Building Wealth With Your Asian Grocery Store


It’s no secret that I happen to live in a high cost of living area.  The real estate prices are quite high, but not as bad as mega-cities like NYC.  Along with the high cost of real estate comes jacked-up prices for almost everything else.  Groceries in particular are very expensive.

While many bloggers have already extolled the virtues of Costco groceries (even myself), one institution of grocery savings hasn’t gotten the love I think it deserves:  Local Asian Grocery Stores

One of the keys to building my wealth over the years was shopping at a local asian grocery store.  Yes, really! 

We shop at Costco (they mostly have good prices), but the bulk of our produce still comes from our local asian grocery store.

Tofu
Costco doesn’t always have the best prices on everything. Tofu is just one example. Nor does Costco have 50 different kinds of tofu! The best price at my local asian grocer is $1.49/package.

 

Prices

Why should you shop at your local asian grocery store?

There’s real value to be found!  Don’t just gawk at the unusual food!  I know, I know…the freezer section may smell a little funny.  Just ignore it – that’s the smell of savings.

First and foremost, the best reason to shop there is low prices.  They really do have lower prices than comparable food at a typical supermarket.  Notice I said “comparable food”.  This is a key distinction.

A typical consumer makes comparisons points on things they can compare.  Items like produce, milk, eggs, and meat will be typical comparison points.  That’s where the deals are going to be!  Branded goods are far harder to compare.

Carrots and Cilantro
Carrots and Cilantro – great examples of comparable food. The carrots were average priced, but the cilantro was a pretty good deal that day.

Are you wondering how much cheaper it is?  Here’s a list of items I compiled from a recent shopping trip, and comparable prices from a local supermarket.

Grocery Savings

“Non-comparable” specialty products (imported from far away lands) will typically have a higher markup than comparable items.  This is one of the reasons why my local asian grocer appears to have very low prices.

“Non-comparable” Goods = Fairly High Prices

Comparable Goods = Low Prices!

They pull you in with the loss leaders, but hope you’ll also buy some imported goodies!

Loss Leaders
Loss Leaders: Every grocery store has them. Even asian grocers. These green onions are a great example of a “comparable” loss leader.  Here, they were 4 bundles for $1.
Rice Noodles
Non-Comparables:  Rice Noodles are a good example of a ‘non-comparable’. The markup on these is probably significant. That said, at under $2 per package they still seem cheap to me!

 

Seafood

Our family enjoys a good fish now and then.  When we pick one up, it’s usually “on sale” at our a local asian grocery store.  Yes, the smell in the seafood section may be a little more pungent than you’re used to at a local supermarket.  Just ignore it.  The smell isn’t why we shop here!

Seafood prices can be pretty cheap, but they can also be pretty outrageous.  It all depends upon the day.  It helps if you know what’s a good price to pay.

Big fish
The boys checking out a really big fish.  Should we grill one tonight?

When we cooked up dungeness crab for Mrs. Tako’s birthday I bought it at our local asian grocery store.  For $5.99/lb it felt like a steal compared to the $7.99/lb or $8.99/lb we’d pay at other places.

Crab for sale
There are frequently great sales on fresh seafood.  I’m always on the lookout for fresh crab.

 

A Word About Quality

The second, and more visible reason for lower prices is the lower quality of the produce.  In many cases, I’ve noticed the quality usually isn’t top grade.  Produce has bumps and the occasional bruise.  Fruit might be under (or over) ripe.  Meat may be of a lower grade than you’re used to.  It’s not the perfect unblemished product you’d find at a supermarket…and that’s a good thing!

producequality
It may have bumps and bruises, but produce prices are lower. These tomatoes were a particularly good deal last weekend.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you already know about the high cost of perfection.  Think about it: Does all produce from a farm come in that perfect unblemished state?  Nope, only a small percentage of farm produce is actually that perfect!

The lowest quality produce is sometimes sold as animal feed.  Other times it’s ground back into the dirt to re-fertilize for next season.  You’ll never see the lowest grades.  

Slightly higher grades might be used in canning or processed food applications.  What’s that?  You think that 99 cent microwave burrito your eating uses the highest quality beans and veggies on the planet?  Nope, sorry!  Whether you know it or not, you’ve probably eaten tons of lower grade produce.

Imperfection is a beautiful thing, and my local asian grocery store has lots of it. Sure, it probably scares off a few potential customers, but I don’t mind.  Along with this imperfection comes lower prices, and lower prices give me the power to build wealth.

 

Cleanliness

If you’ve ever been in a real asian grocery store, you’ll know they aren’t necessarily the cleanest.  Yes, the stores do clean, but probably not as frequently as you’re used to.  The place isn’t spotless.

Ever wonder where some of those savings come from?  The lack of cleaning labor may have something to do with it…and it’s nothing to worry about.  The outside of produce can be washed, and many goods are already pre-packaged.

Mushrooms
A lot of the goods are already packaged.  No need to worry if the store is covered in slime.

 

Endless Variety

One of the best things about my local asian grocery store has absolutely nothing to do with prices.  It’s the great variety of goods they stock!

As you probably know, we’re big fans of eating-in to save money.  We also love most asian food.  Unfortunately, a normal supermarket isn’t going to stock the things I need to make proper Pad Thai, Agedashi Tofu, Bibimbap, or countless other asian dishes.

Local asian grocery stores to the rescue!

Rice
Your local asian grocery store may sell more than one kind of rice. Make sure you know what to look for!

Walking through the aisles, I see goods from Korea, Japan, China, Thailand, Vietnam, and so on.  This is authentic imported stuff, not bad American knockoffs.  It’s the stuff I need to make the authentic asian dishes usually found in restaurants.

Dumplings
More dumplings than you can shake a stick at. Or should I call them Potstickers? Gyoza? Jiaozi? Mandu? With endless variety also comes endless confusion!

 

Grocer not “Gift Market”

 Notice that throughout this article I’ve been saying “grocery store”, and not “gift market”.  There’s a difference between the two.

The difference between a “gift market” and a “grocery store” is the intended customer.  Asian grocers of the sort we’re talking about, target the local asian population.  “Gift markets” target tourists, and along with that target customer come high prices.  

I’ve ranted about tourist markets before.  “Gift markets” are just another name for tourist markets.  Avoid the “gift markets” to save yourself money.  They’re not going to get any love from me!

Find a real asian grocer for the real savings.  When you find him, give him a hug.  Tell him Mr. Tako sent you.  He’s saved me some serious money over the years, and he’ll help you too.

26 thoughts on “Building Wealth With Your Asian Grocery Store

  • May 10, 2016 at 1:43 PM
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    Great article. We usually buy our seafood at Ranch 99 and the salmon is usually better and more fresh than Safeway and even Costco. The salmon is more fatty at Ranch 99. As mentioned, the produce and fruits aren’t perfect but they are cheaper.

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  • May 10, 2016 at 2:07 PM
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    Excellent! We used to live walking distance to an Asian grocery store, and I loved it! The owner was a Korean guy, and he’d regularly take stuff out of my basket, shake his head at me, and say “not for beginner!” He was probably right.

    Have you read Tyler Cowen’s take on this? He says (and I’ve noticed) that the green produce is absolutely top quality, because of all the little old lady customers who inspect every last green bean and insist on much higher quality than the average Safeway customer.

    Also love Grocery Outlet for PNW savings. It’s so zen – don’t go in with a list… go in with an open mind.

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    • May 10, 2016 at 4:30 PM
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      It probably depends upon the market, but it’s usually not top drawer stuff. I think the customers have to be more discerning to get the best quality.

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  • May 10, 2016 at 2:55 PM
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    We’ve only shopped at Asian markets a few times, but this is a good reminder of the great deals to be had. A few months back I found some Thai curry paste that was significantly cheaper than the stuff I was buying from our regular supermarket. We both love Asian food and it comes in so many delicious varieties. As a vegetarian, D loves how easily Asian food can be found or made meat-free .

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    • May 10, 2016 at 4:31 PM
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      Same here! We’re not huge meat eaters anymore, so we love how it works with (or without) meat.

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  • May 10, 2016 at 10:34 PM
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    I remember back in the day when Ranch 99 was the only Asian supermarket to be found, but now there are several options (at least in Socal) where you can find anything you want. In San Diego where I live, there’s a Ranch 99, Zion, Seafood City, Mitsua, Nijya, and Marukai markets. Each has their own specialities and in addition to savings, you get choices.

    As you say, imperfection is great sometimes. And where else can you get Asian snacks and candies at a reasonable price! 🙂

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  • May 11, 2016 at 1:18 AM
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    I’m glad you enlightened me today but I’m still a little on the fence, but I also don’t live in as high of a cost of living location. I like my local grocer, prices are pretty good because there’s good competition and I like one stop shopping. Thanks again for the interesting post.

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    • May 11, 2016 at 7:33 AM
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      You never know until you try Green Swan. Sometimes its worth it to try different things just to expand your horizons.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 5:35 AM
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    Interesting! I don’t know if I have one near me but I’ll definitely swing by if I do. Hopefully grab some decent savings.

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    • May 11, 2016 at 7:35 AM
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      If you haven’t tried one before, it’s definitely worth going.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 5:57 AM
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    You must live in a HCOL area. Your Asian groceries prices are pretty comparable to our supermarket prices here in rural Colorado (where they mark up everything). I wish we had an Asian supermarket, but alas the nearest one is 3 hours away. We do have a rural wholesaler and they sell imperfect produce at a significant discount. It’s nice to find these little gems where you can.

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    • May 11, 2016 at 7:34 AM
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      Yes, I’ve heard Colorado is actually quite affordable.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 6:09 AM
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    I love H Mart, we go their every Saturday and buy 25 pounds of oranges for $4.95, cheaper than any place I’ve bought oranges.
    If you have a Mexican market in your area the deals are even better. I live in Orange County and we go to Superior for great prices on meat and produce. I’d agree with the comment about seafood from 99 Ranch though.

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    • May 11, 2016 at 7:40 AM
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      Unfortunately we don’t have one of those near us. If we did, I’d be all over it. We do have an Indian market nearby, but we find the asian markets actually have more of what we eat. H-Mart is indeed fantastic.

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  • May 11, 2016 at 8:12 AM
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    Yes, Asian supermarkets offer great prices on produce, fruits and meats. H-Mart is nice but I don’t think their prices are great…very clean and love the free food samples! haha I don’t think the quality of the produce at Asian supermarkets are necessarily worse…because the ones I go to get so much foot traffic (man, I hate going there on a weekend!) the stuff always fresh. Yea, it’s not the cleanest and the customer service sucks but that’s why the price is low I guess.

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  • May 12, 2016 at 3:29 PM
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    Hmm, our “local” asian store is more expensive than the supermarkets, last time I checked. Also, my (Japanese) wife was very angry because their wasabi, of the same Japanese brand she trusts from Japan, is actually not the same stuff as what we had in Japan. They added artificial coloring to make it bright green (actual color should be more “brown-ish”)…

    I’ll check the prices again. We go there mostly for the import food, I’m not sure we checked thee “comparable” stuff! Thanks for the advice

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    • May 12, 2016 at 8:20 PM
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      Avoid that market that sounds like “iwajima”. You can guess the one I’m talking about. They’re a gift market. Long ago, they used to have good prices. But alas, as the business changed hands to a new generation of owners, their business focus changed.

      Reply
  • May 12, 2016 at 5:09 PM
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    Do you think the same is true of like Indian markets or Caribbean markets? I don’t think there are a lot of asian markets where I live but this place is overflowing with Indian and Caribbean places. The problem we have is that we usually limit ourselves to only one or two stores to get everything for a week. That usually has us at Wal Mart or Aldi. How does the local Asian place compare to Aldi? Obviously Aldi isn’t going to have good tofu…

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    • May 12, 2016 at 8:15 PM
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      We don’t have Aldi out here, so I can’t really say how it compares. We have a few Indian markets, and they’re pretty much comparable to the Asian markets…just different stuff. We find more of what we want at the asian markets.

      Reply
  • May 13, 2016 at 2:17 AM
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    Thank you for this wonderful article and your blog (I just found it and will be back!). I wholeheartedly agree with your assessment. We have an international market Asian and Indian grocery store combined (as well as Aldie and Costco) close by and they are unbeatable for produce and tofu and other staples like raw cashews. I have an empty fridge and am looking forward to going shopping this weekend for some veggies! We always spend half or less of what we would spend in a conventional store for the same produce. And I have learned a lot from watching people select produce–I know what okra pods to select after watching the Indian ladies choosing!

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  • May 17, 2016 at 1:17 PM
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    I am pretty lucky that I have at least 6 Chinese/Vietnamese/Indian supermarkets, a Costco and a Super Walmart all within a 5 mile radius. Most of the American Supermarkets went out of business and taken over by Asian supermarkets, except for a Safeway. Even among Asian supermarkets, there is a difference in grade. The cleaner and newer supermarkets charge more. Within a 10 mile radius, I have Korean, Japanese and Mexican supermarkets. It’s always good to know where to shop for what items.

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  • May 20, 2016 at 5:42 PM
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    Hey Mr Tako, you make a great point. All the stores are there to make a profit – you don’t need to go to them just because they have national advertising 🙂

    We don’t really have Asian supermarkets in Australia, but we DO have Aldi. Prices in Australia are quite a lot higher than most other countries, which is fine. We shop at Aldi to get the best value we can, we eat cheaper than most other Australians do, that’s for sure.

    Tristan

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    • May 20, 2016 at 6:07 PM
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      Yeah, I noticed food prices on Australian food are unusually high. Any insight as to why?

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  • June 6, 2016 at 11:32 AM
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    Here in socal we have local asian/persian store called ansar gallery,beats down the competition
    prices like 4 pounds of onion for $1 or 10 pounds of potato for $1.This was only place where i have seen severe competition in grocery market.

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  • August 13, 2016 at 1:24 PM
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    Mr. Tako,
    I totally agree with you about “iwajima”. Total gift store, although I did purchase my Zojiiroshi rice cooker from them 22 years ago(a little busted up, held together by duct tape) but still works awesome.

    We have shop at 99 ranch market when we are in that part of town.

    We recently discovered Hmart and I love it for Roasted black bean paste, fresh noodle(splurged item at $5/pack for Jjajingmyeon), roasted seaweed for veggie sushi, the fruits and veggies are for the win.

    Also, we like Cash & Carry for some items: Frozen fruits for smoothies, veggies are a good price, hot sauce is crazy cheap for example: Tiger sauce is $5.99 for 6 ounces at Whole Paycheck, $1.79 at Cash and Carry. They also have dried rice noodles, thai curry sauce.

    We really eat a wide variety at our house: Korean, Japanese, Mexican, American and alot of fruit and veggies so it is important to get our budget in check.

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  • March 3, 2017 at 1:21 PM
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    Thank you for your point about the high cost of “perfect” produce. It is appalling how much perfectly edible food gets thrown away by most chain grocery stores.

    Reply

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