nice post! Just as a side note, I don’t care for those styrofoam trays either, but if you have them lying around from produce purchases, at least find a way to reuse them. Our local Grand Rapids Children’s Museum gladly accepts them for arts and crafts projects. Just load them into a bag in your basement and take them with you when you make a trip for a family time at the museum!

  4. Once I got 5 avocados for $1. They were pretty bruised/mushy, but I cut out the decent parts and mashed them all together in a bowl. Then I filled an ice cube tray with the mashed avocado and put it in the freezer (later transferring the cubes to a plastic bag). My baby loved the defrosted avocado, and one cube was a good portion for her.

  5. Deb, right on about the potatoes. If it’s electric light, there’s no problem health-wise, but natural sunlight makes a poison in potatoes that shows up green. To be safe, peel off the green. The insides are fine…

  6. I love the letters and plan on using them at several stores I frequent. I have a job as a part-time merchandiser so I’m in the backroom of several grocery stores each week and what I see the produce department throw away into the dumpster makes me so sad. They will throw away several boxes of produce at a time, some that I can’t even tell what is wrong with it.

    Even if they don’t want to sell it at reduced prices to protect their “image” the least they could do is donate it to the many food agencies in desperate need of food at these days.

  7. Here via Meredith at LikeMerchantShips.

    Great post!

    Re: produce on styrofoam trays: My fav grocery packages clearance produce to the styrofoam trays when formerly it was sold loose. I have found they make this choice to HIDE bruises and soft spots.

    so i mentally assume that part of the food is damaged, and am i willing to take what I can see at the cost proscribed?

    Also, if you find reduced potatoes that have gone green-ish, it means they have been exposed to light too much and may have a bitter taste.

    thanks for a good post,

    deb meyers

  8. In my last trip to the grocery store I picked up a container of organic arugula for 99 cents, a bunch of brocolini for $1.99 and a huge turkey breast for $6 (down from $10). We’ve already used the turkey breast for 2 meals and we have enough for at least 1 more (plain roasted and tonight in pot pies).

  9. Found you thru Meredith , my sweet blog friend above me…..ah yes, you are speaking my language about the reduced produce, meat, dairy – everything! I have posted on this at my blog as well but you cover everything wonderfully in one great post. 🙂

  10. Mmmm! I learned to love avocados when I found so many on the clearance rack. I might not have ever splurged on any at full price if I hadn’t had a chance to try them cheap, first.

  11. I haven’t had a reduced produce section at any of the store’s that I shop at (or didn’t notice it!) but I’ll keep my eye out from now on! I have taken advantage of the reduced meat, however, and have gotten some great deals on organic meats this way! Not every time, of course, but I keep my eye out!

    Great post Katie!

    Best,
    Sarah

  12. I’ve also bought tomatoes on the ‘clearance rack.’ You need to use them right away, of course. You can make salsa with them, or just use ‘as is’ if they are nice enough. I have 3 kids who work in the local supermarket, and my daughter told me that produce is sometimes reduced just to make room for new stuff, not because there is anything wrong with it!

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