Peruvian Grocery Stores… So Many Options!
Something I always took for granted in the USA was grocery shopping. Nine out of ten times I would go to Hannafords or Shaws, maybe Market Basket. The few times I didn’t was because I went to a produce stand or the farmer’s market. Where I lived there really weren’t many more options. But that’s not true in Peru! Peruvian grocery stores take on many, many shapes and sizes.
The Box Store… All Too Familiar
Before first coming to Peru I don’t think I expected to run into a box store. My thought was that all Peruvians did their shopping with street vendors. Or little street-side shops at the most. But stores that better resemble Super Walmarts than anything else? No way.
In Lima there are four major groceries stores: Tottus, Plaza Vea, Metro and Wong. The first three (Tottus, Plaza Vea and Metro) are more or less equal to each other. Product selection differs only slightly. And the prices are rather comparable. Wong, also owned by (or they own, I don’t know) Metro, is more high-end. It has a larger selection of import products. And it’s really only found in the more affluent districts.
I live nearest a Tottus, so I shop there most frequently. It is a spitting image of a smaller Walmart Super Center. You can do your grocery shopping while you buy clothes and furniture. Hell there’s even a respectable electronics department! Difference between Tottus and Walmart: the produce is fresh….. ahhh, yeah- dig on Walmart!
The advantage to these stores is simple: prices are marked. No negotiating the cost per kilogram for those oranges. Not only does this prevent gringos, like myself, from paying a marginal amount more- but it also speeds things up. You won’t be waiting for the person in front of you, or the vendedor (vendor/seller), to give up and accept the price.
The disadvantage are the lines in general. So many people shop at these stores because they have everything under one roof. No need to move between stalls to get your dinner items for the next few nights.
Centralized Markets- One Roof, Many Shop Owners
Moving down the line from largest to smallest, we run into these centralized markets. These are buildings that are filled with stalls. The building has been designed specifically for selling these stalls to vendors.
You can move, in rapid succession, from one shop to the next. Each shop is, quite literally, only eight to twelve feet in length and there’s no spacing between them. You might find three or four shops, in a row, all selling chicken. And on the other side of the corridor could be a couple vegetable stands, a misc. ingredients store (olives, spices, etc.), etc. etc.
The major advantage to these markets, versus the big box stores, are freshness and options. The big box stores are corporations with centralized inventories. These markets are all privately owned; what they carry is up to the shop owner.
Prices here may or may not be better, depending on what you are buying. My wife disagrees, but I tend to think we save a few Soles by going to Universal (a market close to us) instead of Tottus.
These are everywhere you look in Peru. And the majority of all shopping in Peru is probably done with these stores. Those coming from any western country will be familiar with these. They’re like the shops that line every Main St. or in any shopping center. One might be a butcher’s shop, the next might sell plastics.
A common feature in Peru is for shops of the same type to end up next to each other. So where you’ll find one butcher, you’ll find three more right next to it. So options are rarely ever an issue.
I was amazed by this, because it’s an increase in competition in rapid succession- and I couldn’t figure out why these people would buy/rent these stores just to be next to their competition.
My wife told me, and now it makes sense to me, that it increases foot traffic. People here don’t know that no-name’s-shop is on XYZ street. But when there are four or five similar shops on that same street, people will go there knowing the item they’re looking for will be ready for sale. The increase in competition leads to an increase in sales due to that street now being known as the place to go for some product.
Street-Side Carts… Mobile and Stationary
I’m going to wrap this up with the final, common type of peruvian grocery stores: street-side carts.
These come in both mobile and stationary flavors. Well- the stationary are mobile (as they need to pack up when they’re done for the day), but they aren’t moving throughout the day. Such carts are normally serving prepared foods; not really grocery shopping. But you’ll definitely find the occasional fruit and/or vegetable vendor. And by occasional, I mean you can’t go more than two blocks without running into a slew of them.
My favorite are the mobile carts. Being pushed around by their owner, these carts will go through residential neighborhoods and sell everything from vegetables to fruits to bread. All fresh, all very delicious and all very cheap. These guys have little to no overhead, so the prices on their products don’t need to be inflated so much. Problem is- unless they come by your house every day, you never know where one will be.
I Like Options
There are a couple other formats stores come in here (namely major outdoor markets that crop up on Sundays in certain neighborhoods), but the above represent the primary options.
When I first moved here, and saw the likes of Tottus for the first time, I figured I would shop at the box stores and little else. I’ve come to the conclusion now, however, that I enjoy my options.
What style of store do you prefer?