Habit, convenience, and proximity are major factors in shaping where we purchase food and which foods we purchase. The decision to eat a healthier diet can be much easier than deciding which foods to purchase and from where to purchase them. While healthier options are becoming more widely available, where you live may determine what is or is not available. In Indianapolis, the 12th largest city in the United States, we have at least one farmers market year round, as well as Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, and Fresh Market. Proximity plays a major role in where I shop most frequently, but perhaps that is not the most important factor.
Farmers markets may give you the best opportunity for the freshest produce and to speak with farmers about the conditions in which animals and produce are raised, but they are often not available throughout the week and selection of goods can vary. Whether we like it or not, we all visit a grocery at least occasionally, and the majority of Americans buy the majority of their food at a box store. Your farmers market may not offer fresh-made pasta or gluten-free baked goods like mine does, but your Whole Foods is probably a lot like my Whole Foods.
Whole Foods probably feels the most like a traditional grocery, so it may be an easier transition for those looking for a new store. What I have heard is that Whole Foods is more expensive than other similar stores, but my price comparisons did not show that to be true. Organic, cage-free eggs were less expensive at Whole Foods than at Trader Joe’s or Fresh Market, but Whole Foods also offered humane, pasture-raised eggs for quite a bit more.
The lowest price of organic milk was also less than the lowest price at Trader Joe’s or Fresh Market. It was also the only store where I noticed refrigerated rice milk.
While the chicken was more expensive, there was much more information provided at the meat counter, including animal welfare ratings for each product.
The options for coffee at Whole Foods was nearly overwhelming. Whole Foods may be the best option for those eating a vegetarian and vegan diet.
Trader Joe’s may be the most “fun” option with child-sized carts, a game to keep children engaged while accompanying parents through the store, and enthusiastic employees. There seem to be more snack items and pre-packaged foods. Trader Joe’s is infamous for the “three buck chuck,” or Charles Shaw $2.99 bottles of wine. All of the Trader Joe’s stores that I have visited have been smaller than traditional grocery stores. As a result, the products available are at least partially seasonal; for example, they only offer yeast around the holidays.
Unlike Whole Foods and Fresh Market, there is not a meat counter at Trader Joe’s. It was the only store where I noticed chicken marked Kosher.
While Whole Foods also seemed to have the largest selection of milk, I only noticed goat’s milk at Trader Joe’s.
Organic, red potatoes were less expensive at Trader Joe’s.
Trader Joe’s marks gluten-free foods very clearly and provides gluten-free tours, but it makes me uncomfortable that the gluten-free bread is not frozen or refrigerated.
Fresh Market is the store closest to my home, so it is generally the place I turn to for last minute items that aren’t at the nearby farm stand. While I sometimes find the meat counter to be slow, over all it is a fairly relaxing shopping environment. It certainly helps that there are free coffee samples near the front of the store! Coffee is displayed in bins as well as bags, creating an appealing visual and olfactory experience. I often notice the soft music played.
Fresh Market offered slightly more options for organic apples than Whole Foods or Trader’s Joe’s.
The organic, red potatoes were considerably more expensive unfortunately.
While not as clear as Trader Joe’s, Fresh Market also marks gluten-free foods.
Fresh Market has a wine display of 90+ point wines for under $20 that provides good descriptions of the wine. While more expensive than Trader Joe’s, this makes it easier to get a good wine that you will enjoy.
Which of these health specialty stores do you shop?