We are going to help you figure out what to do when hunger strikes and you need high quality food or special ingredients. Save time and money with the Essential Grocery Guide to Pereira!
Production Chain Mindfulness
Climate change is a reality in the world today. We are seeing more chain-of-production issues than ever before. In Colombia the biggest culprit is corporate-farm monoculture production. Or, big farms which grow only one type of crop.
Historical evidence has emerged repeatedly of the issues related to mass production agriculture. The Panama disease was a chemical-resistant strain of bacteria which emerged from Panama and spread to surrounding countries. The end result was the total death of the Gros-Michel variety of bananas. Today we are seeing this history repeat itself with plantains, bananas and other crops like tomatoes and lettuce.
The point is, that small family farms and businesses can help us reverse some of the bigger issues. Under the new tax reforms which were signed into law December 23rd, 2016, certain types of agricultural commodities qualify for zero tax, or reduced taxes for investors.
When you buy from local producers you can create a direct impact on the local economy.
It takes extra time to go to the markets, plazas and street stalls to buy your vegetables, but many of these crops were brought in by jeep from nearby farms. The legendary coffee-jeeps or Willys, deliver produce to the stalls near Parque Libertad (Calle 14, el centro), which is then packaged or loaded onto carts to sell in the street. This tradition also helps to give jobs to people who are otherwise unemployable. Many times, the quality of the produce, may even exceed the products of the corporate chain grocers.
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Organic Markets and a Food Coop Shop
None of these shops are very big and over time the products change. Colombian supply chain moves like mud and sometimes things run out or simply become unavailable, due in part to the issues we mentioned at the beginning of this article. Since many of the “natural” products come from really small family businesses, suppling the demand can get a bit sketchy due to weather patterns which have become increasingly unpredictable.
The best thing to do if you are searching for a certain food, or product you really want, is to contact the producer and see if they will bring it to you. Remember, almost everything in Colombia is domicilio, or home delivery. Check for phone numbers on products you like and feel free to call them up!
Cogollo – Food Coop
Calle 21, between carrera 5 and carrera 6. Look for a small green shop.
If you are looking for a sustainable, ecological and organic food shop, then this should be your first stop, at least twice a week. Tuesdays typically receive organic pasture raised eggs, they sell out fast. On Fridays you can find mora-berries (or blackberries), yucca, chicken, organic panela and fresh herbs. You can also buy staples like cocoa, coffee, plantains, lemons and more. This is a very small shop with a huge personality, which newcomers will come to appreciate over time.
Cogollo is a cooperative which helps local farmers sell their organic/high quality crops directly to conscious consumers at competitive prices.
Despite its humble appearances, you can’t beat the potential quality of the products sold here. The key is to go on the right day when products are brought in, or close to it.
The first Wednesday of each month, Pereira has a farmers market at Universidad Tecnologica de Pereira (UTP), near the planetarium. It starts at 9 am and goes until 3 pm. For the best selection, try to arrive before noon. Note: this market is only available when school is in session, JAN & FEB no market.
The first Sunday of each month, Via La Florida, in a vereda, or residential area, called Porvenir, at the community center. This is much smaller but you can find fresh produce, indigenous foods and fresh made treats. Open from 8 am to 4 pm.
The most famous market is in Armenia, Quindio on the first Saturday of each month. This market opens at 8 am until noon, and has the biggest selection of fruits, veggies, organic meats, spices, amazonian/indigenous foods, staples like fresh beans, honey, panela etc. It is held in the parking lot of SENA (tech school).
Health Food Stores | Neighborhood
We need to make a note that there is a difference between organic health food shops which tend to carry many gluten-free foods and basic staples, versus “Tiendas Naturales.” The “Tiendas Natural” are all over the place in el Centro. But, typically things like their quinoa is dirty, full of rocks and low quality. They carry commercial brands of protein, personal care products and “healthy” processed foods. You can definitely find certain products like apple cider vinegar, simple ingredient candies and natural shampoos in these shops, but they are not always organic. Our best advice is to always read labels and keep a Spanish/English list of any foods or allergies which you can’t have, or need to avoid.
Organica | Pereira Plaza
This is a great place to stop for smoothies, juices and sugar-free dessert options. Bring a friend and hang out at their cute little juice bar. Here you can find all-natural soaps, shampoos and face creams/washes. They carry cocoa, gluten free flour & pasta products, protein bars and a nice selection of spices including curry. Their prices run a bit higher as they are located in Centro Comercial Pereira Plaza.
Avellana | Los Alamos
For therapeutic beds and water-filters, you might want to stop by here. This shop is a Nikken distributor, FYI. They don’t have a very big selection, but if you live over by UTP and you need to pick something up, its a lot closer than anyone else.
NatuLab | Jardin
A small shop located to the South-West of el Centro, if you live in the Jardin barrio you can find some of the healthy-food basics. They offer cocoa, locally produced honey, gluten-free flour options and healthy snacks. Especially if you live closer to Homecenter or Akosto, you can find the products you need without having to travel to Circunvalar.
Prana | Pinares
If you are looking for a fun friendly hang-out spot in Pinares, then you might like Prana. Modeled as a “healthy” sandwich/juice shop, it has some unique products too. They carry a local brand of orange juice, granola, gluten-free breads & cakes, healthy arepas and vegetarian “meat/cheese” substitutes. They also carry some “natural” import items too. Plus protein bars, gluten free flours, spices etc.
La Tienda Natural | Dosquebradas
Upon first impression, this will feel like an American organic grocery store. There is a fruit/veggie section which can swell and shrink based on production, plus a wide variety of products including gluten-free snacks, gluten-free flour, organic cocoa and even a deli-style sandwich bar.
Alacena | Circunvalar
This shop is tucked down a side street, a half block from Avenida Circunvalar. They have cheaper prices on eggs than Cogolle in el Centro AND, better prices for gluten-free flour than Organica. Some of the more unique ingredients include a great all-natural ice cream, we really liked the chocolate flavor. We also noticed that they had some imports like Braggs-Aminos. Special Item: all natural ice-cream for dogs.
Corporate Chain Grocers in Pereira
The word “exito,” actually means success in Spanish. For food variety, you can find standard import items like Heinz catsup, Budweiser and French spaghetti/noodles. Their produce isn’t as fresh as what you find on the street, but they do have a very Wal-Mart-like variety of stuff which includes clothing, office supplies, electronics and home necessities.
This is the over-priced cousin of Exito, they are actually owned by the same company. You will find much of the same items as Exito plus more imports, a bigger chocolate, wine and cheese selection, plus high quality fruits and vegetables including some of the harder to find items like Asparagus or Zucchini. However, the last time we were shopping there the asparagus was 37,000 pesos versus only 7,000 for the same amount at PriceSmart (2016).
They do carry Thai Kitchen products, a great high quality extra virgin organic coconut oil and cream cheese that doesn’t have preservatives in it. There are two stores, one in Pinares and the other on the Via Cartago going to Cerritos from Pereira.
Originally a locally owned supermarket chain unique to the Coffee Axis, Super-Inter has joined monopoly-land as a result of a buy-out by, drumroll please, Exito! (2014-15). As a result their prices have slowly been raised, and the supermarkets still smell funky. That being said, they do carry a variety of veggies including Leeks, most of the tropical fruits (which change according to season and crop output) plus the standard staples. You won’t find much import merchandise, but they do have some cheap, decent quality wine options and all the basics.
Special Note on SuperInter: When you see a discount in the store….half the time, you won’t actually get it. (Ex. went to buy soap, advertised 30% discount, no strings attached on the sign…cashier refuses to give discount unless your ID card is signed up in their system, to earn points, which don’t actually buy much.)
This shop carries tons of French imports by Casino brand. Once owned by Carrefour, it has changed hands again and thus the name Jumbo. In Pereira, we have 2. One near the Viaduct bridge, and the other in the biggest shopping mall named Unicentro. Similar to Exito, Jumbo also has several different departments including home and office supplies.
A distant cousin of the Costco corporation, you will feel like you are in the US, until you realize that aside from plenty of Kirkland Signature branded stuff, the selection isn’t as good as stateside. They carry the cheapest blackberries, dates and nuts (of any kind), in Pereira. It is the only place I have found where you can buy Pampers brand diapers (at a reasonable price) and cotton underwear/pajamas (on the cheap). Unfortunately, they do not carry the Costco-style apple pies. But, you can eat Costco-style Pizza et. al. in their food cafeteria.
This is probably the best place to buy certain appliances like Kitchen-Aid and Nutri-Bullet, but watch out for the IVA (Value Added Tax of 19%), they do not list it in the price of store products you see in the store. They don’t even tell you what the IVA is unless you can remember which “letter” denotes 0% or 19%. This sneaky trick catches up with you at the cash register. Membership is 65,000 COP per year annually (2017).
We hope you find this list helpful for your next shopping trip. While we don’t have the same quantity and variety of processed foods in Colombia, we do have a profusion of ingredients. The challenge is learning how to use them.
Editors Note: This list is by no means complete as the industry is constantly changing. Fresh fruits and veggies are always in demand, although now more difficult to grow due to climate change. Vertical farms, hydroponics and greenhouses are great potential investment opportunities in Pereira, for savvy investors.
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Bananas…and many staple crops doomed: geneticliteracyproject.org/2017/03/21/bananas-many-staple-crops-may-doomed-disease-cannot-biodiversify/
Why Buy Local? : sustainableconnections.org/why-buy-local/Owner/Editor of OpenMindedTraveler.com, Erin is also the Project Administrator/Editor of Pereira City Guide.com - She has been living in Pereira, Colombia for several years.