10 Years of Blog Archive

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Insider's Guide to Mercado Shopping in Latin America

Curiously, after watching all the YouTube videos with gringos bragging about the cheap prices at Mercado’s around the Latin American world, you’d think that they were the cheapest food finds. But contrary to that popular belief, Mercados are NOT always the best place to find bargains on food.

When are Mercado’s the best place to find food bargains? 

1.  When they do not have a big gringo market
2.  When gringos are not giving out tours of the Mercado’s to other gringos
3.   When you speak enough Spanish to be able to negotiate prices
4.  When you realize it’s a game between the seller and you
5.  When you take the time to know all the store prices and know the rule of buying at the Mercado

                                    Gringo Price Level

When many gringos go to the Mercado and do not negotiate and talk real loud in English about how cheap everything is, vendors end up raising their prices to the gringos.  She figures, if one gringo will pay a certain amount for her produce then the next gringo will too, and usually they will! 

The price is now at a gringo price level, at least for awhile, until she hears in English real loud, “Wow honey that’s cheap”…and she again raises the price once more. Pretty soon, the prices are no longer cheaper than the regular grocery store.

1. Never compare prices in Latin America with North America
2. Mercados are meant for negotiating, so negotiate!
3. If you do not speak Spanish then you can’t negotiate and Mercados are not for you!
4. If you are not willing to play the game then grocery stores are a better fit for you.

When prices at the Mercados start to become as high or higher than the grocery store, it’s time to say, “Bye-Bye Mercados.

In most of Panama and in Argentina prices are marked on all the fruits and vegetables at the Mercados; that means, everyone pays the same price and that’s what we’re waiting for Ecuador to do, once they start putting set prices on the produce, it will make shopping there a much less tedious and stressful shopping experience for everyone.

                                   Favorite Gringo Foods

Here’s what we’ve noticed. When favorite foods the gringos like are cheaper at the Mercado like sweet potatoes, blueberries, shrimp, etc….what happens is the great price ends up on a gringo forum and then all the gringos go to that vendor in the Mercado and what do you think happens next?   

That’s right, she gets a steady gringo traffic and so raises her prices, again, and again, and again…until these favorite gringo foods are no more good priced at the Mercado. In most cases the prices rise to the level where you could just go to the store and buy the item…amazingly, in some cases with favorite gringo foods, the prices go higher than U.S prices! We have shown you this price anomaly in videos and articles.

One such example is shrimp. Gringos brag about the price of shrimp at the Mercado like it’s so cheap…and that’s because they are comparing shrimp prices to North America! We already know what the price of shrimp should be at the Mercado… so we checked around town and actually found shrimp cheaper at the beautiful, clean, grocery store than at the Mercado! See our video about that below.

You know there is a problem with gringos mentioning prices on social media when that product becomes higher than the North American style grocery store sells it for!  That’s just one example but there are many that we could talk about, really.

              Buying Seasonal at the Grocery Store!

One way to stay ahead of the shopping game and keep your food bill low in these countries is to learn which fruits and veggies are in season. You can buy seasonal produce at the regular grocery stores and keep your food costs down that way. Or, sometimes the wheelbarrow vendors will give you a good price if you negotiate. But you will have to negotiate; otherwise they’ll give you the price the gringos are willing to pay. It’s a game and you’re the target but if you negotiate, you really aren’t a target. You see?

Negotiate with Street Sellers
Sometimes, not all the time, you can actually find a street seller that will give you a good deal on whatever they are selling, especially if it is a seasonal fruit or vegetable. The best way to get the local price is to listen to what she is selling it to the locals for and then get that price. If she won’t go that low because you’re a gringo, play the game and walk off.

Vendors on the street and at the Mercados are more likely to give you a better deal when you buy “more for less”. Most people only buy a half a pound or one pound for the asking price, but buy three pounds and ask for a lower price per pound and they’ll think about it for a second and then say, “ok”. It’s because they are getting more money. You’re thinking “value” and their thinking “more money” at the moment.

If You want to be Treated Like a Local, Stop Acting Like a Gringo!

The most important thing about shopping for food in local Mercados in these Latin countries is this. Just have fun playing the game; we’re never disrespectful; in fact, the best way to “play the game” is smile real big and say, “no gracias” and walk away!  You might end up walking away a lot. Next week, go back to that same vendor and watch what she does. Nine times out of ten, she lowers the price!  

And folks, these are our gringo secrets for paying local prices at the Mercados! 

Of course, if you're just a tourist and only staying a few months you probably don't want to spend all this time developing relationships with the food sellers. But if you live anywhere in Latin America and if you want to be treated like a local when it comes time to pay, stop acting like a gringo. (We're being facetious of course...LOL)

However most gringos don’t have time for that, so then again,  you really are better off avoiding the Mercado and going straight to the grocery store. 

Unfortunately, with all the silly YouTube vidoes out there about gringos paying way over the going price, Mercado’s are over rated!   And now that they’ve been showcased on social media and on RAMM magazines (Retire Abroad Media and Magazines), we seldom use them now a days and besides we don’t recommend them for hygienic reasons.

We know that gringos will pay a bit more for stuff at the Mercado and we're willing to pay that little bit more but when it becomes "outrageously more" that's just plain silly.

We hope you got something out of our Insider's Guide to Mercado Shopping. We want to share our secrets, tips and tricks with those who actually appreciate the work we do to bring you the best updated information available in the travel abroad world.

 Here’s a few more articles below about shopping and prices you might find interesting. Thanks for your patronage.

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