There's a new option near Elkhart for bargain-hunting grocery shoppers.
Paul Heinrich, who has owned and operated Vic's ice cream and Elkhart area Mancino's restaurants for 20 years, has opened 20 East Discount Groceries at 23810 Old U.S. 20 E.
The store carries "salvage groceries," which are food items that mainstream grocery stores send back to reclaim centers because they are either near or past their "best buy" dates, or their packaging has become dented. Such stores also are called "banana box groceries" because mainstream stores usually ship these items in banana boxes to the reclaim centers, Heinrich said.
He orders pallets that reclaim centers have received from Meijer, CVS, Super Valu and Piggly Wiggly. Each pallet contains a random assortment of products. Heinrich said he opens a box, looks it over and sometimes throws things out if they look unappetizing or are too far beyond the best buy date.
"It's like having Christmas every day," said Heinrich. "I open a box and don't know what's in it."
Heinrich said he tastes a sample of all items before placing them on his shelves.
"If there's something that we don't think is crisp and fresh, we don't put it on the shelf," he said.
To keep things simple with health department permits and inspections, Heinrich has chosen to stock only items that don't need to be refrigerated or frozen.
Heinrich said his customers save 25 to 50 percent compared to what they would spend in a mainstream grocery store.
On Wednesday he had priced a 12-ounce bag of Snyder's Bacon Cheddar pretzel pieces, with a best buy date of Dec. 28, 2013, at $1. Target has the item priced at $3.19.
He'd placed a $5 pricetag on a 12-ounce bag of Starbucks Blonde Veranda Blend coffee with an Aug. 3, 2013, best buy date, while Walmart had priced the item at $7.68.
Heinrich said he had been eating food from such a store near his home in North Webster for the past two years.
He attracted some excited shoppers on Wednesday. Julie Spurgeon heard about the store from customers at the bank where she works.
"They've said, 'It's so nice and clean,'" Spurgeon said. "The prices are great. I'm liking it."
Deanna Munson of Goshen came on the store's first day, March 20, and bought Heinrich out of his diapers. On Wednesday she returned with her friend, Kelly Dykson, who bought diapers, pull-ups and baby wipes and figured she spent about half of what she would have spent at a regular store.
"The first time I came, I couldn't stop shopping," Munson said. "What I like is when you're at the store, you want the nicest things. They have the nicest things but they're just beat up a little bit. I don't care about that."
Heinrich said he has been encouraged to see repeat customers so soon after opening.
"People can see the value of saving money on their grocery bill," he said, "and they really enjoy it."