I was perusing the Saving Advice forums the other day and I noticed that Marla was aghast at having discovered pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in her grocery stores freezer section. Marla commented “Have we really become a nation that is so lazy we can no longer even make a peanut and jelly sandwich?!” Well, Marla, I don’t think we can attribute such grocery conveniences solely to a collective laziness, but we can certainly attribute a lot of it to a collective foolishness.
It is not a surprise that over the course of the past few decades, grocery stores have offered an increasingly large number of products that appeal to the home cook’s desire to be more efficient. TV dinners, for example, were hugely successful when Swanson introduced them in 1954 and today the average American eats seventy-two frozen meals each year. As most grocery shoppers know, however, very often there is a price to be paid for convenience, but how much is that cost?
I checked out the price of PB&J Jamz at a local discount retailer. The cost for a package of 18 sandwiches (and truth be told, they look more like pastries) was approximately $12. That amounts to sixty-seven cents per serving — a rather small serving in my opinion. By comparison, at my local grocery store, I can purchase one jar of jelly, one jar of peanut butter and two loaves of bread for about $9, and that will make at least 25 sandwiches for my household. Given the ease by which even younger children can make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, I can’t see myself purchasing a frozen PB&J convenience food, can you?
Although I did not find frozen sandwiches to be such a good deal, I was surprised to discover that my long-held scorn for pre-blended peanut butter and jelly was entirely misplaced. Over the years, I have always chucked when I saw jars of combined peanut butter and jelly, assuming that the producer charged a premium for the convenience of having to scoop from only one jar. My assumptions were completely wrong, as I discovered that the pre-blended BB&J was no more expensive than purchasing peanut butter and jelly separately.
Here are a couple of other things that I discovered about conveniences in the grocery aisles:
Sometimes Single Serving Packages Are a Good Deal: As with so many assumptions, not all are correct. I have always believed that single serving packaging usually means a higher unit cost, but until this week I had never actually put that to the test. My results were mixed. At my local grocery store, I discovered that it is actually less expensive to purchase a package of twelve single-serving bags of Lays potato chips (about 33 cents per serving) than to purchase a fourteen serving bag that is not pre-portioned (about 36 cents per serving). By comparison, however, the Kellogg’s cereal variety pack ($4.29 for ten single serving packs) was priced much more expensively than a regular box of cereal ($4.39 for sixteen servings and a more extreme sale price of $3.99 for twenty-six servings). I found even more extreme price disparities in powdered drink mixes and cookies, both of which were frighteningly more expensive in single serving packages.
Products that Save You Time Will Cost You More Money: Not surprisingly, in the grocery store time is money. The more time you are willing to spend in your kitchen, the more inexpensively you can shop. The more time saving purchases you want to make, the more you will have to spend. For example, three heads of Romaine lettuce will serve seven people and cost $2.99, but a bag of chopped Romaine which will serve three people costs twenty cents more.
In the meat department, there are a range of prices on chicken. A whole chicken is less expensive per pound than chicken that is already cut up, boned or skinned. At one extreme, a skinless boneless fillet costs $5.19 per pound, while a package of chicken breasts, thighs or drumsticks (still with skin and bone is only $1.69 per pound. Unless you have arthritis or other problems that affect your dexterity, it is not difficult to skin and de-bone a bird so the less expensive options should always be chosen.
Of course, sale prices and geography can make pricing vary in your grocery store. My point is not that there is never a time to purchase a time saving product or a pre-portioned product. Rather, what you need to understand is the importance of checking the unit cost on everything you buy. Whatever pricing assumptions you may bring to your shopping experience, you may find that some of them are disproved by the shelf tag information on the products that you are buying.
What do you think? What deals have you been able to find on grocery products that actually save you time in the kitchen? Are you willing to pay more just to avoid time working over a hot stove?