What any culture (or community) values most is easy to see at it’s grocery stores.  Step in any grocery store and look about to determine their largest display. Like winning Bingo - that’s what is perceived as something that’s done well, or of high value.  Sure there’s a map and where marketers/ operators want to lead you you, but the real story of the culture and community is there in coolers and shelves.

This past summer, in addition to farms and farmers markets (and cheese), I have been exploring grocery stores from New York to Florida and learning the differences in cultures and communities . Far and away the most diverse grocery store was Cirillo’s in Amagansett, New York.  The parking lot was a prelude to the store itself. Exotic cars (BMW i8 prototype) and well worn everyday vehicles. Inside was much the same. For me, not even Georgetown’s venerable Neams’ Market, had such a casual acceptance of exotic foods with basic sundries.

In Pennsylvania, where ABC laws are very, very different, I encountered Key foods and Weis Markets. More traditional grocery stores where case stacks of jarred and canned foods called out shoppers with discounts and coupon values.  However, the real attraction at each was on the ready to eat counters. Maybe it was the markets I was visiting, but folks seemed content waiting in lines for the prepared meal offerings to avoid buying ingredients for cooking themselves.  

Closer to home, Wegman’s and Whole Foods each offered their own temptations with their in-store dining experiences. Dining - not the buffet,but sit down in the store and eat. While it seems a bit odd at first, the specials, like $1 oysters or lobster with sides for two at $ 20, make it an easy date and shopping experience. Whole Foods sports bar at Fair Lakes is a feast for the eyes and palette.   

The Fresh Market (Georgia and Delaware) introduced, among other things, the concept of half pies. Evil. A whole pie cut in half led me to sample pecan and cherry versions.  What struck me in Delaware was their sushi chef. With a counter as good as the excellent sushi counter at Charlottesville’s Food of all Nations, the hand selling sushi in front of the counter made the difference and several sales. Nice touch chef.   

Publix was different where each location in Florida where offerings were scaled to meet the market.  In the “higher level” stores what intrigued me were the innovations designed for customer convenience.  The website (not app) to order sliced cheeses and meats and pickup (effortlessly) in store was intuitive and admittedly fun to play with.  What really struck me was the their “Aprons” program to demo / taste a meal in an endcap kiosk and stock all of the required ingredients there. Sort of a Sun Basket / Blue Apron model.  Neat.

My supermarket sojourns have shown me that we, as a society, are more and more intrigued with convenience.  New tastes are good so long as someone else make them for us. Lastly, that value is about more than low prices - shoppers want to identify with where they buy groceries and that in turn, defines which stores thrive in different markets.

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