New discount grocery store in Pittsburgh!

UPDATE: At the beginning of 2011, Market Outlet moved one block southeast to 1700 Penn Avenue.  It now carries a few types of fresh produce, some frozen foods, and the weird brands of soda mentioned below.

Market Outlet has opened in the Strip District basement formerly occupied by KML, on Smallman Street just east of the Sixteenth Street Bridge.  It is a very similar type of store: groceries and such that are surplus from supermarkets, at prices ranging from incredibly low to about what you’d pay in the supermarket.  (As with most bargain shopping, you have to have a sense of what things normally cost to know whether it’s a bargain or not.)  A lot of things are strange brands you never saw before, which just adds to the fun, in my opinion!

We were thrilled to see this store when we went to the Strip on Saturday.  We’d been mourning the loss of KML since it closed last fall.  Market Outlet is not exactly the same; it has less inventory and is almost all food, with some health-and-beauty products, cleaners, and stationery but none of the clothing and housewares KML offered–but this may change as the store gets established and finds more sources of inventory.  (The cashier said they’ve been open less than two months.)  On the good side, Market Outlet has improved the shopping experience by repairing the lighting, fixing the dripping pipes overhead, and either improving the concrete floor or rearranging the shelving such that you walk on the level parts.  The overall atmosphere still says, “You’re shopping in a basement.” but I kind of like that–they’re not spending money on decor, and they’re passing on the savings to us!

Our notable finds were

  • canned apricots (my favorite canned fruit, more nutritious and less pesticided than peaches, but now scarce in our neighborhood supermarkets) for $1.09
  • 10 ounces organic coffee for $1.49  (That’s $2.38 a pound, less than half what we normally pay for coffee! And it’s reasonably tasty.  It’s Juan Valdez brand.)
  • plant-based dish detergent in a full-size bottle for 99c.  It’s Spring Aire brand, which I never saw before, but the label states clearly that it is petroleum-free.  Smells nice, too!
  • high-fiber, high-protein cereal for 99c, called something like South Beach Living Strawberry Harvest Crunch.  It looks kind of like dry dog food with freeze-dried strawberries and weird little heart-shaped crunchies, but it tastes okay.
  • Combos cheese-filled pretzel snacks in single-serving packets at 3 for $1.  You might think that we healthy eaters would steer clear of The Official Cheese-Filled Snack of NASCAR (I am not kidding; they say that on the package), but we really like Combos, and they do contain some nutrients along with the saturated fat and sodium.  We just buy them only when we find a really good price.

In addition to things we wanted to buy, we saw a few very silly/horrifying things, like we always did at KML.  For example, there was a large quantity of marshmallow French fries with Kandy Ketchup.  I guess potato fries with tomato ketchup just aren’t unhealthy enough to appeal to some people. Then again, maybe it was because they didn’t appeal that they turned up, slightly squashed, at Market Outlet.

Two things we learned at KML, also true of Market Outlet: they sometimes have things that are past their sell-by dates, and they sometimes have things in damaged packaging.  Neither of these is always a problem.  Some foods in sealed packages are still good months or years after the date marked; you have to think about what kind of food it is and whether the price is low enough that you’re willing to risk finding it’s inedible.  Some types of package damage don’t actually affect the contents. For example, a bottle of eyedrops in a torn-up box probably is just fine, but if there’s no safety seal around the cap of the bottle, beware.  We once bought at KML a huge cardboard canister of French-fried onions that looked as if it had been kicked; it had a huge dent in the side, but the cardboard was not actually broken; we got the onions out of it and stored them in jars, and they were perfectly good, at 1/4 the price of the tiny little cans from the supermarket.  However, KML also featured 8 for $1 cans of soda displayed in trashcans, and there were three reasons for the low price: They were weird brands like Cotton Club and Rocky Fresh, they were separated from their six-packs, and some of them were dented to the point of leakage.  You could dig through there and choose cans that were in good condition, but you’d have to wash them when you got home to remove the sticky dregs from the other cans!

Speaking of soda, Market Outlet at this point does not have any off-brand sodas, only Pepsi and Sierra Mist and such.  I noted the price (we don’t drink soda at home, but my church will need some for an upcoming event) and then checked the prices at Costco when we went there on Sunday.  Costco’s prices are lower, and I know from past experience buying for the church that the regular supermarkets’ sale prices on name-brand sodas sometimes beat Costco’s prices.  It pays to shop around!

Shopping at an outlet store is always an adventure!  You can’t go in looking for a specific thing and be sure of finding it.  But if you look around to see what you can use, often you find some good stuff.