By: Bruno Martín Picanzo Ubal
Grocery shopping in Argentina can be difficult. With inflation estimated at 25.6% this year – down from 40% in 2016 – there is a disparaging array of prices affecting every area of the economy in the country. Not surprisingly, however, this recurring phenomenon that has long become normal to locals is noticeable the most when purchasing daily products. The ways Argentinians get around it can be downright bizarre to newcomers in the country. For instance, it is not uncommon for people to buy their weekly grocery products via interest-free instalments, sometimes up to twelve!
So where should you go to get the best bang for your pesos?
To start off, it is important to get a couple things out of the way. Even though there are five major supermarket chains across the country, there is not much – all kinds of more than decent and affordable wines aside – variety to be found, and you’ll be coming across the same brands and goods in almost any grocery you step into. This can be frustrating if you’re used to having many options. If you’re one of those that can’t live without spicy food, you will have a hard time finding what you’re looking for. There is a selection of imported goods to be found in some supermarkets, but they are overpriced, often costing three times more than you would pay at home. Also, queues. You’ll be coming across long queues and unstaffed tills no matter which one you go to. Aside from these supermarkets, you have the omnipresent family-run Chinese ones locally known as chinos and small produce stores or verdulerías usually run by Bolivians. You’ll be coming across them in every neighbourhood (or every block?) If what you’re looking for is variety regardless of price though, your best bet is to visit Chinatown or Barrio Chino. And last but not least, popular among locals, a good option in spite of the distance and location is the Central Market or Mercado Central
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Let’s do a run down of each of them so you know what to expect:
By far the most affordable option, this Spanish chain serves as the only hard-discount supermarket and has many branches across the city. It has its own brand of goods ranging from tomato sauce to detergents, all priced low. The downside, of course, is that they’re usually of a low quality as well, but if you’re on a very tight budget or want to save up the prices can’t be beat anywhere. It also has a selection, albeit narrow, of goods from other popular Argentinean brands. However, you will find few if none imported goods (it’s a discount store, after all) To make the best of the discounts, you’ll need the Dia card, which can be acquired for free by asking a cashier and filling out a simple form. It lets you take advantage of the sales and discount coupons (3×2, for example)
Coupled with the limited selection, the drawback is these stores tend to be disorganized and it’s not hard to come across products that are missing from the shelves. They’re also not the cleanest or most aesthetically pleasing stores, keeping a minimalist approach to decoration and maintenance.
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Along with Dia, this popular Argentine supermarket chain has the best prices and discounts, such as 70% off on a second item.
Carrefour (Express and also Hipermercado)
A French retailer and one of the biggest ones in the country, it tends to be pricey, but it does have good discounts once in a while. It also has many branches
Express: As the many suggest, they’re more on the go small stores to grab a couple of things. Expensive and with not much of a selection of goods, they shouldn’t be your first choice, but unlike the hipers, they can be found easily
Hiper: Hypermarkets. They have a good selection of local and imported goods ranging from beers to cheeses, but they don’t offer many good discounts compared to Dia or Coto save for a few items such as beverages, 2×1 on certain goods or 20-50% off
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Owned by the Chilean retail company Cencosud, it is the most expensive supermarket. It has the best selection of goods and especially imported ones, but few branches. Due to its high prices, its discounts are usually weak
Owned by the same company as Jumbo, unlike the previous supermarket, it is catered towards the middle class. Disco has considerably fewer branches and is not as popular as the other ones. It has a narrow selection and some imported goods and doesn’t have as many special offers or discounts. Nothing special
The most affordable of the Cencosud supermarkets, it has decent prices but few branches and nothing out of the ordinary. No imported goods but the essentials.
The least popular supermarket. It has only one branch in the city. It offers discounts when purchasing online with a credit card and 20% off when buying at the store with the Walmart card. Its strength, however, lies in its garden furniture, appliances and toys discounts.
The go-to groceries for many Argentines due to their proximity and short queues when
compared to the rest. No hard discounts, and save for a few items – especially wine, where they seem to have a deserved reputation for low prices – they are more expensive than the supermarket chains. As they can be found everywhere, however, they can be time-savers
Small produce stores or verdulerías
They can be hit or miss as far as both prices and quality depending on the location. They’ve got the usual local fruits and vegetables, and a few of them have spicy peppers which are hard to find since Argentinians have an extremely low tolerance and aversion for anything spicy. It is important to ask for the prices beforehand to avoid being arbitrarily overcharged
Barrio Chino (Chinatown)
Located in the upper-class neighbourhood of Belgrano, it has many stores with an impressive variety of imported products, a good amount of them from Asia. It is a relatively popular place with the locals to buy fish like good quality salmon
Mercado Central (Central Market)
Popular with the locals, it has very good prices, especially when it comes to fruits and vegetables where prices can be half of those in supermarkets. It has dairy products, meats, farm products, and bakery. It also has a reputation for fresh products and good customer service. The downside is its location in Tapiales in the partido or county of La Matanza, which is in the Greater Buenos Aires area and not the safest area to go by yourself, which is why it’s better to go with someone and make the best of it by stocking up for the week. It can get crowded depending on the day
The opening hours (retailer) are 8 to 18 all week
The following link shows how to get there by car or bus http://www.mercadocentral.gob.ar/paginas/cómo-llegar-al-mercado
As you can tell, shopping in Buenos Aires requires time and patience if you want to find good deals. There are other supermarkets missing that are less popular and might also have good deals as well, so it’s better to keep your options open. Finally, don’t be afraid to bargain down the prices when it comes to open markets or ferias that happen on the weekend.