25 Grocery Store "Loss Leaders" That People Swear By To Restock Their Pantries For Cheap

Rising grocery store prices have been taking a big bite out of people's budgets in 2022. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the cost of eating food at home is up 13% over what it was last year.

woman looking at a grocery receipt
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In response, people have been sharing ways to save money on groceries. Over on Reddit, a post about Costco's $5 rotisserie chickens being "loss leaders" led u/progress-competitive to ask people for other items grocery stores use as "loss leaders" that shoppers can stock up on for less.

In case you're not familiar, a "loss leader" is an item that retailers sell for less than it's worth to get people in the door to buy other, higher-priced items.

First, u/talik1978 shared three solid tips for spotting a "loss leader" in the wild, writing, "Which items are loss leaders usually varies from store to store, but there are common trends to look for."

a 'sale sign at a store

"1. They're usually advertised. Loss leaders don't lead people in if they don't know about them.

2. They're usually in the back of the store, unless doing so would be impractical. They want you to look at all their profit drivers while you're going to get them.

3. They're typically tied to an item with a higher profit margin. If milk is a loss leader, cereal is more profitable. If lunch meat is on sale, the cheese may be profitable.

Not all stores do this. Some offer package deals. At HEB, for instance, you might buy a 2-pound bag of seasoned fajita meat, and get a can of refried beans, tortillas, salsa, and a 2-liter of store soda free with it."

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And people shared the specific loss leaders they've come across in the thread. Here's what they had to say:

1."Frozen turkeys at the holidays are usually considered one of the bigger loss leaders."

thanksgiving dinner on the table

u/dry_apartment_6037

"Makes sense. Turkey at $0.40/lb and you'll load up on stuff for the rest of the meal, much of which is higher profit margin and very seasonal."

u/teripid

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2."I work for a beer distributor, and therefore, know the wholesale price that the store pays. I will often see stores lose a dollar or two, even four or five dollars, on a 12-pack. Guess they figure you'll buy enough chips and other stuff to make up for it."

u/productstandard1415

3."Hot dogs from Costco."

the costco food court
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4."In the US, it has to be bananas. How you gonna get a tropical fruit to cold ass New England in the middle of winter and then charge $0.49 per pound?"

it's one banana michael what could it cost 10 dollars

u/squarewet

"I work for a large group of grocery chains, and I know for sure bananas are sold at a loss. The idea behind it is that the price for bananas can drive perception for how expensive the store is."

u/second_walk

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5."I know in my local area, the generic milk and generic bread are the biggest loss leaders."

u/living_run2573

6."I was a manager in a meat department at a grocery store. Any meat that's advertised on the front page is a massive loss to the stores. We would sell a prime rib roast for $6.99/lb when the actual cost was about $13/lb."

u/endseeker90

7."In stores with real bakeries (as in they actually bake the bread), the whole bakery is often a loss leader. That doesn't mean the products are cheap, but the bakery itself makes little to no money, or even loses money. It's there to draw in customers so they shop the whole store. You come in for fresh donuts or bread or a custom cake, and you pick up the week's groceries while you're there. It may not seem like a great deal on the sticker, but that fresh loaf of bread would be way more expensive if they were trying to make money."

grocery store bakery employee handing a loaf of bread to a customer
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8."I used to be very, very broke. But I would still go to Whole Foods because they had very good deals on the end caps closest to the registers. Those have got to be loss leaders. Also, whatever big sales a store runs in their weekly flyers. A loss leader doesn't work if you don't know it exists. They're going to LEAD with it."

u/collins08480

"The sale prices at more expensive stores are very often cheaper than the sale prices at a cheaper store on the SAME EXACT ITEM. The cheaper store just has a cheaper REGULAR price."

u/supaflyirl

9."Basically, my entire produce department, especially the big sale items. I frequently sell avocados for a 25¢ or more loss each, grapes at a loss per pound, etc. BUT then, I make up for it with packaged items like nuts and salads, where there is a high profit margin."

u/etsprout

10."Eggs are a major loss leader at Aldi. They check local stores and make sure they’re the lowest priced BY FAR, but of course, no one ever leaves with just eggs."

woman looking at a package of eggs
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11."In south Texas, our local grocery stores sell brisket as a loss leader. Buy the meat cheap, then spend the cash on the other barbecue fixings."

u/worshipnickofferman

12."Paper products, especially the stuff on sale. And there will always be something on sale. So, toilet paper, paper towels, and stuff like that."

u/hurtfeelingsinjail

13."On sale soda is the one that comes to mind after being a cashier for a couple years."

grocery store soda aisle with sale prices marked
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14."For those of you who have Publix in your area, I'm pretty sure their subs are 'loss leaders.' As of two weeks ago, they still have not raised the price of them from what they were three years ago (before all of this fun inflation hit)."

u/richbeezy

15."I work in consumer analytics in the grocery industry. The one that comes to mind that most people don't think about is barbecue sauce. On the bigger brands, like Sweet Baby Ray's, a lot of retailers actually lose a few cents per unit. Past that, diapers are a big one."

u/fappy_as_a_clam

16."Flowers at Trader Joe's — they are selling them at cost. I am in the floral industry, and wholesalers are sometimes more expensive than TJ's."

woman buying flowers at a Trader Joe's
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17."I work in groceries. A lot of promotional products are considered loss leaders. New items, limited-time items. We make the most off of our house-brand items, but even those margins aren’t huge."

u/dh_no_luck

18."Former Dollar General manager here. Dollar General had several. Bleach, paper towels, and Fabuloso. The rule is anything placed in the back of the store were loss leaders. The idea is that you come in for these necessities, but won’t walk all the way to back without buying SOMETHING else."

u/browncoat47

19."Former grocery store deli department manager here. The ENTIRE DEPARTMENT was a loss leader. We sold most things at a loss, except for nice cheeses, salami, and some other things. Most sliced meat, for example, was sold at a loss."

woman pointing to a grocery deli case
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20."My dad owns a small farmers' market, and our loss leader is green beans. We are a small operation, and there is no way to make green beans profitable on our scale. But being a one-stop shop for produce is how we make a profit, so green beans are on sale."

u/rj924

21."The frozen salmon club packs from Whole Foods. This is a documented loss leader, and I live on these packs."

u/augustrem

22."Seafood. I work as a butcher, and we throw a ton of it away. Most people are just not confident about how to cook it, so a lot of what we have is mostly for show."

lobster tails on ice in a grocery case
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23."A lot of the times, BOGO, specifically Buy 1 Get 1 Free, are sales to get people in the door to buy other things as well. They lose profit on said item but get profit from you shopping for other stuff while you're there."

u/autumnlove92

24."I used to work for Fred Meyer. All Kroger-owned stores that have an electronics section are using it as a loss leader to try and be a one-stop shop. We tried to sell protection plans pretty hard since it was one of the only things we didn’t lose money on."

u/redlaymerej

25."Not exactly a grocery, but baby diapers are generally loss leaders. Parents of kids need a lot of stuff and generally don't have time. So, it makes sense for supermarkets to get them in the store and sell a lot of items."

young dad buying diapers
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But finally, always remember, "Just because the store is losing money doesn't mean you're saving money."

u/pheret87

What are your favorite grocery items that you can still stock up on for cheap? Shout them out in the comments.