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Digital discount shelves: how to save big on groceries at a time when prices are rising

Shipping delays, worker shortages, and supply chain issues are a few reasons grocery prices have jumped during the pandemic, but there are some easy ways to save.

BUFFALO, N.Y. — During the height of the pandemic, grocery store shelves were thinning out. There were shortages on everything from toilet paper to disinfectant wipes to meat.

While you might not see a ton of product shortages these days, there's something else you might not see either: big sales and deep discounts.

The Supermarket Guru, Phil Lempert, is a food marketing expert and trend watcher. He says the lack of deals is another trickle down effect of the pandemic.

"When we walked into stores and for the first time in our lives, we saw empty shelves, we freaked out but also the super market freaked out," said Lempert. "Those specials and those promotions are done months in advance, and if you as a retailer have no idea what's going to be on your shelf in two months from now or three months from now, you can't promote. It's just physically impossible."

Lempert expects grocery prices to continue to rise for the next year to year and a half.

"What we're going to see is a lot of heavy investment over the next 12 to 18 months to have a more secure, more safe, more efficient food supply. Will prices go down after that? Probably not," said Lempert.

But that doesn't mean you have to pay full price for all of your groceries.

Western New Yorkers have found different ways to save — in some cases up to 50 percent off!

Flashfood is like a digital discount shelf. Download the free app, scroll to shop, and get up to 50 percent off items from Tops that are near their sell by or use by dates.

"[They're] still perfectly good food items you can use — might be a great item as you're coming home from work and trying to figure what am I going to put on the table tonight for dinner," said Kathy Sautter, public and media relations manager for Tops Friendly Markets.

Best/use by dates are listed right in the app, so you can decide what's best for you to purchase or pass on. You pay right in the app and pick up your items in store.

Selections change day to day and week to week, but Flashfood has deals on meat, produce, dairy items, baked goods, and more. They even offer $5 produce boxes that have a mix of vegetables inside.

Tops introduced Flashfood as a pilot program in six stores in August 2020. In December 2020, they expanded it to 33 stores across Western New York. More than 90,000 people in the region have taken advantage of the deals so far.

Flashfood also works with other grocers across the country.

Online grocery subscription services like Imperfect Foods and Misfits Market offer discounts on items with some flaws, like cosmetic quirks or odd sizes.

Mary Gartland of the Town of Tonawanda has been using Misfits Market for several years. She's on a plant-based diet which can be pretty expensive, but she can get almost everything she needs for $30 every other week.

"There may have been one or two times where I got a pepper that was broken a cucumber that was squashed on the end a little bit, but the quality has been remarkable as far as I am concerned. The fact that it's all organic and costs less money is amazing," said Gartland.

Misfits Market offers up to 40 percent off of produce and other grocery items, and it's shipped right to your door.

"The only way I could get this kind of quality at this price would be to go to a farmers market, and so many of them have not been happening since COVID," said Gartland.

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