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'They're for everyone': Food outlets in West Michigan gaining major popularity during inflation

"I'll never forget the first time someone came up to me and said, thank you for being here, without you, my family wouldn't eat tonight," said Larry Wayo.

HUDSONVILLE, Mich. — Inflation is still on the rise and the Federal Reserve has raised interest rates another 3/4 of a percentage point to try and bring it under control. But the average American family is paying an extra $500 a month due to inflation.

That's why places like food and grocery outlets are seeing such an increase in foot traffic, even right here in West Michigan.  

One of those places is The Grocery Outlet Store in Hudsonville, which has been a popular place lately.

"In the last few months we've had a lot of new faces, and honestly we've had record sales every month so far this year," said Scott Reed, Store Manager of The Grocery Outlet Store in Hudsonville. 

Cheryl Sprague, who lives in Byron Center, started shopping at the Allegan County location years ago, but now visits the one in Ottawa County weekly.

"We save a lot of money by coming here," she said, "and people would really benefit by coming here, too."

"My customers say this is usually their first stop," Reed added, "and what they can't find here, then they go to the big box stores."

Food outlets like these get their products from a secondary market, which means they are getting things that are close to or at use-by dates.

"We work with all the big food retailers," said Kimberly Jones, Director of Sales and Purchasing for Natural Choice Foods, which also owns several food outlets in West Michigan. "And when an item comes on short-date for them, they send it out on that secondary list. And because we're so small and lean, we're able to move them really fast throughout our supply chain. And we can get them to our stores very fast and pass the savings on to the end user."

Scott Reed said it also means these stores have a huge variety.

"We've got a little bit of everything, but always at a discounted price," he said.

"It's like a treasure hunt," said Larry Wayo, District Manager of Daily Deals Food Outlet. "Every time you come in it's going to be a little bit different."

Cheryl Sprague said she encourages everyone to check out a food outlet, even if they never have before.

"People might have a stigma about an 'enjoy-by' or 'expired' date, but the products are still good, and you can always return them if you need to," she said. "But who doesn't want to save money?"

"And that's our number-one goal is to just save people money," added Scott Reed. "It doesn't matter what walk of life you come from, everybody shops here."

And the increase in business is the same over at Daily Deals Food Outlet in Wyoming. 

"Our store traffic has been way up, and I'm also finding that the people who do find us are spending more," said Larry Wayo.

Daily Deals has five stores throughout West Michigan in Comstock Park, Wyoming, Allendale, Greenville, and Muskegon, plus a warehouse in Marne - all overseen by Natural Choice Foods.

The company said they strive to bring savings to every community.

"Everybody could use a little bit more money in their pockets these days," said Kimberly Jones, "but food outlets are also about sustainability."

She explained that a lot of people don't realize that when their products are nearing their dates, a lot of manufacturers will throw it in the garbage. She said very few donate it or recycle it because that costs them money. 

"So we're able to take that off their hands, we actually purchase it from them, which helps their bottom line, and then we send it out into the communities," Jones said.

And even though most of the products at a food outlet are expired or close to expiring, there's nothing wrong with them.

"It's used-by, sell-by, or freeze-by date," Jones explained, "and most of what we sell is actually frozen. So we usually freeze by that date. So those dates are set internally by whoever the food manufacturer is, they're not actually set by the FDA or USDA."

Jones said their research has shown that in the communities where they have stores, those people save about $2 million on their groceries, and offer name-brand products for up to 50% off what a normal retailer would charge.

"I'll never forget the first time someone came up to me and said, thank you for being here, without you, my family wouldn't eat tonight," said Larry Wayo. "And how do you not get excited when you're giving a service to somebody that absolutely needs you and appreciates what you're doing for them."

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