Penny-pinching in the pantry in Eagle County |

Penny-pinching in the pantry in Eagle County

Sarah Mausolf
Vail CO, Colorado
HL Supermarket 01 TS 05-03-08

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado ” Edwards resident Tom Swarsen has been taking fewer trips to the grocery store recently.

He used to shop four times per week at City Market or Wal-Mart in Avon. Since the economy soured, though, Swarsen and his wife cut back to twice a week.

“We don’t shop as frequently ” saves gas,” Swarsen said.

Some locals have been changing their habits at the supermarket in response to rising food and fuel prices amid a sagging economy. Their strategies differ but they all have the same goal: save money.

Perusing produce at City Market in Avon, Tricia Blaikie said she’s been heading to the market more often since the economy went south.

“I don’t want to be throwing things out,” the Eagle-Vail resident said. “I shop for two or three days instead of for the week.”

For East Vail resident Susan Lynch, planning ahead helps to minimize costs. Instead of shopping on a whim, she’s been drafting a list.

“I coordinate: We had cabbage, now I’m having stir-fry to use the cabbage again,” she said.

Freezing foods also helps her get more mileage out of them. She’s been buying more meat from Costco in Gypsum for the freezer.

The price of basics such as corn, wheat and rice have escalated in recent years, and the cost hikes are not expected to subside any time soon. For shoppers, that means higher prices on everything from meat to bread. Retail food prices are expected to increase by 4 to 5 percent this year, and that follows a 4 percent rise in 2007, which was the largest annual increase since 1990.

One factor driving up prices is the fact that farmers are planting more crops for ethanol and other biofuels instead of food. At City Market, this has translated into higher prices for flour and milk. “We have been able to absorb some of that cost ourselves but a portion has been passed along to the consumer,” City Market spokesman Trail Daugherty said.

This spike has prompted some shoppers to be more discerning about what they buy.

“I’ve definitely been paying more attention to the prices of things,” Edwards resident Whitney Crocco said. “Before, I didn’t really look at the prices so much.”

Rather than buying a whole gallon of milk, she’s been downsizing to a half gallon to avoid waste. Coupons have also helped her save money on diapers for her 7-month-old daughter.

Even as Americans sink into financial quicksand, though, they still need to eat. The Village Market in Edwards remains largely unaffected, except for a 1 to 2 percent drop in produce sales, assistant store manager Bobby Barrigar said. He declined to disclose total sales figures. Instead of skimping on groceries, consumers are buying more food for home-cooked meals to save money on eating out, Barrigar said.

“Instead of spending $100 at a restaurant for two they can come in and spend $30 for dinner and have the same thing,” he said.

At City Market in Avon, customers are gravitating toward sale items. “We are not seeing much change in the mix of products consumers purchase,” Daugherty said. “That’s pretty well holding steady but we are seeing a greater response to our weekly ad items.”

Deals such as last week’s two-for-one boxes of strawberries are generating renewed interest, Daugherty said. The food for fuel program has been picking up as well. For every $100 customers spend on groceries, they can get 10 cents off a gallon of fuel, for up to 50 gallons at one time, Daugherty said.

Although locals are hacking away at their budgets, many are trimming around food. Evangelina Munoz, an Edwards resident browsing the bread selection at Wal-mart, said she cut down on clothes and travel, but made no concessions on groceries.

“Food: There is no difference,” she said. “I have kids and I still have to feed them. Whatever is good for them.”

High Life Writer Sarah Mausolf can be reached at 970-748-2938 or The Los Angeles Times-Washington Post News Service contributed to this article.

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