PriceSmart warehouse club in Medellín has good prices to enable saving on grocery costs. It also has many imported items that are hard to find elsewhere.
PriceSmart opened in Medellín in November 2014 with a reported investment of $20 million. I have shopped there since it opened. By shopping at PriceSmart it is possible to save substantially over the prices found at other grocery stores in Medellín like Exito.
What is PriceSmart?
PriceSmart is a membership warehouse club similar to a BJ’s Wholesale Club, Costco or Sam’s Club in the U.S. It is also similar to the two Makro stores found in Medellín, but PriceSmart is larger.
PriceSmart was founded in 1996 by the original founders of Price Club, Sol Price and Robert Price. Price Club was merged with Costco in 1992. PriceSmart is publically traded on the NASDAQ with the symbol PSMT. You can find some Kirkland products sold at PriceSmart, as the company has an agreement with Costco.
PriceSmart is the largest operator of membership warehouse clubs in Central America and the Caribbean. It currently has 39 warehouse clubs located in 13 countries and over 2.8 million membership card holders.
The company currently has seven stores in Colombia, located in Barranquilla, Bogotá, two in Cali, Chia (north of Bogotá – its newest in Colombia), Medellín and Pereira. It has additional stores located in Aruba, Barbados, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Jamaica, Nicaragua, Panama, Trinidad and Tobago and U.S. Virgin Islands.
The company plans to open more stores in Colombia. When it opened its first store in Medellín, the company disclosed that it thought that Medellín could support three or four more stores, if it could find locations. But the company opened a second store in Cali before a second in Medellín.
What Can You Find at PriceSmart?
PriceSmart sells a very wide range of products including appliances, automotive products, clothing, electronics (audio/visual equipment, cameras, computers, televisions), furniture, groceries, office equipment and supplies and sports equipment. The average store has 2,200 different products (SKUs).
Groceries are the biggest seller and take up about half of the large warehouse store. Grocery items are normally found in large, wholesale packaging.
You can find many imported grocery brands that are difficult or impossible to find in other stores in Medellín. In the typical PriceSmart store about 52% of products are imported.
For example, some of the imported brands I have seen in the PriceSmart in Medellín include Butterball turkeys, Edwards Key Lime pies, Eggo waffles, Pace Picante sauce, Pampers diapers, Philadelphia cream cheese, Prego Spaghetti sauce, Red Barron frozen pizzas, Ruffles potato chips and many others.
The warehouse club in Medellín also has a popular cafeteria serving chicken, hamburgers, pizza and sandwiches with decent prices. For example, a fried chicken combo with fries and drink costs 11,900 pesos. On the weekends, the cafeteria is usually pretty full.
How Does the Membership Work?
To enter PriceSmart someone in your group needs a membership card. A member can bring up to three guests but only a member can purchase items. Members must be at least 18 years old.
The company has two types of memberships. The Diamond membership is intended for personal use. And for the current annual cost of 75,000 pesos you get two Diamond membership cards for two people. So, I have a card and my Colombian wife has a card.
The company also has a business membership that currently costs 65,000 pesos annually and includes two cards. Additional business membership cards cost 23,000 pesos each.
When I originally signed up for a membership it took about 15 minutes to sign up in 2014. You can painlessly renew your membership annually at the checkout counter. In addition, you can use your membership card at any of the company’s stores in 13 countries.
The savings can be so substantial that we easily save the cost of the membership each year with just one trip to the store. And we shop there about once every six weeks.
What Savings are Possible?
Pricing is lower for many products than the pricing you will find in Exito or Jumbo for the same products. But you may have to buy larger size packages at PriceSmart.
To compare pricing, I recently surveyed the pricing of 12 different items in PriceSmart in Medellín and the Exito store in the Mayorca mall in Sabaneta. And here are the results:
Out of the 12 items I surveyed, none were cheaper in Exito. The average savings of the 12 items surveyed was 31%. By comparing pricing by quantity, you can find many items that are much cheaper in PriceSmart than in Exito or Jumbo.
But be careful as we have found that not everything sold at PriceSmart is cheaper than at Exito. For example, a number of the fruits and vegetables like onions, pineapples and tomatoes tend to be more expensive at PriceSmart. Several locally produced products can be less expensive in Exito as Exito buys in huge quantities. So, we recommend comparing prices, like in the table above.
How to Get There?
PriceSmart is located on the west side of Olaya Herrera Airport and is near Clínicas Las Américas. I used to live nearby when I lived in the Loma de los Bernal barrio in Belén. But it is not conveniently located to neighborhoods were most expats live in Medellín, such as El Poblado, Envigado, Laureles-Estadio and Sabaneta.
PriceSmart in Medellín
Address: Carrera 70 at Calle 1, Belén
Phone: +57 4 403 9300
Hours: Monday-Saturday 9 am – 9 pm, Sunday 10 am – 8:30 pm
The Bottom Line
Since we started shopping at PriceSmart (and Tiendas D1 and Makro and more recently Justo y Bueno, our grocery costs in terms of pesos have dropped by over 30 percent since our average in 2014 when we shopped primarily at just Exito and Jumbo. By comparison shopping it is possible to save substantially on your grocery costs.
In addition, PriceSmart is usually the busiest on the weekends with longer checkout lines. So, I recommend shopping there during the week, if possible.
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