We're all used to making returns. In fact, according to BuyVia.com, American consumers returned about 8 percent of everything purchased in 2015 (which comes out to about $260 billion worth of merchandise). We return pants that don't quite fit right, sweaters we realize have a snag, and shoes that just don't seem as alluring in our own closets as they did in the store.
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One thing that many shoppers probably never consider returning, however, is food from the grocery store. If you get home and realize the produce you grabbed in a hurry isn't as fresh as you'd assumed or that your roommate already bought milk, rendering your gallon a space-hogging jug with a quickly approaching expiration date, you're likely to sigh, suck it up, and accept the loss.
But that doesn't have to be the case. You wouldn't think twice about returning a shirt that didn't fit, and there's no reason you have to hold on to food you quickly realize was a bad buy.
Most grocery stores have policies allowing for the return of food purchases. Some have time limits and require a receipt, but others are even more liberal than that. Here's a quick breakdown of the return policies of some of the biggest national chains.
Kroger (which also owns Ralphs, Fry's, Food 4 Less and several other smaller grocery store chains) has a very customer-friendly return policy. They'll accept returns of almost any product if the customer isn't fully satisfied. And if you buy a store brand product, try it, and don't like it, Kroger will issue a refund or exchange as well.
"Simply return the product, packaging and receipt to your nearest Kroger store. The customer service staff will assist with a refund, exchange, adjustment or credit to a Kroger Gift Card," the company writes on its official website.
Trader Joe's also has a very liberal return policy. The store promises a full refund, no questions asked, even if the food in question has been partially eaten. "Just bring back whatever you haven't eaten and we'll refund your money, no questions asked. It might sound like a food-lover's fantasy, but for us it's just the way we do business," the company writes.
As long as you have a receipt, you're good to go with returns at Whole Foods. "We guarantee our customers 100% product satisfaction or their money will be refunded," the company promises.
Safeway (which also owns Vons), seems to have a more restrictive return policy. BuyVia reports that the store only accepts returns on those items are "materially wrong" and requires a receipt and that the return be made at the same store where the item was purchased. Safeway's official site lists requirements for returns of delivered food, but does not mention in-store purchases.
Something to keep in mind when returning food to the grocery is that it may not be eligible for resale. While this is perfectly fine if you're turning in subpar produce or something that clearly went bad before its printed sell by date, it can also apply to unopened, perfectly "good" food. In a report published by the Star Tribune, Mike Schommer, director of communications at the Minnesota Dept. of Agriculture, explained that stores are encouraged not to restock returned items "in case the product was mishandled."
Many stores have similar (totally understandable) policies, but this means it's important to be mindful of purchases and returns and not abuse return policies and inadvertently contribute to food waste. Katie Kimball of Kitchen Stewardship had a similar experience when she returned several unopened boxes of Hamburger Helper after missing the deadline for a rebate on the purchases. "It turns out that any item that can go into the mouth must be disposed of if it has been previously sold," she wrote.
While you don't want to abuse the generous return policies that many grocery stores offer for their customers, there's no shame in taking advantage of them when the situation calls for it. So next time you realize you've accidentally purchased a truly yucky peach, feel confident if you want to make the trip back to the store and ask for an exchange or refund.