Saturday, November 19, 2011

My thoughts on grocery shopping

When we lived in the states, I did most of the grocery shopping.  I honestly really liked it.  I was one of those crazy coupon ladies, stock piling coupons, matching them with sales and promotions. It gave me this strange kind of thrill to come home from the grocery store with 4 boxes of cereal, a box of Capri Sun "drinks," and 2 boxes of fruit snacks for $4.  I think I saved the receipt on that one for a while.   That was a good deal.
I continued doing the grocery shopping when we moved to Brazil.  Except it made me SO grouchy.   First of all, it was expensive.   There are no coupons here.   And the stores advertise "ofertas" which usually mean that the regular price is R$5,99 and now it's on sale for R$5,79.  The price of food has gone up a lot, even just in the past year.  I don't like spending so much on groceries.  I'm really lucky if I can make it out of the store and only pay R$150.   And then of course, back then we didn't have a car.  I liked to stock up when going grocery shopping, and it was not fun to come back from the store lugging groceries for a week for a family of five in one of those little wheely carts. Uphill.  I have fond memories of sweating profusely, trying to avoid the dog poop on broken sidewalk or navigating the lack of sidewalk, a bag of milk breaking open and leaving a trail all the way up Rua do Ouro, and the stares from all our friendly neighbors, who were wondering if I knew that delivery existed, or that I could send my empregada/house keeper to do the shopping.  Ah, memories.
My husband got tired of all my whining, and finally offered to take over the chore of grocery shopping.  It has been a gift.  Thank you dear husband.  And he frequently comes home perplexed by the many challenges of grocery shopping in Brazil.  The most recent confounding situation is the fact that the stores will be out of staples for weeks at a time.  I have encountered this too.   I go to buy cornflakes, and they are out.   I go back a week later, still no cornflakes.  Now granted, cornflakes are not a part of most Brazilians diet, but you can pretty much find them at all the bakeries, the drugstores, and the fruit/vegetable stores.  Other times we've not been able to find tonic water, Cera incolor (the wax we use on our floors, makes them actually look clean), and vinegar.  My friend Corinne said she went to the store one time and they were out of sugar.  Hmmm…
The other strange that happens is that we find a brand of a certain product that we like, we get used to buying it, we enjoy it.   And then one day, it's gone.    We found some granola that we really liked, and about 2 months ago, it disappeared.  This has led us to do some odd hoarding.  When we find Rap 10 (something somewhat like a tortilla) we buy several packages and freeze them, even though we have a TINY freezer.  It’s usually got some Rap 10.  If I Dorito's Dippas (corn chips), I buy a bunch of bags.  Because of the odd nature of supply here, it's quite possible that I will have a hard time finding these products again.
But the whole reason I started this post was because my husband went to the store to pick up a few things today.   He actually came home with everything on his list (milk, fresh milk for yogurt, cilantro, eggs, popcorn, frozen French fries, granola, and 2 cans of tonic water), and it only cost him R$30.   Needless to say, he was very happy.  And it's such an unusual occurrence that I thought it deserved it's very own blog post. 
Now I'm off for a very American night.  I'm cooking the last box of Macaroni and Cheese that my sister brought for us back in July, make some Roasted Salsa to go with our Dippas, and then watch a movie with the family (did I mention that you can now get Netflix in Brazil? It's amazing).  Happy Saturday night to you!


  1. It makes me crazy when the store runs out of staples! If the item is popular -- stock more of it!! Duh!

    Breathe... can't push the river...

  2. I understand your frustration. I'm a Brazilian living in Europe, and I've been to US about 5 times. Food in US is really cheap indeed, and the size of portions are gigantic compared to anywhere else.

    I might be wrong there, but I believe the heavy subsidies the US government gives away for food production are part of the cause. See .

    Looking at the bright side, Brazil has an abundance of fruit, veggies and meat. The ski-high prices you see are (probably) mostly for industrialized, processed food. Try going to farm markets ('feiras') and specialized butchers ('açougues') that you might see better prices. And your family health might also improve lots :)

    Just my 2 cents. Best of luck !

  3. I always find it so interesting that food is more expensive in Brazil because when we are there it is so cheap. But then I think about what we eat: only beans and rice with meat and veggies. My in-laws almost NEVER buy anything packaged, and I think that is what keeps the price down. (My mother-in-law makes EVERYTHING, bread, juice, everything. I think the only packaged stuff I see is coffee and mayo -- that latter being soemething she makes sometimes anyway.) When we are there, I just cook/eat like them for the month or two because I only have to cook a fraction of the meals. Luckily, I like rice and beans. But one time I wanted a peanut butter and jelly sandwich... well, I am glad for Pao de Acucar grocery stores, but at the same time, I pretty much went broke on just that PB&J, so when I look at it from that angle, yes I can see how it can be very expensive.

  4. What an interesting post! Thanks for this glimpse of your life! And thanks for the link to the Roasted Salsa recipe on my blog. I'm SO glad I froze several containers of that this summer when I had lovely local tomatoes. Hope you enjoyed it with your Mac and Cheese and Dippas!

  5. Thanks for the comments! Felipe, I wouldn't doubt that subsidies are a big part of why things are less expensive in the states. It is kind of backwards there: processed foods are less expensive, but fruits and vegetables are more expensive. I think this is part of the reason why the US has such a high rate of obesity. I do go to the ferias whenever I can--unfortunately the neighborhood market is on Wednesday, the day I have to work from 9:00 to 5:00! I do like the sacalão, and I love the prices there! And I have been going to the local butcher more.

    Tiffany--we have pretty much been converted to eating the Brazilian diet too (of course with the occasional splurges of chips, tortillas and coca-cola. Oh, and beer :-) We eat beans and rice almost every day. We make our own yogurt and our own bread. I never buy the bottled smoothies, but make my own. I do a lot of baking (cookies). But it's still expensive. I'm not sure how often you are here, but the prices keep creeping higher and higher. And with a growing family of 5, plus an empregada 3 days a week, it's just our reality. But I am thankful that we can afford it, that we are eating healthy food, and that we are not going hungry!

  6. Last time we were there (last December/Jan) I do remember everyone talking about how the prices have come up. And you are completely right -- feeding a family of five plus and empregada does take a considerable amount more than just 2, 3, and sometimes 4. Something else I have to remind myself of is this: when I shop there I am shopping with my American paycheck in the bank account. So whatever I spend is a tiny fraction of what I have, whereas someone making a Brazilian paycheck is making a considerable amount less to begin with, and then there is no exchange rate benefit -- it is the price it says it is. I remember reading an article saying how much percentage of a months salary a family spends on food in different countries, and America was at 5-7%, plus eating out. Brazil was at 20-30%!!! And we are talking the basic food, not gourmet cooking. It is good that you guys have been eating Brazilian food -- cheaper and healthier. Even though we are in America I am doing more and more fresh stuff in my kitchen. We just feel better. And besides, a pot of beans can last the two of us forever! :)

  7. We're still trying to get our food budget for a family of 2 under control - I can only imagine what it must be like for a family of 5! And we buy virtually nothing processed or pre-prepared... pretty much only pasta sauce on occasion.

    @Tiffany - Interesting stats. I checked our budget and grocery expenses are currently at 18% of our salary - fala serio!