So this is Part II and in this one I will talk about the cost of Groceries and what they cost. So sit back have a cup of your favorite coffee and I really hope you are drinking Costa Rica Coffee and not Nesacafe instant! and enjoy today’s offering.
Like most things in Costa Rica it is really all about location and what you are willing to accept and not accept. As an example I was walking though Pricesmart and there were a couple items I was looking for. One was way to pricey even for me and the other item was way to pricey even for me, but I bought it anyway. So why did I buy one, but not the other. I know the 1st one I could get somewhere else cheaper and I would be going there as my next stop and the other I know I wouldn’t be able to get it anywhere else. Now I could have just done without it as it wasn’t a necessity to have, but I bought it any way. Its all a matter of your outlook and your pocketbook. There are so many options for your grocery needs in Costa Rica. Sometimes I think more than even in the states. I have complied below a list of a couple of those options with prices at each for the same or very similar items. You will notice that I only gave prices for 1 place for meats. I find all the other places to be inferior quality meat and thus would not suggest buying it at any of the places listed on the chart. As you can see his prices are so much better and so is the quality!
So lets 1st talk about Pricesmart. There are a couple of them here in Costa Rica. They are the equivalent to Costco in the states. They do have kirkland brands and a majority of your US brands you are looking for. Some items are cheaper while others are not. The difference between the bulk stores in the US and the ones in Costa Rica, is that bulk doesn’t mean cheaper here. You can go to a local market and buy 6 let say Paper towel rolls and it be the same price as a pack of 6 in Pricesmart. The meat products here are in larger quantities and they just don’t look good to me. Many people get their meat here, but there are better options!
Auto Mercado is the equivalent to Giant in the states. Its design and layout is very much the same. Again many US, Canadan, and German products can be found here. Their chicken and seafood is very good. The meats are hit and miss. They are way more expensive than Uncle Earls. You can find North American style cuts here as well as the local stuff.
Coope is the local Co-operative market here in Atenas. Now the prices I gave for them in the chart is the regular everyday prices. All items have two price stickers on the shelves. One is higher than the other. On Wednesdays the Coop day you get the lower price. Some items it is worth going in when they are busy for while others not so much. You do have options for lower prices if you shop on a Wednesday.
Feria is the local farmers market. Prices are cheaper here. Mostly fruits and veggies. There are many other things you can get at the Feria and many people buy their meat here. Me personally can’t bring myself to do it. Just don’t like the looks of things and again beef you can forget about it!!!!!!! Don’t even bother. If you missed it here is the video of my trip to the Feria with Eunice from Remax.
Uncle Earls is a butcher. A very good one at that. I will only buy my North American style beef products from him. See my blog post where I talk about the meat here in Costa Rica. Moo…Mooo…Slaughter…Grill…Eat!
Last but not least is Walmart! Yes they have Walmart here in Costa Rica. All of them have groceries. They are very much like the Walmarts in the states. I really can’t see a difference. Not even in the prices really. So, it should go without saying but I am going to say it they have US brands here. Walk into a Costa Rica Walmart and you feel like you have just went back to the states.
Now in addition to these you also have the Mega Super’s, The Pali’s, the, Mas x Menos, and the list could go on. There is a war raging right now for your $’s. So I would suggest taking a list and checking out the prices at all of these places and decide which is cheaper and most convenient for you to shop at. Once you know plan out your day and set a driving route that maximizes your drive and you get the best products at the best prices. It will take a little work on your part, but your pocketbook will thank you!
So below is a price comparison chart for groceries at each one of these places. I used Giant from the US to show US prices. I have used a currency converter to get the most recent exchange rates. I converted everything from KG to Lbs, and gallons to liters or liters to gallons. I tried to match the quantities at each location as best I could. This is pretty much comparing apples to apples. If I couldn’t find a US brand at one of the Costa Rica stores I used a local brand that was comparable to it. So take a look at the chart and than lets talk! :-)
Ok so as you can see Costa Rica is the winner! Most of the items I priced were cheaper here in Costa Rica than in the states. Yes some were more expensive, but over all grocery shopping is less expensive here than in the US. Now this next chart really bring it home.
Now with this chart I made sure that each store I added up the same items. If the items didn’t exist in the big chart at the top in all the stores than I did not include the item in the total. So this is apples to apples again. What you should notice is that for your produce it is cheaper to go to the Feria. As it should be! Again the US loses! Your other items its kind of a close run. The US did win when it comes to the other non food items, but not by much if you look at Pricesmart. Again because it is mainly a US brand store its pretty close to Giant prices in the US. It would pale in comparison to a Costco in the states. This isn’t a bad thing, because as you can see the other items are more expensive at the other stores.
Here are a few other things you need to know about shopping in Costa Rica. Let me stress this one point by telling you a little story. I promise to make it short. :-) Well as short as I can tell a story. Oh god its already gone on too long and I haven’t even begun the story yet.
So when we 1st got to Costa Rica and got our pricesmart card we were so happy. We shopped there all the time. There was this one item that my wife loved. It was Pineapple jelly! We bought it every time we went shopping. All of a sudden it isn’t there? Strange? Did they move it? Nope. Ok they are just out. So we go back the next time. Yes its there. We buy a jar. Next time nope not there. Next time nope not there. It has been over 8 months and the Pineapple jelly has not returned to pricesmart. I thought to myself, self ok they discontinued it or can’t get it any more. I started to see this trend in Auto Mercado and Walmart and Coope. Ok there is something to this, so I asked around. What I was told by a couple of people was this. If an items begins to sell like hot cakes, they will discontinue the item. It is more work to keep restocking the shelves so they just don’t carry it any more. This falls under the Pura Vida category. So the moral of this short yet now so short story is do not fall in love with any item. One day it is here and the next it is gone. Make sure you have options and alternatives.
- Buy it while you can and every time you can. You never know when it will go away or for how long it will go away. So stock up. I have 7 jars of minced garlic in my pantry right now as it went away for 2 months once.
- Price shop. This is common anywhere. Check your prices. Check them closely. Sometimes the local brands are cheaper and just as good, but sometimes they are not. I have been shocked that an imported items was way cheaper than a local product. Don’t just grab the item you know. It will raise the cost of your grocery shopping!
- Sometimes once you factor in costs driving around to other places it doesn’t save you money to save on certain items by going to more than one place to shop.
We go shopping once a week. We make a day of it. We go to our dietitian in the morning. We have lunch some where. I than hit the Pricesmart (right near where we usually have lunch) than we hit the Auto Mercado, on the way home, and than Coope if we need. I very seldom every shop at Walmart. Kind of out of the way and their prices are too much like those in the states. So we leave in the am and are home about 4pm. Its an all day event. Now I have to admit that I do not shop at the Feria much. As I get my veggies at either Pricesmart or Auto Mercado or Coope. Its a matter of convenience I am there and the prices are just a little more expensive and the Feria isn’t on the day I do my shopping. I could change the day, but again its a matter of preference really. I have developed my route that I’m only going maybe 10 min. out of my way driving time to visit all 3 places in one day.
There really isn’t anything you can’t either find here in Costa Rica or substitute. Its a matter of changing your mind set. You are in a new land and new ways of doing things and new foods in some cases. Shop local and shop fresh! Change the way you eat and shop and you can spend very little on groceries.
Part III will be on transportation costs. Own a car or take public transportation?
So let me go ahead and wrap this one up. I give Costa Rica 4 out of 5 for Groceries! The only reason I didn’t give it a 5 out of 5 is the now you see it now you don’t aspect of what may or may not be available.