Choosing where to shop can be tough, especially when there are so many options out there. When it comes to grocery shopping, I’ve done it both ways. I’ve chosen a store where I can meet all of my needs in one trip - I can get my produce, my meat, things for my house, stuff for my car, stuff for my cat - all at the same place. I’ve also done it where I go to different stores based on what I need and the quality they provide.
Everyone is different and it all comes down to what is important to you in terms of quality and for some, price. For me and my family, we are currently on the later option, where we shop at different places depending on what we’re shopping for. It may seem inconvenient, but quality is important to us and we are also on a very tight budget, which often requires shopping around.
Whether you’re all about the one-stop shop or you like to shop around, this list provides an overview of grocery stores I’ve shopped in and why you may consider them for your grocery needs.
*Note this is not a comprehensive list. There are many grocery stores that are not on this list because I haven’t been to them and have no experience to speak from. If your grocery store is not on this list, consider what category it falls under or which store on this list it’s most similar to.
LOCAL FARMER’S MARKET
When it’s in season, Chris and I love to shop as much as we can at our local farmer’s market. Most cities or towns have some sort of farmer’s market or fresh produce stand. The thing with farmer’s markets is most of them are not open all the time; in fact, they usually happen on a set day for a few hours and during certain months of the year. Google your city + farmers markets to check out where to find one near you. Many cities have multiple markets in different areas of town throughout the week.
We like shopping at the farmer’s market because we’ve found it tends to be comparable in price (or even cheaper) than our normal grocery store, and the food is fresher. Most vendors harvest produce the same week or even the same day we’re buying it. If this doesn’t matter to you, I would encourage you to eat a tomato from the grocery store and then eat a tomato from the farmer’s market or a friend’s garden. You’ll understand why we’re all about it.
We also love to support local farmers in the area and we can ask them directly about the food we’re buying from them. Most vendors will tell you how they grow, when the food is harvested, and if they use any type of spray or pesticides. Something that you don’t get from your big box grocery store.
WHOLE FOODS MARKET
If budget is not a huge concern for you and quality is top priority, Whole Foods is a top option. Whole Foods prides themselves on superior quality and sustainable practices. According to their website, things like artificial food preservatives, sustainable seafood, animal welfare, antibiotics in meat and pesticides in vegetables are all important considerations in the products they sell. (source)
They can be a bit on the pricey side, but as a consumer, you can rest easy that the products you’re purchasing are of the utmost quality. If you’re all about what Whole Foods stands for, but your budget may not support it, consider choosing one or two things to purchase at Whole Foods and get the rest at your normal spot.
Other added benefits of Whole Foods Market include their prepared foods and community events. Most of their stores offer an assortment of prepared foods; some locations even have locally-inspired pop-ups within the store for a meal on-the-go. Most locations also have a calendar of local events and community happenings that are hosted at the store. This may include anything from special sales to cooking classes to wine nights.
THE FRESH MARKET
Similar to Whole Foods Market, The Fresh Market is for those who are not as much concerned with their budget as they are with the quality of their groceries, unless you catch one of their wicked deals. The Fresh Market works to provide ‘the warmth of a friendly local market rather than an over-industrialized shopping experience.’ (source). Because of this, the experience feels a bit more premium than your average box store. You can expect to find organic options throughout the store along with quality meats, seafood and produce. You may also find specialty ingredients, such as almond flour or coconut sugar, that you may not find at your average box store.
One of my favorite things about The Fresh Market is their daily and weekly deals, specifically their ‘$2.99 Tuesdays’. This is when they offer natural (antibiotic free, grain fed) chicken breast and ground chuck for $2.99 per pound (normally $5.99 per pound). If you’re ballin’ on a budget like we are and purchasing organic, grass-fed meat isn’t in the cards, this is a great option for quality meat at an affordable price.
If you don’t have The Fresh Market in your town, you may have Earth Fare, which is very similar in terms of offerings, quality and price.
For more tips on saving money while grocery shopping, check out this post.
If I had to pick my favorite grocery store, it would be Trader Joe’s. They pride themselves on value, meaning their products are quality at an affordable price, which is why it is top on my list. I am also a fan of shopping at grocery stores that are just that, grocery stores. It keeps my eyes on the prize because I’m not tempted to look at all of the cute new stuff in the home section. As much as I love Target, this is why I can never do my grocery shopping there.
One reason I love TJ’s is that most everything in the store is a product of Trader Joe’s private label, which is how they keep the costs down and the quality high. They also do a great job of listening to customer feedback about their products and what customers wish to see on their shelves. They offer new products monthly based on feedback and what people are eating or cooking with at the moment. Most TJ’s locations have a small footprint, so making your way around the store is a breeze, too. And their staff wears Hawaiian shirts, which is just cool.
KROGER + OTHER BIG BOX STORES
Kroger is a big box grocery store. If you don’t have Kroger in your city, it’s similar to Ralphs, King Soopers, Fred Meyer, or Harris Teeter, all of which are actually owned by Kroger. I would also put Wal-Mart and even Target under this category. Most of these stores are designed to be a one-stop shop for all of your grocery and household needs and beyond.
If budget and time are big priorities for you, then big box is a good option for you. You can get most anything on your list in one trip at these stores. They are a great place to check everything off your list including groceries, cleaning supplies, pet food, makeup, homewares and more. However, because of this, the store’s footprint is generally ginormous (hence ‘big box store’), so getting around takes a while. And if you’re distracted easily, you may get sucked in.
For me, I like shopping at big box stores to save money on basics that are of similar quality to specialty stores, but are cheaper. Kroger has the Simple Truth brand, which offers certain organic options. I am perfectly fine buying certain products, like almond milk, from Kroger, which provides similar quality to say, Whole Foods, but at a cheaper price. It may not have the Whole Foods label on it, but it’s the same almond milk on the inside. For things where quality matters more to me, like meat, I’m willing to go somewhere else.
SAM’S CLUB + COSTCO
Ah yes, and then there’s wholesale. Wholesale clubs are great if you’re on a budget, if you're feeding an army or if you have a few things that your family consumes in abnormal amounts.
It’s no secret that buying things in bulk is cheaper, especially in the long run. If you’re on a budget and you have the storage for it, certain things are worth buying in mass quantities. For us, it’s caffeine. Some of you know that Chris is finishing up medical school, which requires countless amounts of caffeine. K-cups, ground coffee, energy drinks, you name it. Purchased in small quantities, these things can get really expensive. But for us, this is where buying in bulk has really saved us some money in the long-run.
You may also consider buying in bulk if you meal prep weeks ahead of time and freeze your meals or if you’re feeding an army. Since most things at wholesale clubs are sold in massive quantities, you want to be sure you can consume everything before it goes bad.
Other things to buy wholesale are things that have a longer shelf-life, like oils, spices or nuts. Each of these things has a considerable shelf life and they are much cheaper when purchased in bulk. The same goes for household products, like toilet paper, paper towels or even cleaning supplies.
SO LET'S RECAP
If quality is your main concern, a specialty grocer, like Whole Foods, Fresh Market or Earth Fare are top picks. If budget is your main concern, consider shopping wholesale or big box. If time is your main concern, a one-stop shop, big box store is the way to go. If you’re a little in between - budget and quality are a concern for you - consider your local farmer’s market or Trader Joe’s. For in-betweeners, you more than likely will have to shop around to a few different places to meet your needs.
I’d love to know what your favorite grocery store is and why? Let me know in the comments below!