It becomes a daily conundrum here in Hawaii: getting to the store or going out to eat and yet again encounter runaway food prices. And although we’re used to high food prices in Hawaii, we don’t even remember anything like this before. At least for now, the cost of food for Hawaii visitors and residents is rapidly rising to peak spending. While the food is fresh in our minds, let’s see what’s happening and what’s possible.
The cost of groceries in May increased by more than 10%.
This has been compared to last year, and from what we are seeing on the ground, a much larger increase will be reflected in upcoming federal government statistics. Grain and baked goods costs rose 14%, while meat, poultry, fish and eggs rose 12%. Prices for dairy products increased by more than 10%, while products and beverages increased by 7%.
Food in stores to cook your own meals and in restaurants is one of the highest costs that visitors to Hawaii also encounter, after only accommodation, car rental and airfare.
If you’ve ever shopped for food on Oahu or nearby islands, you know it’s easy to blow your mind and blow your vacation budget if you’re not careful. And now it’s even worse. Add to that the upcoming shipping price increases and grocery store prices and restaurant bills is another island disaster in the making.
What are the best Hawaii vacation tips for food and how do locals shop? Check out these Hawaii shopping tips that just might leave you with more green in your pocket for other things to do in the islands. We also have reader suggestions. Could you add your comments below?
Tips for managing food prices in Hawaii.
1. Check online for weekly deals. Have a shopping list before you go to the store, and search online for weekly Hawaii grocery store specials. Make it a game. Stores to check out include Safeway, Times Market, KTA (Big Island), and Foodland, to start. Don’t expect prices comparable to the mainland. The food here has just landed from one or more ships after being at sea for over a week.
2. The pros and cons of big box stores in Hawaii. Costco, Walmart and Sam’s Club (Honolulu) can either save you money or significantly increase your food bill with their large sizes and many non-food selections. Sometimes just having a shopping list can help you stay on track. These stores cater to visitors as well as Hawaii residents. Visitor spending is easily 1/3 of their sales in Hawaii. While you’re there, don’t forget the Costco food court. Visitors line up for cheap prices and quick, familiar bites.
3. Grocery Store Loyalty Programs and Apps. Save when you have a Safeway Card or Foodland Maika’i Card (free for visitors).
4. Farmers markets and roadside stalls. These are hugely popular with locals and visitors alike for good reason and we hit them every week. These can not only generally offer much better prices, but also support local businesses while providing a real taste of the islands in both the shopping experience and in dining. For local vegetables, fruits and fish, among others, depending on the market.
5. Clearance Items. Check them in stores as they may be hidden. These are greater in Hawaii than on the mainland, as shipping and delays often result in damages of all kinds. Want to make banana bread? – check the production area for any markdowns on things like soft bananas. If in doubt, just ask where to find it.
6. Don’t shop when you’re hungry. It seems obvious, but we are all guilty of it. When we shop hungry, we buy things we might not otherwise buy. It’s funny, but so true, and even more so on vacation.
7. Prepare for substitutions. IIn Hawaii, it is often essential simply for lack of availability. Mainland shoppers are used to going to the store and finding exactly the product they have in mind. You can seriously control your grocery bill if you follow this advice in Hawaii.
8. Reduce bottled water consumption. What you get from the tap in Hawaii is better than what’s in the plastic bottle.
The advice below comes from Beat of Hawaii commentators.
9. For cereals and snacks. Walmart and Target tend to be cheaper than grocery stores, but almost all are cheaper than your hotel’s mini market. Historically, milk, eggs and breads have the biggest price difference compared to mainland prices. If you can avoid these items, you might not notice a big difference in your grocery bill. Expect to see $6 and $7 price tags for a gallon of milk, that’s where Costco and Sam’s Club have the best deals! (Safeway is actually very competitive and you don’t need to buy that many). Don’t throw away any of your unused groceries or miscellaneous items…the housekeeping staff love to bring them home at the end of your stay.
10. Long Pharmacy. For wine, liquor, coffee and all those choc-mac goodies to take to the office. Also good for cheap slippahs.
11. If you have a condo and a place to cook. I vouch for the Safeway Club Card or other grocery store loyalty cards. It only takes 5 minutes of your time – in store or by registering online in advance. Save a package. Personally, we don’t care much about Wal Mart and the quantities are often too large at Costco or Sam’s Club if you are only staying a week and there are only two of you. I also like to eat out – and if we have a huge amount of food we feel compelled to stay home and use it, then I feel ‘neglected’ – like I’m not on vacation away from my stove.
12. Lunch plate. Sometimes there is enough food for 2 people to share and certainly enough calories. And usually you take it away and can enjoy eating out. And you may discover a new local food. If you’re staying in a condo, pack lunch for the day and don’t eat dinner every night. I like to eat as much local food as possible; it may not be the cheapest but definitely the tastiest. It’s hard to beat the Costco food court for cheap, fast food.
13. Buy locally sourced items. Like fruits and vegetables that I can’t bring “home”. Plus, things you can *only* get in Hawaii… Maui Onion chips or Taro chips… yes, they are more expensive, but worth it for that authentic Hawaiian flavor!
15. Choose Walmart over CVS – much cheaper. Also, we travel a lot on the Big Island and don’t see a huge increase in the cost of food. If you are a big meat eater, freeze it and package it. We tend to eat a lot of fish, fresh from the roadside and cheaper, and fetch fruits and vegetables from the roadside. Eat like a local, help a local.
16. Bring stuff from home!! You don’t need a lot of clothes in Hawaii, so use your bag for dry foods, rice cakes, breakfast bars, pastas, mixes, cereals, etc. Then, if you have keepsakes, you’ll have room for them because you ate the food. Scour fast food joints for packets of mayonnaise, soy sauce, and other condiments. And eat like a local!!
17. Pack small portions of staple foods. Spices, flour, breadcrumbs, coffee, sugar, tea bags, granola, etc. come with me in a soft-sided insulated cooler. I have lunch at the condo, then I have the cooler to take my lunch with me on my outings. And then I have an empty cooler to bring back memories for family and friends. Work for me!
18. We almost always (95% of the time) cook our lunch. Whether we are staying in a condo or a hotel or a vacation rental. A loaf of bread, peanut butter and jelly, raw fruits and vegetables are generally much cheaper and healthier than going out. That said, we have the added problem of a gluten-intolerant child, so to make sure we have bread he can eat, I freeze two loaves and put them in our luggage.
19. Longs Drugs is part of CVS. Not everyone knows this, especially visitors. If you have a CVS Card, you can use it for discounts, coupons, and to accumulate total spend for the Quarterly Rewards Bonus.
20. Safeway and Vons are the same company. For west coast visitors, you can also use your Vons supermarket card at Safeway stores on the islands. They have real great deals on wine if you get 5 or more bottles.