Between the organic and conventional produce section at Berkeley Bowl West, you will see shelves that hold a disorganized pile of marked down produce. Due to declining nutritional value of aging produce, I think most budget vegetables are not worth considering. Hence I rarely bothered with this budget produce until last year when I realized some budget fruits like papaya and melons were actually better than their full priced counterparts as they were ripe and ready to eat. As there is a lot of produce turnover, Berkeley Bowl West has the largest budget produce section in Berkeley and the markdown can vary widely from 50% to 400+%.
From observation, budget produce appears to be released around noon. Be warned it can be a zoo with pushier shoppers resorting to defensive blocking moves. But the crowd dies down. Note don't hesitate as you snooze you lose. I've had hands appear from behind me and snatch the very thing I was just about to get.
The budget produce which can sometimes be better than full-price due to ripeness:
- Hawaiian papaya - extremely rare find. A few times I've gotten three Hawaiian papayas in a bag for $1.99 and given each of them cost more than $4, budget papaya is a best kind of super find. A little surface mold is no problem and can be cut away. I sigh when I remember buying papaya in Hawaii at 5 for a dollar and the vendor gave me one extra free as they were so plentiful. Solo papaya with the orangish flesh is non-GMO. Strawberry and Sunrise with the reddish pinkish skin is GMO. While I would not buy GMO at full price, papayas are such a rare treat on the mainland that I'll take any Hawaiian papaya on the budget shelf. Note BBW started carrying a cheaper papaya from Brazil and sometimes these show up on the budget shelf but they tend not to taste as good as the Hawaiian varieties.
- melons - these are in a shopping cart off to the side and can be totally ripe and must be eaten that day or the next. Sometimes the melon just has surface disfiguration. Always use your nose to check for a sweet fragrance. I like buying these melons because it forces me to cut it up and eat it that day. More times than I can count on one hand I've bought full-priced not quite ripe melons, forgot about them while waiting for them to ripe and had to compost them.
- plantains - the regular plantains are rarely ready for cooking and the budgets ones tend to have black skin being ready to enjoy.
Other budget produce that I seek out:
- mushrooms - Monterey has better marked down mushroom bags than Berkeley Bowl. The main reason I think is that Berkeley Bowl has mushrooms in the refrigerated section while Monterey has them out at room temperature and hence have to rotate through them more frequently. But time to time, Berkeley Bowl will have a particularly choice bag that is not overstuffed with low value filler mushrooms. I found a $1.99 one pound bag of blewits recently. Immediately refrigerate mushrooms inside a paper bag sorting out any seriously decaying pieces. Even if you don't use the mushrooms right away, the mushrooms will dry out in the paper bag and can be used in soups but the paper bag cannot be too full.
- zucchini - squash are quite cheap anyway (~$1 per lb) but sometimes I've found their budget squash ($1 for 3lb) to be even in better shape than squash from other grocery stores.
- winter squash keep incredibly well
Stuff I've regretted buying from the shelf:
- Organic strawberries - this is a mixed bag as you can have near moldy berries.
- microgreens - ended up being moldy
- bananas - if you have a large family, this might be worthwhile but it's far too many bananas for a family household of two