In what I consider, our small little town of Tallahassee, there are some large named chain stores moving in for food shopping options these days. A couple that literally opened within days of each other and cause lines of shoppers to stand out for hours to get in on those “Grand Opening Specials” which a lot of us find totally crazy and concert line ticket-esk.
For our household finding time to get shopping in takes planning and fitting in, usually on a Saturday or Sunday around mid-day. We are so busy with our schedules, even though there are just two of us in our household usually, that we cannot afford to choose a food shopping store that doesn’t offer everything under one roof, but often find ourselves mixing our shopping stores up, like the rest of America, in order to get all the items we need for the week.
Here is my personal insight into some of the options that we have available locally and the pros and cons I find in each of them.
The Fresh Market – Several years ago, Fresh Market moved into Tallahassee and all the town was buzzing about another option to find organic and specialty food items with a quaint shopping atmosphere that made you want to buy everything because it looked pretty. I was one of those first shoppers that thought Fresh Market was new and creative for getting fresh wonderful food items that maybe my regular food shopping store did not offer me, which at that time was Publix and/or Wal-Mart. But after changing my eating habits and even more importantly, wanting to know where my food came from, I found that Fresh Market was just another box store that moved into town and really, those items that I thought were so wonderful were just another marketing ploy to get me to buy. I think the one thing that I was most disappointed in about Fresh Market was the amount of Conventionally grown items they sold in their produce section. I may have been naive in thinking that they were geared more towards Organic, but in my mind that’s what I thought they would be selling at this fancy and expensive food market. We never really shop at Fresh Market unless we are on that side of town and need to grab something on the way to a cookout or gathering that takes us past their store on the way to our destination.
We also have an EarthFare in Tallahassee, which I equate as a cross between The Fresh Market and Whole Foods Market, so I left them out of my pros and cons comparison.
Whole Foods Market – In October 2013, Whole Foods came onto the Tallahassee food scene and boy did people flock to the big box grocery. I restrained myself from going for several weeks, but finally gave in on Saturday afternoon and hit the store with my husband in order to grab some cookout items for a football party we were having at our home that afternoon. A HUGE store full of STUFF, lots and lots of STUFF! I was totally overwhelmed when we went into the store and not just because of the droves of people who came out to shop and see what it was all about either. So many options for things to buy, food bars galore, a huge deli section full of things, a large dining area for those that indulged in the six food bars they offer and my husband’s favorite, the beer bar in the store that allows you to purchase a beer and enjoy it in the store as you shop! Yeah, they’ve got that. But for us, it just wasn’t enough to keep us coming back for our regular shopping. I found once again that there were many fancy brands and lots and lots of fresh vegetables that were Conventionally grown and not all organic. I know a lot of people seem to not care about that, but for us in the Means house, it is really important and you can tell the difference.
Trader Joe’s – Not even a week after Whole Foods opened, our little town was graced with another big named chain, Trader Joe’s. The insane hoopla over this store was not as grand, in my opinion, as the Whole Foods opening, but for some of us foodies it was still a pretty cool deal. I didn’t get an opportunity to hit Trader Joe’s until this week and only because I found myself on that side of town, which is usually packed with traffic and the location can be somewhat difficult to get in and out of. So when I decided to hit it last night my expectations were really high based on my foodie buddies takes on the store and it’s offerings. Me on the other hand, I came away with a feeling of ehhh, I could take it or leave it. To me, Trader Joe’s seems like a in and out place to grab items that are pre-made, some are healthy mind you, and take them home to put together a quick dinner for the family. Kinda like a convenience store but with groceries. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking the convenience factor that they offer. I was so happy to find some meatless and cheeseless spinach tortellini and a spaghetti sauce that had only natural ingredients and NO SUGAR to go home and cook for myself the night I went and loved it so much I even finished it off the next day for lunch.
New Leaf Market Co-op – But for us in the Means house, our local co-op market is the place for us. They offer so much of everything we are looking for in our food shopping store. We get fresh organic fruits and vegetables that we never question where they come from. I love that the fruits and vegetables they offer are generally all seasonal items. We get local grass-fed and wild-caught meats and fish. There are local dairy and chicken farmers that provide them with the milk products and eggs that some families need and all the things in between. They even have an extensive assortment of bulk shopping items that you can get what you need for a meal instead of the whole box of processed junk you don’t. There is a wellness area that offers your medical and vitamin supplement needs along with a big choice of wine and beer for those that like a little libation. You can’t walk around with it like Whole Foods, but you can find what you need, I assure you. New Leaf Market also offers a hot bar and deli section for those days that you don’t bring your lunch and want a healthy option to grab and go or sit and enjoy in their dining area. Yes, as you can tell, we are partial to our local co-op, but it is not just because we have bought into the co-op. We love it because they try to get the community involved in know where their food comes from. They advocate for supporting local small farmers and they also offer seminars and workshops on things like making your own sushi, cooking classes and one of my favorites each year, the local farm tour that extends over a week in the Fall.
I am not knocking the fact that the Health Food stores are trying to get you or even help you to make better choices for yourself and your family, I am just trying to say that you should make sure you are informed before you go BUY ALL THINGS thinking they are healthy because the store’s facade makes you think it is.
So the next time you are heading out the door to shop, take a minute and think about where you are shopping and why you shop there. Generally the places that offer more goods are not always the best, but sometimes they are the only option you have depending on your location. Make sure you are getting the best for your money and don’t forget to support your local farmers and markets. They need you these days more than ever. Saturday is Small Business Saturday, where will you support local for your shopping choices?