Think Twice Before Buying Food At Dollar General

It's hard to find a success story in retail these days, at least among companies not named Amazon. Online shopping threatens to make the brick-and-mortar store obsolete. Store closings outnumber new-store openings more than two to one (via eMarketer). Dollar stores are the exception. Dollar General in particular has been on a pace to open two or three stores every day (via CBS News). Part of the appeal of dollar stores, besides the price, is the convenience of one-stop shopping. More than half of shoppers now visit dollar stores to buy groceries, eMarketer reports, up from 21 percent just a few years ago. Dollar General has done a better job than its rival Dollar Tree of profiting from this trend by expanding its grocery section in recent years (via Forbes).

One of the biggest criticisms of Dollar General's grocery aisles was that they didn't sell fresh food (via The Wall Street Journal). Produce sections in Dollar General stores have been rolling out, ever so slowly, over the past few years, but chances are the store near you still doesn't have any fresh fruits or vegetables. Dollar General planned to have produce in just 850 of its 16,000-plus stores by the end of 2020 (via Produce Blue Book).

Food prices at Dollar General are no bargain

Cheapskate Cook claims you can still eat healthy after shopping at Dollar General, if you are willing to cook from scratch and substitute frozen veggies and canned fruits for whole, unprocessed foods. And you might go in thinking you'll save save money by buying groceries at Dollar General. Surprisingly, that's not true. Take flour, for example — an essential ingredient if you're going to cook from scratch as Cheapskate Cook suggests. A five-pound bag of Gold Medal all-purpose flour costs 13 percent less at Walmart than at Dollar General.

What about the food more typical of a dollar store, the convenient, grab-and-go stuff such as boxed cereal? Walmart beats Dollar General's price on Frosted Flakes by 32 percent, mainly because you can buy a bigger box at Walmart. OK, but budget-minded new families would be wise to shop Dollar General for Similac, right? Wrong: Walmart has the dollar store beat again, with a bigger container and a 25 percent savings per ounce.

Dollar General doesn't always stock locally sourced food

If dollar-store food does come at a steep discount, then beware, says a shopping expert interviewed by Readers Digest. Some packaged foods might be sold on the cheap at dollar stores simply because they don't taste good, the expert said. "Food in the dollar store is often food that doesn't sell well in other stores," he said. Dollar-store steaks also should be off the menu, according to Business Insider. They tend to be inferior cuts and are sometimes frozen just before they reach their expiration date. If dog food happens to be on your shopping list, then once again, steer clear of the dollar store. The Washington Post reports that dog foods at dollar stores are typically inferior brands that may also be close to expiration.

If the "buy local" movement is important to you, and you prefer to know the farm where your meat and vegetables come from, then you won't want to shop at Dollar General. Locally sourced food is more available at your local independent grocer, according to Civil Eats. The small neighborhood grocery store also hires more employees and keeps more dollars in the community, Civil Eats reported. Chain stores such as Dollar General are the biggest threat to small, independent grocers — so purchasing food or anything else at the dollar store could contribute to the demise of the local mom-and-pop. Wall Street might be OK with this, but Main Street would never look the same.