7 Things To Buy At Grocery Outlet And 6 To Avoid

Grocery Outlet storefront
Grocery Outlet storefront - Michael Vi/Shutterstock

Grocery Outlet is known for great deals, but is everything there really worth buying? The company runs what are called salvage grocery stores, carrying items that are surplus from other stores or manufacturers. They also stock foods that had to be cleared off other store shelves quickly due to issues like packaging or ingredient changes. Salvage grocery stores often have some really interesting products along with terrific prices on everyday products, and they are a wonderful resource both for those who need cheap and nutritious food, and those who want to reduce food waste.

But that doesn't necessarily mean that everything in the store is something you should spend money on. With multiple retailers competing for customers, and many announcing that they'll lower prices on basic items, you have a lot of choices in terms of where to go to buy groceries. As you've likely guessed, some items at Grocery Outlet are better deals than others, so let's dive in and see what is worth buying and what is better left on the shelf.

Read more: Trader Joe's Frozen Desserts Ranked Worst To Best

Buy: Fancy Ramen

Nissin Raoh Tonkotsu ramen
Nissin Raoh Tonkotsu ramen - Keith Homan/Shutterstock

If all you know about ramen is that it's cheap instant stuff that you buy during 10-for-$1 deals in college, then you're missing out. And if you know that ramen comes in fancier forms but haven't been checking the shelves at Grocery Outlet, you're also missing out. More expensive brands of ramen -- like Nissin Raoh -- usually retail for a few dollars per pack, and Grocery Outlet offers some really nice deals on these brands in addition to selling the cheaper stuff for even lower prices. Each store may have different brands in stock, but the good prices are available in every store.

One brand of ramen that Grocery Outlet often carries is Buldak, known for its "Fire Noodle Challenge." This is a viral social media challenge in which people attempt to eat very spicy Buldak ramen very quickly. If you're trying to find inexpensive Buldak because you want to see just how spicy it is, Grocery Outlet may be one of the better places to go to. And if you just like to try new flavors of ramen, you'll find a pretty good variety if you check out a few locations around your city.

Buy: Discounted Shelf-Stable Name Brand Foods

Open cans of vegetables
Open cans of vegetables - Fotografiabasica/Getty Images

While store brands and generics are supposed to be just as good as their brand-name counterparts, sometimes you really want the brand-name version. The problem is that brand names tend to be more expensive, and if you're trying to save money, this isn't helpful. That's where Grocery Outlet comes in; the company usually has some very low prices on brand-name products. When you find those deals, stock up. Some customers report that canned vegetable prices aren't that lowcomparatively, but canned soups are a steal.

The deals on canned and shelf-stable packaged foods at Grocery Outlet are a big help if you want to build up an emergency food supply while dealing with a very tight budget. You do need to keep an eye on the best-by date because older food will only decline in quality, but most goods at Grocery Outlet should still have a decent amount of time left before that date.

Buy: Meat And Produce That Look Decent

Meat department in supermarket
Meat department in supermarket - Burke/triolo Productions/Getty Images

There's a certain stigma surrounding the meat, dairy, and produce at salvage grocery stores. Supposedly all you're going to find is wilting produce, slightly spoiled dairy, and meat that's past its expiration date because the stores carry items that either didn't sell well or were just too old to stay at other stores. That's not true at Grocery Outlet. The fresh foods there are usually of at least decent quality, you just need to check the options.

Keep in mind that there's a difference between being safe to eat and being of higher quality. What you find at Grocery Outlet might not be of the best quality. It could be very basic and not anywhere near gourmet level. But it should be safe to eat, so if you see something you like at a great price, check it out. If it looks like it's in good shape, it's within your budget, and any expiration or best-by dates haven't yet passed, there's no reason not to buy it.

Buy: Vegan And Organic Foods

Produce shelves at supermarket
Produce shelves at supermarket - Theodore Trimmer/Shutterstock

Grocery Outlet has become one of the vegan and other health communities' favorite grocery chains. The company started a program called NOSH, which stands for "Natural, Organic, Specialty, Health," and it's dedicated to bringing natural foods and other products to customers at lower prices. If you've longed to shop for fresh produce at the local organic market but balk at the prices, head to Grocery Outlet because the chain -- not just individual managers, but the main company -- has gotten some amazing deals on the same products you'd find at those organic markets.

Each Grocery Outlet location can have different stock, but many individual owners -- the company uses an independent owner-operator business model, rather than franchising -- have really tried to improve the quality of the produce they offer. For example, the Long Beach Business Journal interviewed owner Kia Patterson in 2021 and called the organic produce at the store "impressive." Grocery Outlet has enough locations that if the one near you doesn't have much in the way of organic produce, another one almost certainly will.

Buy: Products You Didn't Know Were Made By Your Favorite Brands

Jar of Bonne Maman hazelnut spread
Jar of Bonne Maman hazelnut spread - Nicole Kandi/Shutterstock

Brands don't always put everything they make onto every grocery store shelf across the country. Some products may be regional or seasonal, and others may be very new and available only in a few test markets. A brand may one version of a product for sale in the United States, and another version for sale in Europe due to different food manufacturing laws. Grocery Outlet seems to have a way of scoring deals on these products that aren't known in the U.S. or that are very new, so if you spot an unfamiliar product from a familiar brand, you may want to buy it.

For example, if your favorite fruit-preserves brand releases a new flavor or even a new type of product, it is certainly worth a try. While you might be reluctant to spend money on a product that you could end up not liking, the low prices at Grocery Outlet make this lower risk. This is an opportunity to try items and see if you've just found a new favorite food, without worrying about wasting a lot of money.

Buy: Wine

Wine bottles on shelf
Wine bottles on shelf - Alvarez/Getty Images

Grocery Outlet doesn't always have the best, most expensive wine, but they always have good prices. And sometimes they do get the fancy stuff, for example, when Wine.com went out of business in 2001, Grocery Outlet snagged the company's inventory. You'll find different opinions about the quality of the wine at the stores, but the prices are never up for debate.

As with other products at the stores, availability at each location can vary greatly from week to week. The sources for the wine differ as well; sometimes there's a surprising acquisition, as with Wine.com, and sometimes an owner will manage to reach an agreement with local wineries and buy directly from them. Sometimes the wine is just cheap! But it's there, it's affordable, and for most people at least, it's of decent quality. It is certainly worth scouting the shelves, and who knows, you might just find a real bargain.

Buy: Kitchen Storage From Known Brands If The Price Is Right

Plastic food storage containers
Plastic food storage containers - Tatsiana Sergeenko/Getty Images

As with other products, when you're already familiar with a brand, you know what level of quality you're getting when you buy one of its products. Alongside food items, Grocery Outlet carries things such as kitchen goods and food storage, and many times you'll find surplus seasonal products like Christmas-themed containers or bags at very low prices. If you already know what the brand's quality is like, you may want to grab a bunch of these containers. When you just need something to hold leftovers in your refrigerator, it doesn't really matter if the container has snowflakes on it or not -- food storage containers are for life, not just for Christmas, after all!

The stores usually carry additional non-food items like pens, cables, and other small items that make your life easier. You'll see paper and plastic goods for severely discounted prices, and if you have the room at home, this would be a good time to buy a few extra boxes of foil and plastic wrap.

Don't Buy: Bananas, Unless You Want Them Green

Bunch of green bananas
Bunch of green bananas - Apomares/Getty Images

If you're hoping to buy some bananas along with the rest of your low-priced groceries, Grocery Outlet may not be the place to do that. The company does carry bananas in its produce sections, but many times those bananas are still very green. If you want to eat those bananas within the next couple of days, plan to buy them at another store. Now, some Grocery Outlets do have bananas that have reached the yellow stage, so it doesn't hurt to check. But never plan on buying ripe bananas there, and instead be pleasantly surprised if it turns out your local store has them.

Green bananas are edible, though, and they do continue to ripen after being picked. You might want to buy a bunch anyway, either to eat a few days from now, or to have while still green. Green bananas are still nutritious and may have an effect on a number of health conditions including improving your digestive health and helping with blood sugar levels.

Don't Buy: Produce That Looks Like It's On Its Last Legs, No Matter How Cheap

Old iceberg lettuce head
Old iceberg lettuce head - Aninka Bongers-Sutherland/Shutterstock

While we mentioned earlier that fresh produce is worth buying in store if it looks decent, there is a flip-side to that. It is the luck of the draw, but you may also find produce that doesn't look so great. Even if it is being sold for a fantastic low price, you don't always have to give in. Produce that is on its last legs can be revived in some cases depending on the condition, but it makes no sense to spend money on vegetables and fruit that look like they're about to fall apart. There's only so much that water and other reviving strategies can do, and you don't want to end up throwing out all that produce (and money) because you couldn't use it in time.

If you can afford to, buy better-looking produce even if it's more expensive, and then store it properly to preserve it for as long as possible. Or, buy less of the good produce and plan to shop more often. That does mean you might not find the same produce at Grocery Outlet each time you go, but you'll still find a good selection.

Don't Buy: Anything That's The Same Price As What You'd Get In Your Regular Store

Hand reaching for item on shelf
Hand reaching for item on shelf - Enes Evren/Getty Images

Occasionally you'll find a product that Grocery Outlet sells for the same price as what another store in your area sells it for. Items like this are on our don't-buy list only because it's not worth it to make a special trip to Grocery Outlet if the price is going to be the same. Obviously, you can buy it if you're already at Grocery Outlet and don't want to make another trip to the other store for it.

You may also find items that are priced a little higher, or you could find that the price is acceptable, but there isn't much variety. Remember, much of the stock at each Grocery Outlet comes from suppliers who needed to get rid of the items for one reason or another. Inflation has also been hitting those suppliers, and there are anecdotal stories of customers finding fewer and fewer deals at Grocery Outlet in the past few years. Those deals still exist, though, so don't give up if you happen to find a number of goods that don't have as deep a discount as you'd hoped.

Don't Buy: Anything That's Close To Its Best-By Date (With Two Exceptions)

Best before date on can
Best before date on can - Feng Yu/Shutterstock

Best-by dates are markers of quality, not of safety. Expiration dates on medications are ones where you'd throw out the product once you reached that date, but products with best-by dates are sometimes still very safe to eat even after the dates have passed. Unfortunately, once those best-by dates fly by, the quality of the product can decline rapidly. Because of this, you don't want to buy anything at Grocery Outlet that has an imminent best-by date coming up, except in two cases.

If you plan to use the product quickly, then the best-by date isn't a concern. It doesn't matter if that can of corn has a best-by date of next month if you're going to eat the corn tonight. The other case is if you plan to freeze the items. Baked goods freeze well, for example, so if you buy cookies that are nearing their best-by date, but then you freeze them before they reach that date, then there should be no issue and they can be safely enjoyed at a later date.

Don't Buy: Unknown Brands, Except As A Test

Cans with generic labels
Cans with generic labels - sockagphoto/Shutterstock

Stores like Grocery Outlet sometimes score products from suppliers who don't typically sell to the grocery stores in your region. These can be products from international brands; they may also be from unknown companies that may be based in another part of the country or that may truly be unknown to most people. If the price is right, you might be tempted to buy their products. But limit what you buy of these simply because you don't know what the quality will be like.

This is not the same as buying unknown products from companies you're already familiar with. In that case, you know that the brand's products meet a certain standard in terms of quality, and it's likely the new product also meets that standard. An example is ice cream; if you find a new flavor from a brand you're familiar with, you might not like the flavor, but you know the ice cream was made with a certain level of quality in mind. An ice cream brand that you never heard of, though, could have terrible quality that makes even your favorite flavors taste gross. Buying one item to test is fine, but buying a bunch of the same item just because the price is good, isn't. As with many purchases at Grocery Outlet, there is a risk/reward ratio that is always worth considering, but you'll save money in the long run buying products that you're more likely to enjoy.

Don't Buy: Anything You Plan To Use A Manufacturer's Coupon For

Stacks of coupons
Stacks of coupons - Mphillips007/Getty Images

Grocery Outlet doesn't take manufacturer's coupons. That may be disappointing if you're a super-couponer who'd hoped to reduce how much you'd pay of the company's already low prices. But the company negotiates deals with brands and suppliers for the goods you see in the stores, and its leaders think the deals bring the prices as low as they can go.

That doesn't mean you can't find extra savings at the store. Grocery Outlet issues its own coupons occasionally, and you can sign up for their email list to see what they might have each week. You can also go in-store and see even more deals that you may have missed or that were left out of any advertising. Save the manufacturer's coupons for other stores, and in the meantime, see what the same product costs at Grocery Outlet if you can find it.

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