Your local supermarket chains
Here in Orlando (and throughout Florida), Publix reigns supreme as the #1 supermarket chain. While some people on the Chowhound Florida board love to complain about them, I've always thought they were pretty good. Winn-Dixie was the big #2 in Florida for most of the last two decades (at least), but so many of them have closed their doors over the last few years. They were never nearly as good, though. We also have a few Albertsons' up here, but now it seems like some of them are closing as well, perhaps to be converted into new Publixes. Then of course you have Walmart SuperCenter and Super Target, and the high-end gourmet places like Whole Foods and Fresh Market (we don't have Trader Joe's in Florida yet).
Growing up in Miami in the '80s, I remember many other random supermarkets around town, all of which eventually closed or turned into Publix or Winn-Dixie. Grand Union, Pantry Pride, Wooley's, the hilarious-sounding Piggly-Wiggly, X-Tra. I wonder how many of those were declining national chains versus doomed local institutions. On that note, I was struck during a recent visit to New York City that they don't have many huge supermarkets up there, but count on little neighborhood market/convenience store/"delis" for all their grocery needs. Some of these were super-nice and some were dingy and crappy, but it was interesting considering you can't drive more than ten minutes here without hitting a gigantic Publix.
But what do you all have near you in your home towns? Where do you shop, and where do you go out of your way to avoid shopping?
Here in Richmond, VA we have a regional chain called Ukrops which is very popular and is the #1 store in the area even though they sell no alcohol and are closed on Sundays and holidays. Other places include Kroger, Food Lion (blech), and Fresh Market and a couple of local markets. We shop mostly at Fresh Market and Kroger. I avoid Food Lion at all costs.
The chain grocery stores here in the Chicago area are pretty bad.
Jewel, Dominicks, Meijer, etc all have pretty bad meat, and produce.
I go to a local butcher for meat, and poultry, and a fish market about an hour away for fresh fish, and some shellfish. Produce is purchased at farmers markets, or roadside farmstands in the summer. I also go to a place called Caputos for good produce, and a great deli selection. In the winter I have to take what I can get as far as veggies.
We do most of our shopping @ Super Wal-Mart, Korgers, and a small family owned grocer(Handy Foods) bad produce, & bad meat(we rarely get any at these places), but cheaper paper towels, t.p., canned goods, milk, butter, etc. Anything I can buy anywhere else I do(Mexican market, Filipino market, butcher shop, seafood supplier, liquor store, etc.)
The places I avoid - Trader Joes, I have no use for their gimmecky products, frozen fish, frozen foods, prepared foods, etc. Whole Foods, I do not eat organic foods, or wish to pay Whole Foods premium prices for meat that I can get cheaper, and better elsewhere, the same goes for their seafood. They do have nice looking produce, but I go elsewhere for that. I guess WF just goes against my lifestyle and beliefs.
In Tulsa, OK, used to be Albertson's and Homelands were king. The Albertson's pretty much closed down most of the Homelands, and then they were bought out and now are Food Pyramid. Still a few Homelands around, Reasor's is a store I tend to prefer. We also have a lot of Warehouse Markets, as well as the usual Super Targets, a Whole Foods, Walmart Neighborhood Markets and Sam's Club. I've heard there is a Piggly Wiggly somewhere in town, but have never seen it. Oh, and there is one Aldi's.
Florida Panhandle checking in. When we moved here, it was Winn-Dixie, Walmart, Delchamps, and Albertson's for the most part. Delchamps went bankrupt and the local stores ended up as either Bruno's or Food World.
We shopped at Albertson's because it seemed to have the best quality and selection, and the prices were cheaper than what were used to when we lived in Tennesee. (Where it was a Walmart monopoly, and they jacked up the 'Always Low Prices' on everything. That experience is why I refuse to shop at Walmart to this day) The Delchamps/Bruno's/Food World stores were out of the way and not as good, and Winn-Dixie has lousy selection, high prices, and always seemed kind of dirty.
Publix moved into the area in 2000, and we immediately started going 10 miles out of the way to shop there. I know there are complaints about how awful they are in Miami. Seems like the further you get from Dade County, the better they get. Far better selection and far better prices than Albertson's, and the store always seemed very clean. They're also a good enough place to work that a surprising number of people who were there when the store opened are still there now, which says something because we went through a time when unemployment was less than 2%, and service industry jobs were going unfilled left and right.
The Albertson's is now in the process of being converted to a Publix. We went to their 'liquidation sale' and the prices on a lot of items were still more expensive than the same thing at Publix, which has a reputation for being the expensive place to shop. Truth be told, their prices on general milk, flour, hamburger, etc. may be more expensive than Walmart, but their middlebrow goods are cheaper than anyone else's middlebrow products.
Fresh Market's been in the area for about a year and a half now. There are a couple of things we get there that we can't find anywhere else, but they're xpensive and their produce (save for bananas) seems to be engineered to look pretty and ship well at the expense of tasting good.
North of Boston there are several chains:
Stop & Shop, in the process of reverting to Star Market, although some Shaw's still exist.
Hanneford, mostly in New England, I believe
Market Basket in MA, NH, and moving into ME
Trader Joe's is here in force,
We tend to avoid the largest chains like the plague and prefer to shop for fresh meats & veggies at farm stands or farmers markets. For general household goods Market Basket is our go to store.
There are some smaller chains that are mostly in the outlying towns -- Roche Brothers, Market Basket, Hannaford, Donelan's, etc. -- and like seemingly everyplace else, we have an influx of Trader Joes and Whole Foods (which bought out a similar local chain, Bread and Circus, a few years ago), but in the Boston Metro Area proper, it's a two-man battle between Stop&Shop and what is as of this morning again officially called Star Market. The nearest Wal-Mart Supercenter is in Salem, New Hampshire, about 45 miles north, and there are no Super Targets, although one is being built down in Stoughton, near the IKEA. They're supposedly putting in a Wegman's well south of the city in Westwood, but it's tied up in licensing issues and I'll believe it when I see it.
We have a Star Market mere blocks from our house that either Allstonian or I is in pretty much every day. Even before the recent overhaul and updating, which has improved the store's amenities greatly (it has a full-service butcher stall now, for example), it was already my favorite supermarket in town, and conveniently, I believe it's also the only 24-hour supermarket in the Boston city limits.
We also have a Stop&Shop that's only slightly further away (though trickier to get to, so it seems more of a distance) and is a perfectly acceptable store. I'd say they're roughly equal in terms of price, and I would give Stop&Shop a slight edge in terms of its produce, but that's a moot point, since in the summer we get our produce from a CSA and various farmer's markets and in winter we go to Russo's, the greengrocer in Watertown. In fact, because there's a large and rather nice S&S just down the block from Russo's, we're more likely to shop at that one than the one in our neighborhood.
As a general rule, we do most of our shopping at Star Market and go to Stop&Shop mostly to take advantage of advertised specials. There's also a handful of things we get at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, and if we're going to Waltham for other things, we might pop into the Hannaford's there for a change. And for that matter, we buy our milk at a liquor store in our neighborhood, because they carry the brand we like, which Star Market and Stop&Shop don't. So we actually shop at pretty much all the available options.
Houston has a wide cross-section of supermarkets catering to our diverse demographics. Kroger is well represented, as is Randalls (part of the Safeway conglomerate). We had quite a few Albertsons, but when they moved out, the HEB group (a Texas chain started by, Howard E. Butt - could I make this up?) took over most of their stores. Another local chain is Fiesta, which caters to the Hispanic community with supermarkets that also sell clothes and electronics. On the high end we have a couple of Whole Foods, and Central Market, which is owned by HEB. All serve the community needs well, and compete intensely with double and triple coupons offered at Kroger and Randalls. I scan the flyers that come in the newspapers on Wednesday and plan my trips according to who has what on sale. I seldom buy meat at Fiesta (the stores are not always as clean as they could be) but HEB generally has the best prices on produce, and they are making many of their stores more upscale with expanded wine sections, in-store sushi bars, etc. I visit Whole Foods occasionally, but for specialty/gourmet items (good coffee and bulk foods/spices) I rely on Central Market, which has added a "Foodie Club" membership offering which give me generous coupons and gifts with a purchase of $40 or more. Ive received nifty freebies like Wusthof paring knives, a cutting board, salad hands, lucite salt & pepper grinders, etc. as well as the occasional free pound of shrimp or chicken. Of course Houston has a couple of SuperTargets and a few WalMart Supercenters, but these require a special trip, as do Sams Club and Costco. Combined with the local inner-loop Farmer's Markets we really dont have ROOM for Trader Joe's, although I would love to see one come into town just to shake things up.
Safeway used to operate in Houston, but thankfully they are long gone, except for buying out Randall's. I'll get to them in a second. Safeway was a disaster. They bought out a local chain, Weingarten's, and proceeded to trash their locations overnight. We had a beautiful, relatively new Weingarten's, and what they did to them is a crime. Anyway, that was years ago. Now they've bought Randall's and on the surface things seem relatively the same. A co-worker was in management there and has nothing good to say about them, Safeway or the highway. Customer service, a Randall's hallmark, has plummeted. I rarely go there due to lack of checkers. I prefer Kroger where I can self-check. On two recent occasions I've been to a Randall's Flagship that was so empty you could shoot a cannon down the aisles and not hit anyone. I think the only way they stay open is by crazy high prices.
re: James Cristinian
In our neighborhood the Weingarten's turned into an Appletree. I don't think it was ever a Safeway, but I could be wrong. I just know it was a different name practically every year. Then it became a Krogers. After a few years they build a new Kroger's signature store and tore down the old one. That is generally where I do most of my shopping, because of the double/triple coupons. Now our Randalls, on 34th st., even though it is a Safeway operation, is one of the friendliest, most helpful places around. You never have to hunt for someone to ask a question, and there are plenty of checkers, but they are more expensive on most of the items I buy. Still they have things there that I can'/t get at Krogers, and their rotisserie chicken is far better than Krogers. Sam's Club and Super Walmart are other options, but a bit of a drive, so only once in awhile. The only Fiesta I really liked was off of I-10, but it is closed now. I don't speak enough spanish to shop at the one on Shepherd, but I will go for produce. I also do what cheflambo does, by scanning the circulars and then making my list with codes and prices, so I know who has the best deal. Sometimes I am surprised that Krogers can beat some of the others. There is a little store named Foodarama that has killer prices on meats, sausage and cheese. Not a great selection like you would find in a larger store, but some good deals are found there every time.
Cheflambo - I didn't know you got such cool treats at CM. I'm going to have to start using my foodie card!
Great overview! One additional, smaller chain we have in Houston is Rice Epicurean, but frankly, I don't see how they stay in business. It's a gourmet store/supermarket hybrid but their prices on regular groceries are insane (makes Randall's look like Wal-Mart in comparison). The one near me is never crowded. I'll go in to pick up an item or two for convenience sake, but I wouldn't dream of filling up a basket there.
>>>we do most of our shopping at Star Market and go to Stop&Shop mostly to take advantage of advertised specials.<<<
We used to do the same thing, except that a while back, we noticed this phenomenon at our local Stop & Shop: if we wanted a sale item, the shelf was empty and it was out of stock. To this day, when we're in another store (and we usually are) and that happens, one of us says "Oh, it's a Stop & Shop sale."
I had no idea so many other people were so unhappy with S&S, but can't say I'm surprised.
I grew up in suburban Miami looooonnng before the 80's. The big 3 supermarkets in order of quality (and size) were Publix, Winn Dixie and Grand Union. Maybe A&P was there (or was that North Carolina?)
Now in Southern California the formerly locally-owned full-service supermarkets are Vons (now owned by Safeway), Ralph's (now owned by Kroger), and Albertson's (now owned by Supervalu). There is also locally-owned Stater Brothers. The gourmet stores are Whole Paycheck and Bristol Farms (also a Supervalu brand). If you live in an upscale neighborhood you'll find a few others such as Jensens. These all are very expensive.
As a result there are a number of bag-your-own chains such as Food 4 Less (a Kroger brand), independent chain Superior Super Warehouse, and some other smaller ethnic chains such as Jons. They tend to be cheaper for produce and meat but not necessarily for staples.
Then we have the Trader Joe's/ Fresh & Easy small-store options (where I do most of my shopping), 99-Cent Store, and local ethnic markets for inexpensive meats and produce.
The unions have kept the food-intensive Walmarts and Targets out of many neighborhoods. We do have Costco and Sam's but they don't work well for smaller households.
i too grew up in So. Florida, remembering those chains and Publix being the best of them. However now when I go back there to visit I am shocked at how expensive Publix is.
Now I live in the northeast US and shop much as possible at Farmer's markets and farm stands, I get bulk items (grains, flours, cheeses) and dairy items on sale at Whole Foods, off season I get fruits and veggies there as well because I find if I shop carefully I pay the same and the quality is often better than other supermarket chains. In addition I shop at ethnic markets and Trader Joes and as a lastly, chains: Shaws, Stop and Shop (shudder) and Johnnie's. If Market Basket were near me I'd go there instead of these chains.
Upstate NY near Rochester. One word: Wegmans! Hands down THE best supermarket I've ever been to. I've been to Publix, Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, Wal Mart, Tops, etc. The bigger Wegmans will blow you away. The flagship, in Pittsford has become somewhat of a tourist attraction.
Wegmans is, and always has been family owned. They have branched into PA, VA, MD and probably more. Other large chains study and copy them quite extensively.
I grew up with Piggly Wiggly, and "going to the Pig" was a pretty common phrase growing up in my house. Not so many Pig's around anymore, but I think that there are still a few scattered here and there.
Here in North Carolina we've got tons of Food Lions (yuck), Harris Teeter, and Lowe's Foods. HT is pretty inconsistent - some stores are awesome and some are nasty - and Lowe's Foods is good, but a little pricier than other stores. I wish that we had Publix here! I generally shop for staples at Lowe's or HT, and then hit the Fresh Market for produce, meat, and some specialty splurges. We have TJ's, but I'm not a big fan.
Here in the San Francisco/Bay area (San Jose to be specific) we have the usual Safeway and Nob Hill (owned by Raley's) as well as PW Market, which is where I shop. PW only has nine stores in the expanded Bay area, and while they are a little more expensive than the Safeways and the Nob Hills, my butcher knows my name and asks how that pork tenderloin turned out that I got last week, or the deli folks asking if I'd like a sample of a new cheese they just got in. They are smaller than the "big box" grocery stores, but the few extra cents for getting exactly what I want and service like you would not believe. To me, its worth it.
Here in SE PA/Wilmington DE we have Giants, Acme, Genuardi's (bought by Safeway) and a Wegman's about 15 miles away. None of them except Wegman's are great. I was in nowheresville VT with my cousin last week and damn near droooled as we went through Shaws.
We do have a locally owned grocery, Janssens, that is great but expensive
Here in Northern NJ, the major supermarket chains are Shop-Rite, Pathmark, A&P, and Stop&Shop.
Shop-Rite is the most popular chain here, and overall has the best prices. The stores are individually owned and operated (they're all part of a buying cooperative) and the quality of the stores varies. The stores are almost always insanely busy and aisles tend to be narrow. The crowds drive me crazy, so I go to Shop-Rite only during major sales, and even then, I tend to go first thing in the morning.
A&P has been around forever, and even though they've had a reputation for being expensive, they have made a lot of improvements in their prices and item availability. I've been finding myself going to A&P the most of the major chains here. They're not as busy as Shop-Rite, but they don't seem to make quite the effort to staff stores that most Shop-Rites do either.
Pathmark is a strange beast. They used to have prices on par with Shop-Rite, but they've had their share of financial troubles over the past several years. A&P recently bought them, and they're trying to keep Pathmark as their "urban" brand while the A&P stores are being marketed more to upper-middle income families. They do have good prices, but they don't seem to have the quality or selection of the other chains. Their staffing is abysmal, especially at late night hours, when they may only have one "Bag Your Own" register open. And the crowds shopping at Pathmark do tend to be a bit tougher than the typical A&P crowds. Most stores have been remodeled recently, but the stores still feel far more dated that most Shop-Rites or remodeled A&Ps.
Stop & Shop I hate with a passion. I actually worked there on weekends for a couple of years and I hated every minute of it. Their prices are awful, the quality of their prepared foods and most bakery items are awful, and the stores are always inadequately staffed. The stores do tend to be relatively clean and produce isn't bad, but you'll pay through the nose for almost everything you buy. (They do reduce meat approaching expiration dates, however, which can lead to some money saved. A&P does this too.)
We do have a large variety of great gourmet and specialty markets here in NJ also, selling foods from a variety of countries. And there are shops that cater to all levels of income. There's Corrado's, which caters to a more working-class, urban clientele. The prices are incredible, but so are the crowds, and the staff and customers speak so many different languages that communication can sometimes be a problem. Maywood Market is like a smaller version of Corrado's. This is my favorite place. Prices are very good. The crowd tends to be a slighly more blue collar than white collar middle class crowd. A new market with a few locations called Zeytinia just opened too. More expensive than Maywood Market, but still reasonable prices on most items. The crowd at my local Zeytinia tends to be white-collar upper middle class. And then we have a place called the Market Basket, which is located is a super-affluent town and caters to that crowd. I go there every once in a blue moon, but most items are too expensive for my liking, and the quality is just as good at the other stores. Plus, the high-fallutin crowd there bugs me. But there's something for everyone.
I had family that lived in Florida for several years, so I'm pretty familiar with the chains the OP mentioned. Publix stores are nice and clean with wide aisles, but they do tend to be pretty expensive. And they really need to update their circa-1987 registers. Winn-Dixie is like the "Pathmark of the South". The stores seem to cater to a less affluent crowd than Publix, but the stores are still OK. They do have nice cheap prices on booze and health and beauty aid items though. Food Lion is a disaster, but I did used to go there to pick up a super cheap item or two when I had to. It's not a chain I would recommend going to overall, however. The stores are run down, the item selections are poor, and staffing is inadequate.
One thing that really surprised me about FL is that the supermarkets down there overall are quite a bit more expensive than the supermarkets in NJ. Meat and ice cream especially are significantly more expensive. And even orange juice and oranges are more expensive in FL! WTF?!? Why? This I never figured out.
One more thing I haven't figured out. Why is it so hard to find a decent bakery in FL? Bakeries are on every corner here in NJ. In FL, the closest bakery (aside from the supermarket bakeries) to my brother's apartment was a 45 minute drive away, and their prices were absolutely insane! The South FL bakery situation tends to be a bit better, but not much! What gives?
For the sake of you Floridians, I hope Trader Joe's goes there - but just so you know, it's NOT high-end in the way Whole Foods is. The stores are fairly small, with the emphasis on quality products - many of them contracted for manufacture, worldwide, under the TJ's brand - at quite reasonable prices. Some items, like nuts and dried fruit, are real bargains. As for NYC, there are larger supermarkets which are at basement level, with just the entrance at street level.
Hi from Michigan. Since the demise of Farmer Jack, Kroger has been dominant around here. I regret this situation; I think their service is just fair, their prices on the high side, and their food middling all around. But alternatives are sparse. There's Meijer, which is cheap but mighty uneven in many areas; there are extremely high-priced local independents; there's Whole Foods. I usually end up there because at least they get me in and out quickly, and many of their prepared foods are decent. The chain that annoys me most is Hiller's, which is more expensive than Whole Foods and has given me rude treatment almost every time I've been in there and made me wait 15+ minutes in line more often than not. Metro Detroit is wide open for some competition.
re: Jim M
Which Hillers were they rude to you at, Jim? I shop at Hillers in Berkley (which is an odd little store, but it's walking distance) and they are inevitably helpful and polite. Might be the small town/small store thing...
A&P buying FJ was the death knell. I wasn't a frequent FJ shopper but they did at least offer competition.
I work near a Busch's store in Rochester Hills and I must say that is my favorite chain grocery location around here. Gorgeous store, good sales but a little spendy otherwise. If I go Krogering, it's always the upscale Kroger in B'ham for more variety and a generally nicer atmosphere than "regular" Krogers (you can tell the one at Northwood is doomed).
I'm also a Holiday Market fan for excellent meat, great service, and variety.
Don't get me started on this rant.
I live in Queens, NY, and can't believe that in all of NYC, the state of supermarkets is so abysmal. My local is Waldbaums, and since A&P bought them out years ago, they have declined precipitously. The local store underwent a multi-million dollar renovation last year, and the selection and quality went down as the prices went up. When the big mucky-mucks were walking around during the grand opening, I asked them why prices were generally so high, and why they can't source local produce. Their answer was basically that unions force the prices up, and any produce has to be centrally bought and distributed through their warehouses.
When I visit my son in Buffalo and go to Wegman's and I'm amazed by their stores. If Wegman's can do it, why can't other chains?
I refuse to do my general shopping in Waldbaums's--I'll run in to pick up a container of milk, or some Tropicana if it's on sale. I belong to a CSA and get my spring-through- fall produce from that, get some items at Trader Joe's, and travel to Fairway in Plainview to do the rest of my basic shopping. My money can be spent anywhere, and this way I get to choose the best of what's out there. And that's not saying much.
Here in the SF Bay Area my favorite local chain is Andronico's. Sorta upscale, with prices to match, not as diverse as some other markets, but they have interesting gourmet items, a real meat counter, and the pared down selection means it's actually easy to find things.
I hate my local chains with a passion. Here in outerboro NYC the only option in my 'hood is Waldbaums, Waldbaums, or Waldbaums. They are grossly overpriced due to the lack of competition, and their service is horrendous. Boneless skinless chicken breasts are often on "sale" for $4.99/lb. Their produce choices are slim, and terrible. On one recent, desperate trip there when I was pressed for shopping time, I had plans to cook either a brisket or roast pork and they had neither in the store.
I've taken to shopping at a local "meat center." It's an italian mini-supermarket that specializes in butchering. The people couldn't be nicer. The store isn't the most modern and sleek and shiny, but I'm very happy with meat from there, and I make due with veggies from Trader Joe's and greenmarkets.