21 December 2013

Grocery Shopping--Overview

Apparently I have quite a bit to say about grocery shopping, so I'm going to break it up into a few different blog posts.  There are 2 main grocery stores in our city where the expats shop--Tamimi and Panda.  Tamimi is actually a Safeway store (the same company as Vons, Randall's and others) so there are many brands and products that we recognize.  They even have some Kirkland Signature (Costco) brand items!  The HyperPanda does have a few things in addition to food, kind of like a Super-Walmart, although the section of  non-grocery items is much smaller.

Other than anything that contains alcohol (such as extracts and vanilla) or pork products of any kind I have been able to find almost anything that we've wanted.  If you buy local brands, the groceries are cheaper than what they would be in the States, but even buying imported/American brands generally isn't much more expensive (surprisingly) than it would be in the States.  One exception to that is anything that is cold/frozen and imported--then it is VERY expensive.  We actually saw Bluebell brand ice cream (a Texas brand) at the store once, but it was almost $15!  (We didn't buy it.)

The grocery stores are open 24/7, other than during prayer time.  While most stores close and require everyone to leave during prayer, the larger grocery stores generally let you continue shopping if you are already in the doors before they close them for prayer.  Although during prayers there aren't any workers, meaning the registers are closed, and no one is at the produce weigh station, meat or cheese counters, etc.

One thing we've noticed is that quality control on the local brands doesn't seem to be as tight here as we would expect to see in the states.  A couple examples. . . they have a mango juice with pulp that we love.  The 'pulp' is actually small cubes of mango, and sometimes you have mango cubes with a little juice and other times you get mango juice with a few cubes.  It's always the same packaging, so it just appears to be random, but either way it is delicious!

Another example is the Arabic bread (like pita bread only a little thinner and softer).  It  comes in bags like tortillas would, and a bag is only 1 SAR, or about 25 cents.  The bags aren't labeled with how many are inside, and sometimes it will be 7, and the next time it will be 11.  So you aren't ever quite sure how many you get until you open the bag, but it's so cheap that it's hard to complain.  :-)

The stores are also a little unpredictable.  You can't always count on a particular item being stocked.  This definitely applies to the imported goods, but includes the local products as well.  For example, they haven't had sour cream (local brand) the last 2 times I've been to the store.  Cereal availability is particularly random--I learned quickly that if I see a cereal that our family likes I always grab at least one box.

A couple notes about checking out--The baggers here are excellent!  I know it may seem like a weird thing to notice, but I always hate to come home and find, for example, that my raw meats or eggs are in the same bag as my produce.  (Yes, I'm a little OCD at times.)  Here they are meticulous about only putting like-type items in the same bag.  Yay!  If you happen to come to a checkout station with no one in line ahead of you, the bagger will come and unload your cart for you onto the belt for the checker.

Also, it is standard for the bagger to walk you out to your car and load the groceries into the car for you--especially when I am by myself.  If Ben is with me, they will usually ask if we would like help.  It is customary to tip the bagger--anywhere from 3-10 SAR (about $0.80 to almost $3) depending on how many groceries you have.