Ryan’s Guide to Grocery Shopping

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The seafood here is cheap, compared to the big grocery stores.
The Plaza Minorista is almost like a landmark in Prado Centro.
The Plaza Minorista is almost like a landmark in Prado Centro.

The easy thing to do is to go to your nearest big grocery store and buy everything there. It’s just not the best way to go grocery shopping in Medellín.

That’s why we’re here, to give you tips about how you can find the best deals or specialty items in Medellín.

I used to just go to Exito, every time, but I have found that there are far better places to get what I need, especially now that I’m eating so much that I have to find ways to control a cost that comes to about $400 a month.

Some things are expensive, regardless. Cereal, for example. I eat the original Special K, only that one. I don’t know why, but it’s the only cereal I like enough to eat everyday, sometimes twice a day.

The cheapest I’ve seen a big box of it is 12,150 pesos, or about $6, based on today’s price of the dollar, which is usually lower and therefore costs me at least $7. In the United States, I can get the same box for as little as $3.68.

But let’s move on. I’ll run through where I go depending on what I need.

The seafood here is cheap, compared to the big grocery stores.
The seafood here is cheap, compared to the big grocery stores.

Meat

Most of the time, you’re better off buying meat anywhere but the major grocery stores.

My favorite places: Colanta, D1, or one of the major farmer’s markets:

At Colanta, I can buy a pound of ground beef for 2,500 pesos (about $1.25). Milk is slightly cheaper too, 2,000 pesos (about $1) for a liter opposed to 2,120 pesos (about $1.10) at a big store.

At D1, I can buy chicken breasts for 8,950 pesos (about $4.50), with the same amount costing about 15,000 pesos (about $7.50) at a major grocery store.

Mac Pollo and Porci Carnes are other butcher shop-type options similar to Colanta, but there are not as many of them. That’s why I usually stick to Colanta for beef and pork, D1 for chicken and chorizo.

For seafood, I like Mercado La América.

As you can see in the photo, you can get a pound of trout for 6,000 pesos (about $3). That’s a fraction of what it costs at one of the big grocery stores.

Makro is the Costco of Medellín.
Makro is the Costco of Medellín.

Non-Perishables

The place for this is Makro. It’s the Costco of Medellín.

You buy in bulk, for a better price.

All you have to do is sign up for a Makro card, which you can do with your ID, cédula or passport.

At Makro I buy toothpaste, toothbrushes, toilet paper, soap, shampoo, mouthwash antipersperant and similar items.

Buying them in packs of two or three can save you up to 2,000 pesos per purchase, sometimes more.

I’ll also buy long-lasting foods such as pasta, granola, cookies and cereal, and when I’m too lazy to make tomato sauce from scratch I’ll get that there as well.

On a recent trip, to shop for a Peruvian arroz con pollo recipe, I found that I can buy a pack of chicken breasts for 20,000 pesos that would cost me at least 24,000 or more at one of the big grocery stores.

The only Makro I know in Medellín is at Carrera 65 and the San Juan, in the Florida Nueva neighborhood near the Estadio and Suramericana Metro stations.

There are great prices on produce at the Plaza Minorista.
There are great prices on produce at the Plaza Minorista.

Produce

The farmer’s markets I mentioned above are the way to go, if you’re near one. Otherwise, just look for a neighborhood tienda.

You can find fruits and veggies for good prices in these little places, mainly because they don’t have to mark up costs to account for the large percentage the major grocery stores charge suppliers, what I’ve heard can be as high as 70 percent.

That means, for example, a red onion at a tienda or farmers market that costs 200 pesos (about 10 cents) will cost about 800 pesos at a major grocery store.

Only when I cannot find something in the tiendas do I rely on one of the big grocery stores, and in that case, I try to buy my produce at Euro, where on average you’ll save about 33 percent on each item compared with the other big chains, a significant savings over time.

Jumbo has quite a selection of sauces and spices.
Jumbo has quite a selection of sauces and spices.

Sauces and Spices

I love cooking creative dishes, entrees that require a fusion of different ingredients from different cultures.

Like cereal, this comes with a hefty cost because the sauces I need are often imported and found only at two places: Carulla and Jumbo.

Carulla is the Whole Foods of Colombia, a posh grocery store with a great variety and grand prices. When I lived in Washington, D.C., we jokingly referred to Whole Foods as Whole Paycheck.

Jumbo, a Chilean chain, occupies the former locations of Carrefour (a French chain), and it is like a Super Target, only without the great prices, especially if you’re buying something imported.

I usually pick up items such as adobo seasoning and oyster sauce here.

A 7-ounce container of adobo seasoning costs 4,777 pesos (about $2.30), compared to $1.26 in the United States. Oyster sauce is a bit more expensive, as a 9-ounce bottle that would cost $2.25 in the states costs about $5 in Medellín.

Signing up for puntos, using your cédula or passport, can save money when there are sales.

This is a hidden gem among all the places to go grocery shopping in Medellín.
This is a hidden gem among all the places to go grocery shopping in Medellín.

Uncommon U.S. Items

There are products in the United States that are not popular here.

The two that come to mind are breadcrumbs and peanut butter.

I use breadcrumbs in certain American dishes, such as chicken tenders, or Italian dishes, such as chicken parmesan.

A 46-ounce container of breadcrumbs costs 17,000 pesos (about $8.50), which is actually slightly cheaper than in the states, where the same amount of breadcrumbs would cost about $14.

I love peanut butter as a snack, usually with crackers, and I’m confused why more people don’t like it the way we do in the states. That’s fine. More for me.

I know only one place to get these items: Me Importas Tú (Calle 35 #80-32, Laureles).

It’s not cheap.

An 40-ounce jar of Planters peanut butter costs 18,500 pesos (about $9.25), or more than twice the cost in the states.

I’ve heard you can find peanut butter at Carulla now, even at Jumbo, but I haven’t seen it.

Me Importas Tú is the only place I know I can find it, and I have a one-track mind when it comes to food. When I want something, I must have it.

If you live in Medellín too, share your favorite grocery shopping tips in the comments below.

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13 COMMENTS

  1. Good suggestions. However, big savings are possible at Exito, the largest grocery chain in Colombia. While the prices can be higher for many items at Exito, they also frequently have sales using their puntos program. With the Exito frequent shopping program (signed up using a passport or cedula), your receive puntos (points) for all your purchases. These points can be used to buy sale items for 20% to sometimes even up to 80% off. I stock up on items on sale. Exito also has other types of sales. For example, Exito recently had a sale with many imported items that were 50% off without using points. Also on Wednesday fruits, vegetables and red meats are 20% off at Exito without using points.

    Jumbo also has a puntos frequent shopping program but I believe you need a cedula to sign up. At Jumbo they also have frequent sales (buy 1 get 1 free or buy 1 get the next 50 percent off), saving 25-50 percent. At Jumbo you receive the sale prices whether you are a member of the puntos program or not. At Jumbo you can use their points like cash for future purchases (1 punto = 1 peso). They also have catalog of bigger ticket items you can purchase using puntos. For example, an LG 42” TV can be bought for only 156,000 pesos ($76) plus 364,000 puntos saving 88% off the cost using puntos. However, It would take long time to accumulate that many puntos.

    If you shop smart at the big grocery stores using their puntos programs and stock up on sales you can save quite a bit.

    By shopping smart at Exito and Jumbo using their sales and points programs I am now averaging saving at least 33% per month making our grocery cost now about $500 for a couple ($250 per person).

    • Placita de Florez close to Torres de Bonbona, Boston, Centro is my favorite marketplace. They sell excelent flowers to. Exito is indeed not to bad

    • good points, jeff. i think i mentioned the puntos program, but if i didn’t, i will add it. the thing about exito i don’t like is that i can’t find any of the speciality items i can find elsewhere. that’s why i typically go to jumbo…it has every exito does, and more. that, and it’s closer to my house 😉

    • Has anyone been able to find Borateem Borax and Arm and Hammer WASHING (different than baking) soda? I use both of them to make a base for my own unscented laundry detergent and dish washing detergents.

      • Hi Cynthia,

        I havent seen that brand around, but you can definitely get baking soda!
        Thanks for the tip on the breadcrumbs too to the author, I hope I can find it elsewhere because I live in Envigado and am definitely not going to Laureles just to make Zucchini fries… lol

  2. Would anyone have any suggestions on where to get hormone free beef and chicken and reliably organic fruits and vegetables? Thank you?

  3. Oh god, I miss peanut butter so much. They have it at some Exitos, but they all have hydrogenated oils and BUT. Some health food stores have all natural peanut butter, but its VERY expensive. Strange considering peanuts are everywhere.

    • I actually just got to Medellín, but by chance stumbled upon on place that stocks coconut oil the other day. It’s called Salupan, and it’s a cafe/health food store in Laureles. They also have a lot of other rare products. Hope this helps!