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A food blog from NHPR news, digital, & programming staff, exploring food & food culture around the state & the New England region. On-air features air Thursdays on All Things Considered and Saturdays during Weekend Edition.

Foodstuffs: Looking To Buy Gourmet Food? Give These Discount Chains A Try

New Hampshire is a rural state, which is great for recreation, but not so great if you are a foodie, at least when it comes to shopping for gourmet ingredients.  

But some savvy shoppers have discovered that fancy food can also be found at  couple of accessible and unexpected emporiums: Ocean State Job Lots (“Home of Adventure Shopping”) and Marshalls  (“Your Surprise is Waiting”).  

Both chains offer an eclectic variety of interesting food at bargain prices.  And both chains have stores across New Hampshire.

Ocean State Job Lots carries a lot of food. The store in Concord has at least twelve aisles, with other special promotions near the entrance and check-out areas.  The cookie aisle alone has premium baked goods from France, Italy and Germany. 

Credit Elaine Loft for NHPR
Some of the more reliable gourmet food staples at Marshalls in Concord

A big draw is the store's partnership with Bob’s Red Mill, an Oregon company that produces a diverse line of whole grain foods and flours.  While grocery chains carry Bob's Red Mill items in a corner of the specialty foods section, Ocean State has given them most of an aisle, and at cut-rate prices, to boot. 

Over at Marshalls, you'll find two aisles at the back of the store filled with food, as well as a bevy of gourmet candy and snacks at every check-out.  Coffee, tea, jam, cookies, dried fruit, olives and nuts are reliable Marshalls staples, but recently, the store has expanded its selection of olive oil, honey and spices. 

Marshalls seems to be making a nod toward market trends, with the store in Concord featuring a “Health and Wellness” shelf displaying wheat grass, flaxseed and protein powders.  Many of the products are recognizable brands, including Stonewall Kitchen jam and Walkers shortbread.  

Stroll down the aisle and you'll likely find a few more exotic items including Himalayan sea salt, saffron and even caviar, all within feet of of the store's discount bedding display.

The one problem with bargain gourmet? You can’t always count on finding the same product the next time you return to the store. 

Credit Via Google Search
Map of Marshalls stores in New Hampshire

To a certain extent, that's the nature of the business.

After all, Marshalls touts: “Never the same selection twice,” and Ocean State Job Lots says its products come from “manufacturers’ over runs, overstocks and packaging changes.” 

So why do shoppers keep returning to places where they can’t be sure they will find what they are looking for? 

As Shankar Vedantum, host of the behavioral science podcast Hidden Brain notes, “Companies have known for a long time, if you provide people with a sense there’s an infinite supply of whatever they’re buying, for some products that will drive down the demand.” 

Perhaps shoppers at Marshalls and Ocean State Job Lots feel like they are finding something rare and special, and are willing to come back time and again to find new treasures. Or maybe its the more basic conditioning of intermittent reinforcement that draws them in.

But even if you don’t find exactly what you were looking for, it might be worth visiting your local discount chain to check out the gourmet food options. Worst-case scenario, you'll still have a shot at getting a great deal on sheets.

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