How to Eat the Best Produce at the Best Price

Wednesday Jul 16 | BY |
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fruits

This week, I’m eating my favorite fruit ever: white nectarines. I bought an entire case at my favorite fruit market, along with some of my other favorite fruits: Rainier cherries, fresh watermelon, and figs.

Now it’s summer, and there’s a lot of great produce available. But I must say that during the winter, I also get incredible and fresh produce. Even in the middle of January, the fruits and vegetables I can get at my local market are truly outstanding. And I live in a cold climate: in Montreal, Canada!

So, how do you find good produce where you live? Where should you go?

I’ve been buying fruits at the exact same market for the past 12 years. The owners know me, and always take time to show me everything that they’ve received, give me samples of their fruits, and talk about what’s in season and what’s great. I also get better prices than the average customer because of my loyalty to this one store.

No matter what type of food you want to buy: fruits, vegetables, seafood, etc. — I believe that it’s worth it to develop a relationship with your grocer. Here are some tips to find the best produce at the best price in your city:

1) Explore What’s Available and Ask Around

It took me a while to find the store where I shop. There are lots of produce stores in any given city, and I would only consider a few to be truly outstanding.

Initially, I started with the big outdoor market in my city (called the Jean-Talon Market). But then I found these shops surrounding the market, which were a lot better for fruit than what was available inside the market itself.

If there’s a big market in your city, you can start there, and ask around. Where can I buy the best imported fruits and vegetables?

Frankly, there are better such stores on the East Coast than on the West Coast. I don’t know why. On the West Coast (including British Columbia), farmer’s markets and health food stores are more popular, but there are few places where you can go and buy cases of produce. But still, it’s possible.

Asian markets are great places where you’ll be able to buy fruits by the box. They’re not as good as Italian or Greek markets, however.

When I was in Australia, the best market I found was the Queen Victoria Market. It’s got the flavor of a true year-round market. But in those markets, generally the best part is the little stores surrounding it. That’s where you’ll find some of the best importers in the country.

If you live in a big city, never think that you’ve run out of options. You’ll always find more stores if you keep looking and asking. Remember that many of these stores are not on the Internet; therefore, the best way to find them is by word-of-mouth.

2) Find a Place Where You Can Buy in Bulk

You don’t want to shop in a market where everything is sold by weight. You want to be able to also order boxes at a small discount.

Good grocers like to sell things by the box because it’s less work for them. They don’t have to take care of the produce on the shelves and spend time displaying it. If they receive daily shipments, it should be easy for them to sell you a box of something. If not, go somewhere else.

If you want to get an idea of where to shop in bulk, try to find out if there are produce distributers in your city where people can also go and buy boxes of food. For example, in Montreal, there’s a distributor called Gaetan-Bono that sells to restaurants and produce stores, but where anyone can go and pay cash to buy boxes of fruit and veggies (including organic).

These places might not be listed online or in the yellow pages, so again, ask around. Small Asian restaurants might not be big enough to order their produce from a distributor, so there’s a chance that they’ll be going to one of those places. Ask them.

Small health food stores (not Whole Foods and big chains) also have to buy their organic produce somewhere. Usually it’s from a distributor. But the secret that few people know is that almost anyone can go and open an account with these distributors, and start buying organic food in bulk. Sometimes, you will need a company name. In this case, it’s easy to register a small business for a small fee, and start your own food co-op between you and a few friends! This is a great way to get organic food at wholesale price. For conventional produce, it’s even easier.

3) Ask for a Discount for the Box (but not too much)

You should be able to get a discount if you get a box of something versus if you order by the pound. Don’t expect a huge discount, though. The best discount you’ll get is when you order food from a distributor. In this case, you can’t negotiate on the price.

If you buy cases at a produce store or an Asian market, they should be able to give you a discount on the box. But remember, the profit margin is very small, so don’t expect a huge discount or haggle too much.

The produce stores have to buy their food from their own distributors (usually you won’t have access to those networks). Let’s say they buy a case of cherries for $50. If they sell by the pound, they might make $80 on the case, but there will be some waste. In this case, they might be able to sell you a case for $65 to $70, depending on how generous they feel.

4) You Should be Able to Taste the Fruit

A good fruit grocer should be able to give you samples of any fruit you are considering buying, as soon as they realize that you are serious and that you will regularly be buying cases of fruit from them. If they refuse, after a few such visits, you should look for a better place.

My grocer will cut open any fruit on the spot to give me a sample — and will even do it with expensive fruits, like expensive melons or figs. He knows that if I like a fruit that he sells, I will be coming back for more and buying cases and cases of it, year after year.

5) Your Grocer Should be Knowledgeable about his Products

My grocer explained to me that they get up at 3:00 a.m. every day and order produce from all over the world. They receive new shipments every day and have to deal with several distributors in order to get the best products. That’s why his staff has a true expertise that’s been developed over decades.

They know all the different types of mangoes that are available throughout the year, when they’re at their best, how to properly ripen them, and when the new ones are coming out.

They know that clementines from Spain are far superior to the “crap” that most supermarkets get from Morocco, or which out-of-season fruits are worth it and which ones are not worth the price.

Basically, you should be able to trust your grocer with their advice and know that they are the best at what they do. If not, look somewhere else.

6) Stay Loyal

Once you find a good place, stay loyal to them because you know that such places are hard to find! You can still shop around, but try to always buy certain items from them, even if you could sometimes find them a little cheaper somewhere else. Your grocer will appreciate your loyalty and keep rewarding you with good prices and great produce!

7) Shop on the best days of the week

Ask your grocer when is the best day to come into their store. Sometimes, they receive their freshest produce on certain days of the week. My grocer receives new produce every day, but I try to come on Monday through Thursday to avoid the weekend crowds.

If you follow my tips, you should be able to find an outstanding place to buy produce in the closest, biggest city where you live. Keep us posted on the best places you find… we’d love to list them in a future article as a reference for everybody! Put it in your comments below.

Frederic Patenaude

Frederic Patenaude has been an important influence in the raw food and natural health movement since he started writing and publishing in 1998, first by being the editor of Just Eat an Apple magazine. He is the author of over 20 books, including The Raw Secrets, the Sunfood Cuisine and Raw Food Controversies. Since 2013 he’s been the Editor-in-Chief of Renegade Health.

Frederic loves to relentlessly debunk nutritional myths. He advocates a low-fat, plant-based diet and has had over 10 years of experience with raw vegan diets. He lives in Montreal, Canada.

3 COMMENTS ON THIS POST

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  1. Renee says:

    Love this article Frederick, thanks for the great advice! I’ve recently moved to Wasaga Beach, Ontario and have been looking for organic produce. I’ve joined a CSA with Edencrest Farm, a local organic farm but their selection is very limited so I also shop at the Collingwood Farmer’s Market, the Collingwood Food Co-op, Nicholyn Farm Market and a health store called Nutrition Plus in Barrie. My favourite large organic grocer is Nature’s Emporium in Newmarket but that’s an hour’s drive away so I only shop there once a month. If you know of any other good organic markets in this area I’d appreciate your input!

  2. Ellie says:

    I would love to know the best places to get good deals in Vancouver. I live in the downtown area near English Bay and the closest farmer’s market is at Nelson Park but prices are not that great. I usually end up going to Whole Foods…

    • I lived in Vancouver for a while (almost two years). Great fresh produce but not necessarily the best place for the types of deals I am talking about (same for the West Coast of the USA in general. It depends whether you want to get only organic or not. In Chinatown, there were some good produce stores that would give me deals buying boxes of fruit. Then, there’s Costco. For bulk organic foods (not produce), you can sign up with Horizons. It’s the main distributor there. They supply Whole Foods. Going to farms directly also works!

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