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From The Sentinel (Hanford, CA):

Poor Economy Boosts Discount Food Stores
By Seth Nidever

People have been known to make stereotypical jokes about discount food chains and their sometimes unusual brands, fire sale prices and nearly-expired items. Fewer are cracking jokes now.

Wildly fluctuating gas prices and a deepening recession have made Hanford’s low-price food stores more attractive than ever. The self-described “bargains only” supermarket Grocery Outlet has picked up its business in the last two months, according to Sam Ahmed, owner of the Hanford store at Seventh and Phillips streets. Ahmed said shoppers are coming in more often and buying more at each visit.

“People try to get everything possible from us,” Ahmed said. Customers wandering the aisles Thursday said that they’ve been doing more shopping at the store whose Web site bills it as the place where you can save more than you spend.

“They have the same things at Wal-Mart, (but) you can find it cheaper here,” said Bobbie Williams, a Hanford woman on disability who has been shopping at Grocery Outlet for years. Williams said she does virtually all her shopping at the discount store.

Ditto for John and Stephanie Cervantez. The married couple lives on John Cervantez’ modest income, and they want to make every penny count.

“We used to come here about once a month. Now we come here about once a week,” Stephanie Cervantez said. The couple also shops at Foods Co., Wal-Mart and the 99 Cent Only store, but said that Grocery Outlet is in a category of its own. “There’s not much other than this. I think it would hurt if they were to close it down,” Stephanie Cervantez said.

Grocery Outlet is … widespread, with 133 stores scattered throughout Oregon, Idaho, Washington, California, Nevada and Arizona. There’s also been a double-digit increase in sales company-wide since the recession began, Ahmed said.

Part of the reason is that Grocery Outlet dramatically undercuts the price of some other grocery chains. The discount chain buys excess inventory, some of it closer to the expiration date than items at other food retailers.

The Cervantez’ said that Save Mart is probably “50 percent” more expensive. Cervantez said that she has no problem buying nearly-expired items. “We know the kids will eat it right away,” she said.

With the recession expected to deepen into 2009, Ahmed was optimistic that the upsurge he’s seen in recent months will continue. “People want to get the most for their buck,” he said.

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