A Guide to Grocery Costs in Paradise
Hawaii is a tropical paradise with breathtaking landscapes and a vibrant culture. This exceptional diversity extends to the produce as well, since the many communities living here require different ingredients for their unique cuisines. While there’s incredible local produce, a lot of the stuff also has to be shipped in from the mainland, and there’s obviously a higher cost associated with that.
That’s why it’s common for many newcomers to wonder how much the cost of groceries in Hawaii is. It’s typically on the higher end when compared to the mainland so keep that in mind when planning a grocery budget in Hawaii. It’s important to be mindful of what’s available to you out here on the island state and how the prices of these daily necessities will impact your budget.
If you’re thinking about moving to Hawaii, let’s take a more holistic look at why the prices are what they are, instead of simply comparing grocery costs in Hawaii without understanding how things work here.
Related: Cost Of Living In Hawaii
What types of groceries does Hawaii have and not have that you have on the mainland?
All of your typical groceries that you’d expect to see in any other place are easily available in Hawaii. This includes staples such as bread, eggs, cheese, milk, different kinds of meat, etc. Produce that’s exotic or unique to your area may not be readily available, but it’s not uncommon to find these items at specialty stores.
What makes grocery shopping in Hawaii so fun is the fact that Hawaii is very culturally diverse. You have people from many different cultures living here and they contribute to the eclectic mix of cuisines and foods that you can enjoy. To that end, you’ll find a lot of specialty stores that bring together products from a specific region or culture.
For example, H Mart is your destination for all things Korean. From gochujang to ramyeon and everything in between, you’ll find it there. The markets in Chinatown are a treasure trove of flavors from China and you can find everything from fresh produce to Philippine-branded goods at Jimmy's Produce & Filipino Store. Don Quixote and the Thai food markets are also great places to get affordable diverse groceries in Hawaii. There’s even an Indian Mart that has every type of Indian spice that you can possibly imagine.
Related: Grocery Shopping in Hawaii
Hawaii has a unique tropical selection & specialty cuisines
Hawaii’s tropical climate and year-round moderate weather is great for growing many different types of fruits and vegetables. You can head to one of the many farmers’ markets in Hawaii to pick up produce from the farm every week. Some of the unique homegrown produce that you can sample includes pineapples, papaya, lilikoi, dragonfruit, breadfruit, lychee, coconuts, guava, soursop, and more.
A wide variety of produce is grown on the island state and since it doesn’t need to be shipped in from the mainland, this helps expand the cost-effective grocery options in Hawaii. From avocados to mangos, there's a lot that grows here, even macadamia nuts, which happen to be some of the most popular crops in Hawaii.
It's great to see that restaurants, both fine dining and your local hole in the wall, make it a point to use local ingredients that highlight the best of what Hawaii has to offer. The local produce is seamlessly integrated into different cuisines, taking advantage of the diversity of crops to deliver an elevated farm-to-table experience.
Grocery costs in Hawaii
I visited four of the biggest grocery retailers on Oahu to provide you with a realistic assessment of Hawaiian grocery store prices. Prices for dozens of essential items available at Costco, Whole Foods, Times, and Foodland have been compiled in a comprehensive document available below.
Where to buy groceries
From local chains to nationwide retailers and specialty markets, there’s no shortage of places to buy all of the groceries you need. Here are some of the most popular places to buy groceries in Hawaii.
1. Whole Foods
If you are looking for a full grocery store experience with some local items, Whole Foods Market will be one of your best options. They are known for their impressive variety, with a full butcher, salad bar, deli, and juice bar so you can select specialty items to go with your grocery staples.
Whole Foods also tends to carry options from local providers, like coffee roasters or farms, so you're always bound to find something that you can create amazing meals with.
2. Times Supermarkets
Times Supermarket is a local chain that has been operating in Hawaii since 1949. It has since grown to 24 locations across the state, providing customers with fresh produce from local farms, Hawaii-made products, a full-service deli, and even a full-service pharmacy in selected locations on Oahu.
Foodland is another long standing Hawaii institution. Its first store was opened back in 1948 in Honolulu and now happens to be the largest locally-owned supermarket chain in the state. Customers can shop a wide range of products, both local and imported.
Safeway is a popular national grocery chain operating multiple stores in Hawaii since 1963. It focuses on providing organic fruits and vegetables in the produce section under its "O Organics'' label. Many stores also have a Starbucks, a meat and deli counter, a bakery, pharmacy, liquor section, etc.
5. Costco and Sam’s Club
A membership to Costo and Sam’s Club is a must for keeping a tight Hawaii grocery budget, particularly if you like buying in bulk. The store-brand products at these chains deliver a great bargain without compromising on quality. You can find everything from groceries to electronics, household essentials, and even furniture at these stores.
6. Down to Earth
Down to Earth has been a leading retailer of organic and natural foods in Hawaii for almost 50 years. It was established with the vision of providing high quality organic products at affordable prices.
That mission is still very much being carried out through its six locations across Hawaii. A long standing local favorite, Down to Earth has won the People’s Choice Award for Best Health Food Store 16 years in a row!
H Mart is a popular Asian grocery store chain that stocks imported produce and packaged foods from the region. Given the diversity in Hawaii's population, H Mart's niche products have made it a permanent fixture on the grocery runs of Hawaii residents.
8. Specialty stores
Head to one of the many specialty markets if you're looking for specific produce and foods from a particular region. Jimmy's Produce & Filipino Store is your spot for anything from the Philippines.
Don Quixote will get you sorted with Japanese goods while the many Thai markets across Oahu will have everything you need to whip up a great Thai meal at home. Head to the bustling Chinatown district near downtown Honolulu not just for some of the best dim sum and noodle shops but also for unique produce from the region.
For a typical grocery store experience, many people living in Hawaii like to shop at the grocery stores listed above. You will find all of your staples for some of the best prices, with some uniquely Hawaiian flair like the option to buy fresh poke bowls from the deli.
9. Farmers Markets
Oahu's farmers markets are a class apart. You can find some of the best local produce there straight from the people who grow it. These markets are about so much more than just produce.
They serve as community hubs, bringing together people from all walks of life. There's also a thriving food truck scene in these markets where you can sample many local and exotic cuisines.
Related: How to Budget for Living in Hawaii
How to save money when grocery shopping in Hawaii
1. Shop around for the best prices
The biggest tip for saving money on groceries in Hawaii is to shop around to see where you can get the best price. There are plenty of options to choose from. You can head to national chains such as Whole Foods, specialty stores, membership clubs, farmers markets, etc.
Many grocery store chains also have discounts and rewards that you can take advantage of. For example, Amazon Prime members are often provided additional discounts on products in Whole Foods stores. Chains like Times Supermarkets, Foodland, Safeway, etc have weekly advertised specials that provide you extra bang for your buck.
There’s great value to be had at each of these places while also having access to a unique and wide selection of products. For example, Whole Foods often sells peppers for $3.99/lb whereas Times sells peppers for $5.99/lb. Shopping around for prices helps you stretch your dollars much further.
2. A big box store membership is a must
A membership to a big box store like Costco or Sam’s Club provides great benefits. Since they sell in bulk quantities, you'll already be saving money, but often their prices are unbeatable. This effectively doubles the benefit and you'll soon see that the savings more than make up for the initial membership cost. It’ll help you save a lot of money in the long run and you can also take advantage of the promotions and deals they often run to save some extra cash.
3. Sign up for all of the rewards cards
Most major grocery chains offer rewards cards to customers. It's a way for them to ensure that customers keep coming back. You should sign up for these cards as you'll get access to big savings and rack up loyalty points whenever you make a purchase. The grocery stores often have the same items for sale for rewards customers and the savings are often significant. That item you like that is regularly $4.99 can be on sale most times with the rewards card for up to 30% off. Those kinds of savings add up when purchasing groceries for your entire family.
4. Military families save big at NEX
Members of the military have another great option in the NEX or Navy Exchange. It offers great prices on groceries in addition to many other products for military families.
Limited access may also be allowed for others. It's best to check up on the access requirements ahead of time.
5. Buy fresh local produce at farmers markets
Farmers markets in Hawaii are a great place to find unique and super fresh items, from produce to prepared foods. This is also a great place to meet other members of the community and settle into your new culture. Unlike many markets on the mainland, farmers markets in Hawaii can stay open all year long so you can count on them for your grocery needs in any season.
6. Visit specialty shops in diverse areas
Navigating Hawaii's grocery costs can even become a fun cultural experience. Expand your horizons by visiting one of the smaller markets in places like Chinatown or visit H-Mart for your Korean grocery needs or a Thai specialty shop. You can not only find some amazing, exotic produce there but also try new foods. It’s like taking a mini-vacation every time you go out to shop for groceries!
Budgeting for groceries in Hawaii isn’t going to feel all that difficult once you realize how things work here, and that the various options available to you can ultimately help bring the overall cost of groceries down. We’d also recommend checking out our guide on how to keep a grocery budget in Hawaii to ensure that your every dollar stretches just a little bit further.