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Worst produce department advice ever 

missouri farmers market
This farmers market in Kansas City, MO, had some local Missouri fruits and vegetables.

I just saw possibly the worst headline about grocery shopping I’ve ever read:

Why Skipping The Produce Aisle May Save Money At The Grocery Store

From the slanderous dribble: “One of the best ways to cut costs on your grocery bill is to avoid the produce aisle.”

I mean, there is a lot of bad advice out there about grocery shopping. The article above quotes this one:

10 Dirty Secrets From Your Supermarket Produce Departments

And just to show that yes, it can get even worse, here’s the subhead: “The scary details that will have you sprinting to the farmers market.”

Those “scary” details include:

  • The fact that apples are harvested in the fall and kept in CA storage until being shipped to the store – as if that’s a bad thing. Do they understand how awesome CA storage is? Modern apple varieties are made to thrive in these conditions.
  • Produce isn’t washed before being displayed – again, as if that’s a bad thing. Ready-to-eat is definitely washed, but other items like berries shouldn’t be washed until right before eating. We’re all washing our produce before eating, right? How is this an issue?
  • Employees “don’t follow health policies.” Excuse me? Do people really think buying carrots from the back of a pickup is cleaner than those displayed in a cello bag in a refrigerator? Or how about peaches from a guy who picked them up from a packinghouse and repacked them in oft-reused half bushel baskets on the side of the road. Tell me how he’s washing his hands out there. Wait, is there even a bathroom?

Listen, I know I’m on the side of “Big Supermarket,” but sometimes I feel like it’s necessary to step up and defend produce departments because everyone seems to be on the side of farmers markets.

How many of the people who write these articles claiming you can save money and shop fresher at a farmers market actually get the bulk of their food shopping done there? Because, pardon my profanity, I call bullshit.

First of all, most actual farmers markets are not open most of the year. And they’re only open a few days a week, when they’re in-season. Farmers markets are not a scalable supply chain in the modern world.

Second of all, saving money at the farmers market is a pipe dream. It doesn’t exist. Maybe you’ll get a crack at some deeply discounted produce that the clerk is trying to unload at the end of the day (likely for a loss – a whole other conversation about the sustainability of farming in this economy), but the bulk of what they’re selling is not going to be less expensive than the grocery store. It’s just not, and articles like this need to stop perpetuating this myth.

Local produce is great. Grocery stores offer all the local they can get their hands on when it is available.

The produce offered the rest of the year is great, too, and saying it is somehow bad for you, like the author suggests, is just plain wrong.

They also suggest you can save money by buying frozen, and I’ll concede that point in some, but not all, cases. Frozen fruits and vegetables can be cheaper, and don’t spoil the way that fresh does, but they’re also quite limited to what can be frozen. And I dare you to make a fruit salad with frozen strawberries.

The article also has a blanket statement to avoid fresh-cut produce. While the initial sticker price of fresh-cut is often higher than its counterpart, you have to take into consideration the lack of waste and likelihood a person will consume the item right away rather than letting it die a slow and forgotten death in the crisper drawer at home.

I can guarantee you my family will completely ignore whole stalks of broccoli for weeks unless I spend my time and energy preparing them, but will reach for a bag of pre-cut and eat it as a snack with no problem.

That’s the value of fresh cut.

We have to do a better job of presenting the value, flavor, and freshness in the produce department so consumers don’t believe this hyped-up nonsense.


Pamela Riemenschneider is the Retail Editor for Blue Book Services.