Why Do Grocery Stores Have Sales? (and how they get picked)


Grocery store sales often seem like a great deal. But sometimes when we look a little closer, we might realize it’s not quite as good a deal as we thought. So why do grocery stores have sales?

Here’s what I know from 20+ years in the industry:

Manufacturers give stores discounts which temporarily lower the price on well-known items as well & newly introduced items. But, grocery stores often discount items that are short-dated or out of season in order to sell through excess inventory. Any dollars are better than no dollars if it has to be thrown away.

But there’s a lot more to know about grocery stores and products on sale.

So in this article, we’re diving deep into the sometimes complicated world of grocery store sales. We’ll look at why they have sales instead of just everyday low prices. But we’ll also explore how they pick items and how to get the most out of your discounts.

Let’s dive in!

Are grocery store sales designed to make shoppers buy more?

Yes is the short answer.

For most people, buying groceries is a well-planned activity. We take inventory of what’s in our cupboard. Then we make a list. We might even use our store’s coupon app to see what coupons are available for us to use.

Most of us with families never go to the store without a list and fixed budget. For my wife and me, that day is Thursdays and we allocate exactly $200 for our family of 5 to get us through 1 week. But if that sounds like a lot, I still remember back when our budget was $80 for the week.

That works most of the time but sometimes, when there are awesome sales, it fails to work.

This is because the sales are enticing and are presented in a way that makes us think that we getting more value for their money.

Now if it’s something already on our list, that’s great.

But most of the time they aren’t things we need or thought of. They are “wants” and not “needs” if you get my distinction.

This is one of the reasons why stores use sales. It helps them drive customers to make extra purchases which mean more profit for them.


Having sales also bring attention to products that don’t sell as fast.

By placing sales or coupons on slow-selling items, more people will be able to notice the products and possibly want to try them out.

If they end up liking it, they will come back for more in the future.

If it picks up sales such that the store doesn’t have to get rid of it, that’s a win-win for the store, the customer, and the manufacturer.

The best way to stick to your budget is to stick to your list and walk right on by those enticing sales.

Even if the products have great discounts, if you end up throwing them away when they go out of date, you haven’t actually saved anything.

How do grocery stores decide what goes on sale?

Most of the time the grocery stores don’t decide what to put on sale.

Such decisions are usually made by the manufacturers who supply the stores with products. That’s at least true of what goes into the store sales flyer. Those products are often presented to the store’s corporate buyers by the manufacturer’s sales reps 6 or more months in advance.

In other cases, however, the store or department managers can decide to put something on sale. That’s especially true of what’s called “short-dated products. These are things that are expiring soon. In this case, selling them at a discount is better than throwing them away and making nothing.

Grocery stores may also place items on sale based on the season.

For instance, you’re not likely to see whole turkeys being put on sale other than right after Thanksgiving. This is because after Thanksgiving is done, most people don’t want to buy turkeys. So if they over-bought for Thanksgiving and have a ton left over, a sale may be the only thing that can save their profit margins.

The same applies to other products such as hams that are put on sale after Easter.

The seasonal discounts are also driven by the competitiveness among grocery stores. Most people will be looking for a specific product during the specific season.

So, most stores will want to outdo each other and have the best prices. That enables them to make the most sales possible.

This can only be done by giving consumers the discounts they want. So often that means putting things on sale to bring the customers in.  They also know that if a customer comes into their store for a specific item, they are more likely to do the rest of that shopping there too.

They also are more likely to convert that shopper to shop there for the rest of the year too.

Can I use a coupon on top of a sale price?

In most cases, yes.

But always read the coupon first.  There are store coupons, manufacturer coupons, and some are online, while others are paper. You should understand the limits that every store has before you try to combine them.

My local HEB store where my wife and I shop has an online coupon app. But we still grab the store’s paper coupons for items we’re buying just in case. While not always the case, there have been plenty of times that an item is on sale plus has a coupon.

So yes, in those cases, we get both discounts, which is great!

By learning about the limitations, you’ll be able to find the best deals. Just watch the cash register as you are checking out to make sure you’re getting your discounts.

These days store POS (point of sale) systems are complicated.

Most chain stores have corporate tech teams who program the coupons and sale prices. Then the local stores often have IT people maintaining that. And that’s on top of the cashiers ringing everything up.

Every step along that process is a chance for human error to come into play. So it pays to pay attention when you’re getting rung up.

On top of combining a sale price and a coupon, there is also what’s known as coupon stacking.

In this case, you use both a store coupon and a manufacturer coupon. Target is one of the big stores that allow this, but a place like Wal-Mart doesn’t. Check with your local store to see if they allow it.

It’s a great way to get even better savings!

Here is a handy cheat sheet for some of the biggest store’s coupon policies

Store Allows Competitor Coupons? Allows More Than 1 Coupon Per Item? Allows Digital Coupons on  Your Phone? Has Coupon App for Android? Has Coupon App for Apple?
Safeway No Varies by store No. Must be printed Yes – Safeway Deals & Rewards Yes – Safeway Deals & Rewards
Kroger No stated policy No stated policy Yes as long as it scans Yes – Kroger Yes – Kroger
Walmart No No No No No
Target No Yes, but only 1 of each type Yes as long as it scans Yes – Target Yes – Target
Whole Foods No, except stores in Michigan Yes, but only 1 of each type Yes as long as it scans Shows Sales but Doesn’t Have Coupons Shows Sales but Doesn’t Have Coupons

Why don’t grocery stores just have everyday low prices instead of sales?

Having prices on daily low prices is great in theory. And some chains do operate that way like Aldi, for instance.

The downside to that is it can give the impression the store is low-end or cheap. That is, indeed, how most people see Aldi.

Consumers will have the impression that the products sold by that store are cheap. Even worse if they think a store is selling returned or out of date items. Once a store gets that reputation, they often lose all but the most frugal bargain shoppers.

Aside from Aldi, other discounters like Grocery Outlet also fit that model. Although truth be told, most of those types of stores still have sales.

Having a sale also makes customers feel like they are getting a deal. This gives them loyal customers and major sales can put them above the competition.

But sales are also designed to get customers to buy products they don’t even need.

This makes it a great way for the stores to clear out some of the old products without incurring huge losses. Or gets new products in the hands of consumers who might not know of that product yet.

Plus in many cases, it’s the manufacturer giving at least some of the savings, so it’s not all coming from the grocery store’s profit.

Most stores only put up sales for a specific duration.

Some also have clearance sections all the time. By doing that, their customers actually seek out the clearance section. And even at a deep discount, every purchase off the clearance shelf is a purchase no one planned to make.

And again, even selling something at 50% off is better than throwing it away and making nothing.

What day do grocery stores mark down meat?

Most grocery stores get their meat during the weekend. Busier stores may get multiple deliveries throughout the week.

Of course, different stores have different policies too. So there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.

But for those that do, they will try to sell it as soon as possible by Monday. Any meat still on the shelf will be marked down.

So, that makes Tuesdays one of the best days to shop around for discounted meat.

It’s also a good idea to shop around any day after the store has had a big sale.

The big sales usually have some discounted prices. But if you go one day after the sale is over you’ll most likely find what was left after the sale.

And those will be even cheaper than the price used during the sale!

The right timing is also as important as going on the right days. For meat departments, in particular, those employees and the meat manager typically work early; like 4 am or so.

So between 8am and 10am shortly after they’ve checked the dates of what’s on their shelves is a great time to shop. They’ve culled their shelves and slapped sale stickers on anything close dated.

Shopping during these times is also ideal because there are a few people available in the stores.

As I said above, every chain might operate a little differently from one another.  So befriending the employees or butcher is a great idea.

You’ll be able to find out their schedules regarding the markdowns. And you’ll be able to get the best deals.

Remember to keep the discounted meat frozen if you can’t use all of it immediately. A ziplock freezer bag helps keep freezer burn away, but unopened packages of meat or poultry should be fine at least for a few weeks to a month.

Is buying discounted meat or poultry a good idea?

Yes is the short answer.

Like other discounted products, buying poultry and beef on discount can help you save a lot of money.

So that makes it a good idea. Just don’t buy stuff solely because it’s on sale. Know what you already have in your fridge or freezer. Then plan out your meals and buy accordingly. That ensures you don’t end up wasting something.

Buying discounted meat helps you save a lot of money and is a great way to cut your grocery bill.

Because it was almost expired when you bought it do be cautious when thawing. Many people like to thaw frozen meat by setting it in the sink for hours on end.  Since this product was close to bad, it should not be thawed that way.

Instead, you can either use your microwave defrost setting. Or, place the meat or poultry in a ziplock bag and place it in a sink filled with warm water. Then just place a heavy pot on top to keep it submerged.

20 minutes should be about right to thaw most things.

Did I cover all you wanted to know about grocery stores and why they have sales?

In this article, we took an in-depth look at the world of grocery stores and sales.

We examined why they have sales and how they pick the items that go on sale. But we also looked into things like when meat goes on sale. And if buying meat on sale is a good idea.

Ultimately, we answered the question of why do grocery stores have sales.

Sales are usually good for both the consumer and the store but as the customer, you have to ensure that you choose your products carefully and check their expiration dates.

Try to avoid impulse buying.

But if you can’t, make sure you can use the items you’re buying on sale; especially if the expiration date is close. You should also try to get value for your money by looking for things on sale that also have a coupon available for discount stacking.

Jeff Campbell

Hi! I'm Jeff Campbell. I was a leader for Whole Foods Market for over 2 decades. I worked in 9 stores in 4 states, not counting the hundred-plus stores I've assisted in other ways. I was a Global All-Star, a Gold Pen Winner, and won Top-10 Store (company-wide) 3 times in addition to Best New Store (company-wide).

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