This month John tells us about his experience with grocery shopping in Jamaica.
Jamaica Magazine

Grocery Shopping In Jamaica by American Retiree in Jamaica

Gocery shopping is very different in Jamaica. I am used to the large supermarket chains with aisle upon aisle of nearly every food and non-food item your heart desires. Shopping is done once a week with detail given to each chain’s weekly advertised specials. With the three major supermarket chains within 3-4 miles of my house, it was a matter of scanning each store’s advertisement to see where I would shop that week. There were many times I had to go to several stores to capitalize on their sale items. If I needed something during the week and didn’t want to stand in long lines at the supermarkets, I had the option of small independent stores,
which might have a meat or deli department to attract shoppers, or the little “mom and pop” corner variety stores. Both of these types of stores had prices considerably higher than the big chains.

Another big plus in the Boston, Massachusetts area, were “cent’s off” coupons. Manufacturer’s would mail these coupons directly to your home, usually called “junk mail.” These coupons, which ranged in amounts from US 10 cents to several dollars, were issued on new items to entice you to try them or on regular items in direct
competition with other manufacturers. Whereas these coupons could be used anywhere, the big supermarkets would offer to double or even triple the face value of the coupons up to a dollar. Several newspaper stories have been written over the years about how wise shoppers would collect these coupons, plan their menus around them and supermarket ads, and spend next to nothing at the checkout. There are many local clubs especially for swapping coupons. That is taking it to the extreme if you ask me.

But as I said before it is different in Jamaica. There are three major chains. Super Plus is the largest with 38 stores, Progressive Grocer’s has 21, including 9 Shopper’s Fair stores, and Hi-Lo has 13 stores, all located island wide. Montego Bay has 3 Super Plus stores, 2 Shopper’s Fair, and 1 Hi-Lo. Interestingly, they all advertise in one of the two national newspapers weekly.

Another way to purchase groceries is in the numerous small wholesale/retail stores. They can be found throughout downtown Montego Bay with the highest concentration around the Charles Gordon produce market. These stores, for the most part, don’t have aisles but have windows in front where you select the items and a clerk gathers
them.

Jamaica does not use manufacturer’s coupons. Instead, they use discounts for multiple purchases. Shelf stickers have two prices. The first one is for one item while the second price is for three of those items. If you use a particular item often enough, it pays to buy three of them at a time. The small stores add case pricing as
well which saves even more. Generally, the smaller stores are cheaper than the giant ones, which is just the opposite of the USA, but their variety is considerably smaller making it necessary to shop in more than one place.

The Jamaican supermarkets are not stocked as well as those in America. Through trial and error I have learned to buy in quantity. Too often out-of-stock items can be missing from a few weeks to several months. Case in point is 1 liter boxed 1% milk. Neither of the two Jamaican dairy producers had any on the shelf for a few months with the exception of one dairy selling 250 ml(about 8 ounces) boxes with shorter than normal shelf life. There was a time when no boxed milk was available at all.

As I mentioned above, stores offer special pricing on purchases of three of that item at one time. This means if cans of diced tomatoes come 24 to a case and 8 people buy three cans, the product is sold out. I have found that even in the largest of supermarkets out-of-stock items are the norm rather than the exception. One store has ample stock of Pepsi while another’s supply is sporadic. In other words, each of these three chains force you to shop each other if you need a certain product. This came to a head a year or so ago when cat food was as scarce as hen’s teeth. My cats were looking at me for food instead of to me.

Two major differences inside the stores are firstly, no deli department. Cold cuts are rare and can only be found in vacuum packed packages. Prepared salads, bulk olives, and pickles are non existent. The second difference is the stores buy hundred pound bags of rice, sugar, cornmeal, and both all purpose and counter flour, among
other things. These are all broken down by the supermarkets into one or two kilogram bags and are sold significantly cheaper than brand name goods.

No one has ever tried to convince that Jamaica is a third world country, I knew that before I moved here. I have learned in time how to deal with these differences. My belly has always been full up and my pantry is well prepared for the current hurricane season.

About the author

John Casey