5 Food Items You’re Paying Too Much For

August 14, 2018

Times are hard, and the prices for everything continue to go up. If you’re like me, it’s with food that you feel the crunch most keenly. There’s nothing sadder than having to refuse a second slice of pie, or pass on dessert altogether, simply because you can’t afford it. To help you stretch that last peso (so you can eat a bit more dessert), you might want to consider dropping the following food items from your grocery list.

5. Pre-Cut Produce 

What It Is:

These are fruits and vegetables that have been washed, peeled, cut, and packaged into individual Styrofoam trays that you can find in the grocery’s produce section. They’re priced depending on the weight of the fruits the packaging dude stuffed under the cling wrap cover. Fancy grocers sometimes take it up a notch by putting multiple kinds of produce together and giving it a fancy name, like “Chef’s Choice Salad” or “Daily Greens.”

Why You Buy It:

Convenience is hard to beat. These little bundles require neither washing, peeling, and cutting, nor the clean up that follows said prep work. You can simply plop their contents into a pan and get on with it. Add a camera and a catch phrase and you’ve got your own cooking show, just like the ones on TV.

Pre-cut produce is more expensive than its unprocessed counterparts and if there’s anything that society has conditioned us to think, it’s that higher prices equal better quality.

Why You Shouldn’t:

I hate to break it to you but the fruits and vegetables that grocery stores cut up and repackage are never as good as the fresh ones on sale. Stores would never mutilate fresh, quality produce. Slicing them up is often a last ditch attempt to move inventory that’s near the end of its sellable shelf life. Would you really want to pay more for subpar merchandise?

So just practice your knife skills until chopping up lettuce or slicing mangoes stops being a hassle. Trust me, your wallet (and your stomach) will thank you for it.

4. Anything at the Movie Theater Snack Bar

What It Is:

We all know that the movie theater’s snack bar stocks anything you might crave while watching Jason Statham kick things, or Ryan Gosling pretty it up on the big screen. We’re talking about the plethora of foil-wrapped finger food and maybe even some dim sum.

Why You Buy It:

It’s expected. Going to the movies isn’t the same without a big tub of popcorn and a plastic cup of soda lodged in your armrest’s cup holder. So what if the fake powdered cheese gets all over your hands and clothes, or that you end up missing the best part because you had to run to the comfort run from drinking too much soda?

Why You Shouldn’t:

Snack bar food is horribly overpriced because they’re the principal source of income for most movie theaters. They don’t profit that much from selling movie tickets (the film producers are the ones that make a killing on those) so they try to make up their losses through candy bars that cost you an arm and a leg. When you think about it, the movies are really just elaborate bait designed to make you buy a bag of Doritos on your way in.

Now, I’m not telling you to skip out on snacks when you watch the next “Avengers” movie. Just veer away from the snack bar, and make a beeline for the grocery instead. Movie theaters are usually located in malls with grocery stores that have a wider (and cheaper) assortment of munchies and drinks. Ditch the stale, nuclear orange popcorn and get a large bucket of Chef Tony’s gourmet stuff instead. Also, walking from the theater to the grocery and back should offset, even by the tiniest bit, the caloric consequences of stuffing your face while sitting still in front of a flickering screen for the next two hours.

3. Olive Oil

What It Is:

It’s the pale green nectar of the culinary gods. Rendered from pressed olives, olive oil is the sexiest kind of fat there is. They even categorize the stuff under names like virgin and extra-virgin. It’s good for the heart, it’s good for the skin, and it’s really really good on, in, rubbed around, or drizzled over food.

Why You Buy It:

Jamie Oliver and his fellow celebrity chefs frequently extol the virtues of olive oil and use gallons of the stuff on their cooking shows. Culinary star power aside, almost every chef in the world is partial to olive oil for its versatility in the kitchen. The only catch is that you can’t use olive oil for deep-frying due to its low smoking point; it breaks easily over prolonged high heat compared to other oils.

Olive oil is often marketed very similarly to wines. There’s a wide assortment available for purchase, differentiated by price and (perceived) quality. The best and most expensive ones come in long, beautifully sculpted bottles, and a lineage so fancy, they should wear a monocle. All others, from the slightly pricey to cheap ones (with questionable expiry dates), have only the most minor of variations between them, regardless of how one brand sounds more Italian than the other.

Why You Shouldn’t:

I don’t want to be inundated with complaints about how I’m a poor cheapskate who wouldn’t recognize quality food if it was right under my nose (hopefully, in that scenario, the food would be sponsored, but I digress). So, let me just state that genuinely good olive oil is worth the high price tag. They taste better, last longer, and are sold in prettier bottles that you can reuse or put on display. If you can afford it, then go bathe in the stuff.  It’s the mid-tier products that I am wary of.

Here’s a fun fact: lower grade olive oil is virtually identical to those that are marked as slightly better. Despite being practically the same, their prices can vary by half or more. That’s money better spent elsewhere.

Remember what I said about equating higher prices to better quality? In this case it applies because the pricey stuff is the real thing. It’s hard to say that about the cheaper kinds. Also, olive oil is a multi-billion dollar industry for the Italian mob. Experts say that as much as 70% of olive oil sold worldwide has been compromised with cheaper and less sexy extenders like soybean or sunflower oil. That’s if you’re lucky. If you’re not, that fancy bottle in your grocery cart probably contains nothing more than green-tinted canola oil. Sorry.

2. Powdered Health Shakes

What It Is:

They’re food supplements in powdered form that you can mix with liquid for easy consumption. They have mixes for things like fat loss, muscle building, and athletic recovery. They also come in flavors like chocolate, vanilla, and strawberry. The powder mixes taste okay; if not particularly appetizing, as it’s hard to mess up basic flavors. Every once in a while, though, a company gets too ambitious and tries to recreate the taste of rocky road ice cream or lemon meringue and horror predictably ensues.

Health shakes are usually seen in little plastic tumblers toted by people decked out in brand new fitness gear at the gym, who swear that this year is their year, though you will never see them again after the first week.

Why You Buy It:

You think it’s magic. This is especially prevalent in guys who believe that a whey shake will, through some arcane sorcery, turn them into Thor after a month at the squat rack. Women aren’t immune to this either. I’ve known many who insist that a protein smoothie, coupled with a twenty-minute walk on the treadmill, does wonders for their fat loss goals. Such misinformation is potentially harmful, not only to their self-esteem after the physical results they want fail to materialize, but also to their wallet. A tub of protein shake can easily cost thousands of pesos.

Why You Shouldn’t:

It’s just food. There’s nothing magical about it. While there isn’t anything intrinsically harmful about consuming a protein or meal replacement shake, you shouldn’t pay so much for a mere vehicle used to meet caloric and macronutrient goals.

For the guys who are competing with their girlfriends’ Team Jacob obsession, I’ve got your back. If possible, break up with your girlfriend. Seriously, it’s 2013 and she’s still hooked on Taylor Lautner? You’re better off without her. If that option’s not doable, combining milk, oats, peanut butter, and a banana or two in a blender will work just as well as that expensive sack of mass-gainer you bought. Is that still too complicated for you? Just drink chocolate milk then. It’s tasty, relatively cheap, and high in both calories and protein.  If you’re trying to lose a few pounds, substitute skim (not non-fat) milk for whole milk. Its caloric content is much lower, but it’s still high in protein.

1. Designer Coffee

What It Is:

I’m not talking about the kopi luwak (the rare, expensive coffee made from exotic mammal poop) that your cool uncle grinds himself and brews into a thick black potion so fantastic it should be illegal. That stuff is awesome.

I’m referring to something more common, the sort that requires a barista to make and is prefaced with adjectives that make it sound more like a smoothie than coffee.

Why You Buy It:

It’s very tasty, and you need to order it to justify leeching off the coffee shop’s Wi-Fi and leaving your laptop plugged into their power sockets for the next six hours. Besides, it’s not like you can drink your coffee black, you’re not your dad.

Why You Shouldn’t:

Yes, it’s tasty. But it’s also overpriced. It’s not really coffee either, not really. There’s nothing in that tall plastic cup that’s worth two hundred pesos, not the miniscule squirts of soy milk or the artificial caramel syrup that you can barely taste.

So why is it so expensive? Coffee shops are trendy, and the upscale ones have an aspirational quality. Just like with any other kind of branded merchandise, you’re not paying as much for the actual product than for the bragging rights that come with enjoying it. If it’s the taste you’re after, there are plenty of ways to get that rich flavor without the inflated price tag. We folks here at Pepper.ph can even show you how to make “Starbucks” coffee using a cheap sachet of 3-in-1.


Hopefully, if you follow all the tips we’ve given you in this article, you’d never have to suffer through the despair of saying no to more pie. Not even your worst enemy deserves that.

[photos via gettyimages]

Lars Roxas Lars Roxas

Laurence is a twenty-something turtle pretending to be a writer. In the past, he has worked as a warehouse clerk, Apple genius, martial arts instructor, copywriter, editor, english teacher, and personal trainer. He can’t swim or ride a bike, but he's done Judo on three continents. He has an MA in Creative Writing from the University of the Philippines, Diliman. Occasionally, his stories appear in real actual books. He makes awesome waffles.

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58 comments in this post SHOW

58 responses to “5 Food Items You’re Paying Too Much For”

  1. MissLilly says:

    excellent post!!! and you’re right in all of them!
    Olive oil… I buy olive oil from Portuguese supermarkets (obviously I’ll pay more than in Portugal) but it’s still less pricy than the crap they sell in the supermarkets. The cheap one I use just to cook, but to season I’ll use a proper one.
    As for coffee… ahhh here’s my topic! I could have arguments all over on this one, it’s not coffee!!! It’s all coffee beverages at a very high price. He pay to use their store and their brand basically. I have my travel mug and I do my coffee at home. I use a nespresso coffee (0.27£), aerocinno to make the creamy capuccino, can choose the milk I like, even have the vanilla extracts or cinamon if I want to have some sweet flavour (lately I’ve been using the nut nespresso capsules which have the same effect) and can put chocolate on top. Txaram! A very good capuccino, latte personalized for less than 0.50£.
    And after lunch if I want a proper coffee (expresso – short, strong and creamy coffee – not the black water that comes out when I clean my machine and that most american and english stores call coffee) I can have it too. If I’m outsite and I really want a coffee I’ll try to find a Lavazza, Delta (Portuguese), illy which are less expensive than the big stores.
    And yes this is a big topic because many people spend really a lot of money monthly in “coffes”. 2 or 3 times a day for a coffee around 2.30£…

  2. go to wikipedia and look up olive oil. find the reason why pomace olive oil is half the price

    • Ron says:

      That isn’t what the article is talking about, though. go to wikipedia and look up olive oil regulation and adulteration.

  3. Ria R. says:

    Pre-cut produce also creates extra waste that isn’t biodegradable.

  4. The only way I’m ditching theatre food bars is when Chef Tony finally comes up with his own version of WHITE CHEDDAR. 😐

  5. I didn’t even know people actually bought pre-cut fruit! 😀

  6. One thing i prefer from those cling-wrapped styros are DOLE Cavendish bananas. The supermarkets tend to portion bundles (not pre-sliced though) into 2’s or 3’s than have black spots on them. In my opinion, those taste better and riper than the the spotless ones. It’s also more convenient than buying a huge bundle for a single banoffee pie.

  7. Nico Goco says:

    great article! I guess we’ve all been guilty of spending a bit just for extra convenience or the “in” things. nothing beats going for freshness and home made goodness if you can find time for it!

  8. TIMES says:

    Thanks for the heads-up on the pre-cut fruit and olive oil. Especially on the pre-cut fruit. Ick!

  9. I plead GUILTY on Item No. 4. I’m a sucker for buttered popcorn and tall sodas sold by Taters. It’s a must, I think there’s this unwritten rule that when you go to the movies, there should be popcorn and drinks. But you have a nice take on this one (and the other items too.) Will consider. 🙂

    • Mikka Wee says:

      Same here!!! Eeeep. My weakness is their Sour Cream Popcorn (with 2 extra dashes of melted butter!). This article made me reconsider my choices the next time I’m faced with all that “seemingly convenient” grocery items that I can get for far less. 🙂

  10. Thank you for this, Lars!

    Question, though. What brand of olive oil do you recommend?

  11. RIssa says:

    I love the way you wrote your article 🙂 congrats!

  12. very well written 🙂 thumbs up guys!

  13. DG says:

    Love this article. But i would have to disagree with the protein powders. Youre actually better off buying a 5lb tub (php2500-3000 in cash and carry, 60-70 servings. Never buy from gnc) cos after a brutal workout youre gonna need about 20-40g of whey protein isolate. Yes, chocolate milk works too and studies have shown great results from it if you dont have access to whey, but a small tetra pack of milk costs 35-40php and only gives you 7g protein per serving. A scoop of whey gives you 20g and costs the same with less fat and fewer calories. hope this helps the other readers too. Love your site man!

    • Actually, you don’t “need” the protein to come from whey after a workout. In fact, pubmed studies indicate that the postworkout higher protein synthesis rate your body goes into is in effect for up to twenty four hours after the physical activity. 🙂

      Protein shakes are not bad, hell I have a 10lb bucket sitting on the counter in my kitchen right now, what I’m arguing is that they’re very expensive for what you’re getting 🙂 It’s just food, and with a well balanced diet, it’s not necessary for athletic nor body composition goals. 🙂 No specific supplement is, kaya nga supplement diba? addition lang dapat. 🙂 You know what else is WAY cheaper, tastes better, has as much/fewer calories, and a more or less equal amount of protein pero scoop of whey? 😀 A single grilled chicken breast 🙂

      Thanks for the comment by the way! 😀 Love love discussing things like these with the readers, we all have to keep an open mind. 🙂 Cheers!

      • DG says:

        Yup! Whenever our bodies are subject to intense training, protein synthesis goes up BUT not as high as the first 30-45mins after the last set of exercise you did (up to 200%). Studies in the ISSN have been preaching about pre and post workout nutrition for years, thats why whey is important bec its a fast acting protein. Best suited for that so-called “anabolic window.” i have been training for about 10years total now and the first 4 years where i was taking eggs and chicken post workout, sad to say i didnt gain anything from it. Til the day i was introduced to these protein powders. Solid food takes about an hour or so to be digested and be absorbed by skeletal muscle. But like they always say, to each his own. I envy those people who get results with no help from whey (just a few hehe.) anyway, i think i need to brimg in my own popcorn and chips cos those chips in taters are really good but expensive. Looking forward to new articles!

  14. Thumbs up! I’m sure you can go beyond 5 items, though. Another list next time?:D

    • It was originally a ten item list, but I talk too much and 5 things already had me clocking at almost 2000 words. LOL. :)) No worries, more lists are forthcoming! 😀 Thanks for reading! 😀

  15. carina says:

    Thumbs up!!!

  16. Kath says:

    Agreed with all! My only weakness is overpriced coffee — I don’t mind shelling out the few extra bucks (fine, extra hundred) for Starbucks. You know how there’s comfort food? Well, the iced white chocolate mocha latte is my comfort drink. Wish I knew how to quit this indulgent habit. If Pepper comes out with a food hack for it, I’d be grateful. 😀

    • Hey Kath! Thanks for reading! Have you tried our three-in-one recipe but with white chocolate milk powder instead of regular swiss miss? 😀 That might just do the trick for you! (Though, ofcourse, the white choco powders I see in the grocery tend to be more expensive than the regular kinds so that might defeat the purpose… lol )

  17. Allright, while the rest of Manila is getting butthurt over the other article, I figured I would like to get butthurt over this one.

    I agree with the fruits, the olive oil, and the theater snacks!
    I do not however agree about Protein Powder (Whey Powder, whatever you guys want to call it) being overpriced.

    It’s nice that you acknowledge that it is a means to reach your macronutrient goals. I admire for you putting that out there. Not many people do know that at the end of the day, the SERIOUS people who consume it use it just as that.

    It kinda sucks that you generalised that the main users of protein shakes are decked out in new fitness gear saying that this year will be theirs 🙁

    What about the athletes and serious fitness enthusiasts? 🙁 I train in basic gym wear, in blown out chucks and I don’t own gloves 🙁 just straps.

    BOTTOMLINE is, for many athletes who have higher protein requirements, powdered shakes are much much cheaper (and convenient) than whole food. 🙂

    otherwise, you’re cool brah.

    • HAHA You called me brah! You a miscer? Do we exchange user names now and rep each other secretly? 😀

      As for your comment, read me and DG’s longish replies to each other in this comment thread! 🙂 You’re conflating overpriced with bad, never said they were bad! You take issue with the overpriced statement then point out why it’s nutritious, different things my man. 🙂

      I never said it was bad, in fact i don’t think it’s bad at all. I have a ten pound bucket on my kitchen counter right now, and it isn’t the first I’ve ever bought. I would consider myself a pretty serious athlete somewhat, I’ve played both for my school when I was younger and have also represented the country in a few international comps as well, just so you know I’m not talking out of my ass. I too lift in ratty shorts and shirts. No gloves AND straps though, grip strength is kind of important in my sport.

      I’m an Alan Aragon guy when it comes to nutrition, very IIFYM, so I don’t see any single thing as being absolutely necessary. Helpful yes, ive never denied that. Cheers brah! 😀

  18. Elise Lasco says:

    I’ll never give up my overpriced coffee! And you know, i read somewhere (wiki?) that people just consume kopi luwak for the novelty of the experience rather than the taste. Nevertheless, more from this Lars fellow please! 🙂

  19. nice article!!!!! congrats!!!!

  20. Nicely-written article. 🙂 More of this!

  21. […] dash of ethics and remorse. If ToKoGaE fruit was sold in the produce section (hopefully not pre-sliced), voting would quickly become a lot simpler. We could force feed every scoundrel running for public […]

  22. […] spend more time with her anyway. (She misses you, trust me.) Whatever you do, don’t get anything pre-cut or packaged. Those things are […]

  23. […] With coffee shops sprouting everywhere, distinguishing between passable coffee and a fine brew has become a challenge. Most of us now have taste buds that are immune to a good roast, having been accustomed to the crappy designer kind that comes with a green straw. […]

  24. Guest says:

    Starbucks’s coffee beverages are overpriced but at least they have real good toilets. I go there almost every day to fulfill my “bodily functions”. Most toilets don’t have soap. Starbucks does. Most toilets don’t have the bowl and the sink in the same room (how the hell are you supposed to pull up your pants when your hand’s got sh*t on it?). Starbucks does.

    With the dismal state of most toilets here in the country nowadays (most have no soap while others have the sink separated from the bowl), I guess a 95-peso mug of chamomile tea is worth it

  25. Guest says:

    tarbucks’s coffee beverages are overpriced but at least they have real good toilets. I go there almost every day to fulfill my “bodily functions”. Most toilets don’t have soap. Starbucks does. Most toilets don’t have the bowl and the sink in the same room (how the hell are you supposed to pull up your pants when your hand’s got sh*t on it?). Starbucks does.

    With the dismal state of most toilets here in the country nowadays, I guess a 95-peso mug of chamomile tea is worth it

  26. Starbucks’s coffee beverages are overpriced but at least they have real good toilets. I go there almost every day to fulfill my “bodily functions”. Most toilets don’t have soap. Starbucks does. Most toilets don’t have the bowl and the sink in the same room (how the hell are you supposed to pull up your pants when your hand’s got sh*t on it?). Starbucks does.

    With the dismal state of most toilets here in the country nowadays, I guess a 95-peso mug of chamomile tea is worth it

  27. Bryan says:

    Hahahaha! for #4. Too bad, other theaters doesn’t allow you to bring food from outside.

  28. Maria Cherry Ann Mirambil says:

    3 in 1 coffee na lang 6 pesos lang tapos mainit na tubig pweds na :))

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