Almost every week, you can find me zipping through the aisles of my local Trader Joe's as I look for the healthiest food to pile into my cart.
Given the unending crowds that Trader Joe's is famous for, I often whiz right past the new products that the retailer puts out (like those butternut fries). But recently, an employee saw me eyeing some sliced oven-roasted turkey that I hadn't seen before, and he asked if I wanted to try it.
I was shocked when he ripped open the package right on the spot and offered me a slice. Then he explained that Trader Joe's customers can actually try most products before buying them. For free. I was floored. This is on a whole other level than those sad samples they plop into paper cups at most stores.
Before you go hog-wild: The policy doesn't apply to alcoholic beverages (alas), or to frozen foods or raw items that you would have to cook, of course. But the amazing hack lets you sample many of Trader Joe's best items—snacks, produce, cheese, deli products, salads, sushi—before you decide to spend cash on it.
It completely changed the way I planned my visits to the store, and I couldn't help but wonder: what other free benefits and services are available to customers at national grocery stores?
So I did a little digging and reached out to other major supermarkets across the nation and compiled this list of must-try (and free!) services that you should be taking advantage of:
In addition to the life-changing (for me, anyway) "try before you buy" policy, Trader Joe's has a return policy that is astoundingly generous. You're able to return, well, anything you'd like to. Didn't enjoy the new loaf of bread you picked up last week? You're free to return it for a full refund or exchange.
Though this German-based retailer is a relative newcomer, strong word-of-mouth (and some good press) has helped Aldi successfully integrate into the American supermarket landscape, with more than 1,750 stores in 35 different states.
Let's say you pop into Aldi for a box of water crackers to accompany your cheese plate, but after ripping them open and trying a few, you realized you would rather have a heartier cracker instead.
You'd be able to use Aldi's Double Guarantee, where you can bring back those crackers for a full refund, no questions asked. And, on top of getting your money back, you're able to pick out a new box of similarly-priced crackers to take home with you at no additional cost. What's better than a full refund and a free comparably priced item?
Kroger's customer loyalty program not only rewards the shopper with benefits, but it enables shoppers to give back to the community as well. Kroger shoppers can enroll in the Community Rewards program and earn money for a local organization of their choice every time they shop, which is definitely something to feel good about.
You'll also be interested to hear that Kroger is a meal-planners paradise: the chain offers an "Easy for You" program in their seafood department, where you can purchase a piece of fish and have it prepped with seasonings and garnishes, before it's placed into an oven-safe bag. You can choose from 12 different seasonings such as lemon pepper, rosemary garlic, or sesame ginger, and finish off your purchase with fresh dill, cilantro, thyme, or lemon. Did we mention this is completely free?
Unlike Aldi, Kroger doesn't rely heavily on privately held products in their stores—which includes brands like Private Selection and Simple Truth— but there is also a money-back guarantee on all of their privately branded products.
Diehard fans of this Southeastern-based grocery chain will immediately tell you that Publix employees are notoriously friendly, often handing you free deli samples or bakery cookies for children without being asked. You may have already heard of Publix's guarantee policy, where customers are able to return any item that doesn't provide "complete satisfaction" and get a full refund immediately.
But you'll want to pay attention at checkout, because another benefit is the Publix "Promise"—if the price of an item rings up as more expensive than the shelf label or the advertised price in the weekly circular, Publix will give you that item for free and charge the lower price for any additional items you're purchasing.
This also applies to BOGO (buy one, get one) items, which means you can still enjoy a deep discount on the single item without having to buy both.
Navigating Whole Foods can be complicated, but there are countless services that you'll want to start capitalizing on if you haven't already. Like Trader Joe's, Whole Foods is willing to give you a sample of nearly every product in the store when you ask a team member. Simply grab someone and point out the product you'd like to try, and they'll open it for you, free of charge.
If you end up liking the item, but only want a certain potion of it, Whole Foods team members are willing to sell you the exact amount you need. Only need half a cabbage? Not a problem.
You can also hack meal prep by asking the Whole Foods' butcher to cut your purchase exactly the way you want it. You can save time by having it cut into perfect 2-inch cubes of beef if you're heading home to make stew, for example. And while you're at it, you also can ask for your meat to be seasoned or marinated at no additional cost. For extra thrifty shoppers who love homemade stock, the meat department will often hand out leftover bones or sell them for a very low price if you ask—nicely, of course.
The same is true when you purchase seafood at Whole Foods: the team there will custom cut and debone any piece of fish you'd like to purchase, including peeling and deveining shrimp, free of charge.
Finally, Whole Foods offers mass sales on items during national food holidays—like on goat cheese for National Cheese Lover's Day, just this year. The store announces these sales just about a week before they begin, so be sure to ask about them. And also ask about a 10 percent discount for buying items in bulk, including wine and alcohol.