Looking to save a little extra cash on food? Consider physical auctions. The places where fast talkers point and shout at the audience and sell everything from antique furniture to rare coins are now offering up big discounts on groceries.

As the auction business slows down, the companies that run the auctions are looking for other ways to supplement their income. Selling items that you would typically find in a grocery store at a physical auction is growing in interest and popularity.

How much can you save? According to a recent Time magazine article on the subject, an auction in March of this year in Carlisle, Pennsylvania sold grocery-related items valued at $26,000 for a total of only $10,000. That’s over 60% off the estimated retail price. Not bad.

At another auction Time profiles, a mother of seven claims that she purchased grocery items at an auction in April that would have cost her $300 but she only paid $100.

And an Associated Press article about grocery auctions notes one auctioneer as saying that his customers can save up to 50% on groceries at the auctions, while Time notes an auction house as saying that their customers can save between 25-50% on grocery-related items.

But is this too good to be true? Time explains where some of the food comes from:

For example Clyde DeHart, owner of DeHart’s Auction Service in Carlisle, Pa., takes “scratch n’ dent” items from a nearby BJ’s Wholesale Club store. Since BJ’s sells in bulk, if one can of corn gets smashed in the truck, the whole case can’t be displayed in the store. So DeHart takes the case, throws out the bad can, and auctions off the rest. If, say, a bag of Iams dog food gets ripped, DeHart will tape it and offer it at auction. “I wouldn’t do that with human food,” he says.

In other situations, some food just isn’t selling and so grocery stores look to move it so they can replace it with items they think are more likely to sell. And in some cases, the food is past its expiration date. From the Associated Press article:

Some of the goodies have wound up here because they’re out-of-date. But the auctioneers stress that they’re still OK to eat. The Food and Drug Administration does not generally prohibit the sale of food past its sell-by or use-by date — manufacturers’ terms that help guide the rotation of shelf stock or indicate the period of best flavor or quality.

“There is not one thing in this sale today that Kirk or myself will sell you, that we would not, do not, will not, or have not taken home to our own families!” Naugle tells the crowd.

As with any auction, online or off, remember that not all prices are deals, so be prepared and have a good sense for what things cost. And don’t get caught up in the fun of bidding and winning — stick to your price points and your budget.

Salvage Grocery Stores: An Alternative to Food Auctions

Salvage grocery stores can be a great alternative to bidding at food auctions if an auction cannot be found in your area. Also known as surplus grocery stores, they can save you as much as 30–50 percent off your food bill.