It’s a very strange thing to admit to, but I love supermarkets. They have everything I need in order to survive. From fresh local produce to luxurious Japanese beef. From cheap imported canned food to toilet paper. From snacks for human beings to treats for pets. There is so much to see and purchase that each new supermarket I discover automatically becomes a destination to visit.
My first and favourite department to visit is the Deli corner. Since I’m not much of a good cook and somewhat of a busy person, food ready to go and be consumed help out a lot. All-time favourites like Tonkatsu (fried pork chop) and Karaage (fried chicken pieces) are always excellent choices; seasonal treats or local specials like Kaki-fry (fried oysters) and Tebasaki (chicken wings) make a delicious delight; occasionally there are some new rare items like eggplant tempura stuffed with miso meat or the mysterious thing you just can’t figure out but looks delicious; or perhaps I don’t even feel like turning on my toaster oven tonight, so I’ll just grab a delicate bento with an extra side of sashimi.
With so many options to choose from, what do I go for?
I go for all of them.
Thanks to what I call the “Pre-Expiration Sale” system.
Food have expiry dates, and an expired product is as good as trash to a supermarket since it cannot be sold. Rather than discarding the food and taking a full 100% loss, it would be in the store’s favour if they can sell the item at all. Perhaps at a much lower price, or perhaps at cost price just to cut even. This system benefits both the supermarket and a certain demographic of the customers who don’t mind making a late visit, like me.
To recover as much as they can from the soon-gone-bad (aka soon-be-thrown-out-but-still-eatable) products, supermarket managers would visit the food corner before the day ends and put discount stickers onto packages. Typically, the items would first receive a “20% Off” three to four hours before closing time to attract the first wave of customers. About an hour or two before the supermarket closes, the unsold food would go “Half Off”.
Of course, there are supermarkets that apply a different flow. For example: “10% Off” > “30% Off” > maxing at “40% Off”. Another way of the discounts is to give “100-yen Off” rather than percentages, which is not nearly as attractive or satisfying. Some stores even get desperate near closing time and cut deep with hand-written stickers of “100-yen Including Tax” on items 10-15mins before the market closes. My personal best record was netting an 82% Off a ¬¬¬¬¬tuna sashimi. Admittedly it didn’t taste as fresh, but I didn’t mind it when compensated by its price.
You might wonder: who are the typical customers taking advantage of this? At first instinct, you might presume that the smart and calculating Japanese housewives are the ones who storm these sales and clean everything up. In reality, however, housewives tend to go for “Day-of-the-Week Sales” and “Time-Sales” (ex. eggs on sale starting from 4pm), which are advertised days in advance and happen much more consistently. Those sales also give housewives enough time to shop and cook before family’s dinner time.
The typical Pre-Expiration Sale hunters are usually salarymen (especially those that are single) who get off work way after average dinner time and university students who are trying their hardest to save up every yen they can. These demographics don’t need to cook for others. Plus they have (or only have) time to shop late and to dine late. No matter how successful the supermarket trip is, they are only responsible to themselves.
The deli-corner is the most common to receive these discounts, but the Pre-Expiration Sales aren’t limited to just one corner. Meat products are very common to receive the discounts as well, as its freshness is both crucial and visible. Sashimi can’t stay fresh for long, so they get discounted quickly as well. If you are lucky, you might catch dry food and condiments go cheap near their expiration date. Vegetables don’t have firm expiration dates, but they do get discounted even though it is harder to seek them out.
Are you intrigued and wanting to experience this method of saving money? Do you already take advantage of it but aren’t good enough to the pro-hunters? In my next article, I will give you some useful tips on what to look for to get the best out of your journey. Until then, happy hunting!
Guest post written by Jackson Lee.