My Ideal Grocery Store

Over the weekend I had some friends visiting and we went to a regional grocery store called “Sprouts” that they had never seen before.

My friends were comparing it to grocery stores in the Seattle area and were describing it as a mix between a few.

That got me thinking what my ideal grocery store would be. How would it be laid out? What kinds of food would it have?

Would it have just local stuff or exotic foreign offerings?

After thinking about it for a few days, here’s the outline of what I think would be my ideal grocery store!

The Layout

I would want the store to be bright and clean, but not hospital clean.

When you first walked in the store, produce would be the first thing you see. You would have to walk through all the produce to get through anything else. Fruits and veggies would be easy to access and on display. Plenty of organic and non-organic options would be available.

The center of the store would have large kiosks for meats, dairies, and a bakery. There would also be a large bulk section for nuts, grains, and dried foods. Samples would be encouraged.

Anything packaged and processed would be at the far back of the store. You would have to walk a bit to get those cookies.

The checkout area and entry area would be on opposite sides of the store so there’s not a cluster of activity. Traffic would just flow.

Non-Profit

This is a bit controversial, but I’m starting to think that grocery stores should be non-profit. Keep in mind that this doesn’t mean that they owners can’t make a nice salary, it just means that any actual profits would need to be re-invested.

This would hopefully eliminate or reduce the incentives to promote high margin items like processed foods.

I’m not saying that the store wouldn’t sell chips or sweets. I think a grocery store should have options for people who have a sweet or salty craving, but I think it’s find to remove the profit motive for those foods so stores don’t shove them in your face over healthier options.

Store Features

There would be a few other store features that I think I would want in my ideal store.

Discount Produce Bins – Many stores just discard produce that is damaged but still completely fine to eat. I would want a display of these damaged produce items that are at a steep discount.

Cooking Demos – Many people still struggle with how to use vegetables and whole foods. I would want weekly or daily cooking demos showing off how to simply use some of the store items.

No Coupons – No coupons promoting cheap stuff. (Read my full coupon rant) That said, I would want some sort of loyalty card that would give you store credit after spending X amount of money.

No Plastic Bags – A few grocery stores in the country are already making this change. I think it’s a good one. There’s no reason to wrap all your stuff in plastic. I’m still working on reducing my plastic use. It’s tough and would be easier if it just wasn’t an option.

Limited Fanciness – This might sound odd, but I actually wouldn’t want my ideal grocery store to carry exotic cuts of meat or expensive cheeses. I would want it to offer reasonable quality foods at reasonable prices so most people could afford to shop there. If I want something fancy, I would go to a specialty store.

What would Your Store Look Like?

What would you add to the list for your ideal grocery store? Anything you would take away? Is there a store that you shop at that you think nails it?

Leave a comment!

Beautiful produce section photo by I5 Design.

24 comments on “My Ideal Grocery Store

  1. Grocery stores that have opposite entrances and exits and one way flow of traffic are pretty awful. if you haven’t been to one and just think it is a good idea, just trust me on this one. If you forget something you have already passed or decide to make a quick recipe change on the fly you feel like you are breaking the law going backwards.

    Other than that I agree with most of your comments, but I do love stores like h-mart that have the best of both worlds when it comes to ethnic food, American food, and cleanliness

    1. Ha! Yea… I guess I’ve never really been to one but it seemed like a good idea in theory because I hate the cluster of people at the entrance. Given how many times I forget things and have to go back though, I see what you mean about that…

  2. I agree with your ideal features for the great supermarket. Also, I would prefer if the local supermarket didn’t carry so many non-food items such as shampoo, detergent, health and beauty items, and other household items. Yes, it is convenient, but to be honest, I never buy them there as they are usually overpriced compared to other stores (such as Target or Walmart). I guess I would prefer if the stores didn’t try so hard to be a one-stop shop, even though it is never a one-stop shop–because my preferred brand may not be available at my usual grocery store.

  3. Have you ever shopped at Aldi’s? We actually do a fair amount of shopping there, assuming we have a good reason to go to the city. Their prices are pretty awesome, you have to bring your own bags (you can buy paper sacks at checkout) or use the empty flats from canned goods, and it’s set up so that you kind of go in one direction through to the checkouts. Most of the time though, I’ll admit that I go to the regional version of Kroger because it’s pretty much a one stop shop (except for dairy products–Braum’s all the way on those!!)

    I disagree with the commenter that said it was cheaper at Walmart/Target….if I’m willing to not buy the same brand of shampoo or whatever every time (I can’t anyway, my hair becomes “immune”) I can usually get it for the same price or cheaper at Kroger or Aldi’s than I can anywhere else. Even my cat food is cheaper there than Walmart, and I DON’T switch brands on that. The exception is formula for Scotch. I get the Target brand of that, so I have to go to Target once in a while to stock up (a good excuse to go to Aldi’s and stock up on canned/frozen goods ;-) )

  4. I agree with you on the no coupon concept. They tend to make you buy things you don’t need and just distract you – also – have you noticed there are never coupons for the “fresh” foods – only for the processed stuff.

  5. I like the part about putting the imperfect produce on sale. My local farmers market does it, and I am frequently buying over ripe tomatoes for soup or sauce, trimmed scallions to use today, potatoes with a few eyes, etc. Produce does not need to be perfect all the time, and it is nice not to waste it. Also agree about the non profit part.

  6. That sounds like a nice place to shop. I would much rather shop at something like you’ve described, but usually end up at Walmart because it’s the cheapest option around here if you aren’t a coupon clipper (I’m not). I think Tom Leonard’s in Richmond comes awfully close to what you’re talking about. We loved to go there when we lived in Richmond.

    As for the “non-profit” idea- there’s actually a pretty funny episode of “King of the Hill” that talks about a non-profit grocery store with organic food. Hank loves it but the local “Mega Mart” comes in and buys it up to make an “Organic” leg of their store.

  7. Just wanted to comment on SPROUTS. When visiting kids in California we go to Sprouts and have a great time. Produce is so fresh and wonderful and the variety seems endless. The prices are great, too, on produce but you could spend your paycheck on all the other offerings that seem endless. Glad you enjoyed it as much as we do.
    My idea of a great grocery store is Wegman’s – they’ve got it ALL, and it’s a beautiful layout.

  8. Unfortunately we don’t have a Sprouts in our area, or a Trader Joe’s, so my idea of an ideal store would be one that I didn’t have to drive 45 miles to go to! A variety of ethnic foods and cheeses would be great because I like to try new things! And fresh produce. Especially if it’s organic. A lot of people won’t pay a higher price for organic because it isn’t fresh. I do like good lighting. Some stores here have low lights – maybe they are saving electricity and maybe they think it adds to the ambiance. Whatever reason they have for it, I don’t like it. I like to see what I’m buying!

  9. Wegmans is the perfect grocery store! Spacious (non-linear) layout. Regional to the northeast US . Fresh local produce with a good amount of imported specialty foods like cheeses. Excellent and fresh deli, sub shop, coffee shop. Craft beers local and from around US and world. Free samples on the weekends, cooking classes. And cheap! I don’t work there or anything but it is pretty much my favorite place on earth!

  10. I would definitely shop at your perfect grocers. Sampling new ethnic foods and having cooking demos would be a big draw for me. And focusing on local fruit in season. None of this apples from the Southern hemisphere in the middle of summer. There are plenty of apples that ripen in summer – let’s see those instead! One thing you didn’t mention is I would have smaller carts in my store. When I go to the local Sprouts or Trader Joes, I hate having to maneuver the large carts. There never seems to be enough of the smaller carts available. Trying to access the deli section of TJ with a dozen other carts can be impossible.

  11. If you’re ever in the SF Bay Area, check out Berkeley Bowl. The produce section is as big as the whole rest of the store, and there are a few shelves of discounted older produce.
    The meat, fish and deli counters are awesome, as is the bulk section. (3 kind of dried apricots, for example.) Plus there is a pretty good variety of Asian and Latin-American food and spices. They do need help with the traffic and flow, mostly because there is a lot of food and a lot of people in a small space.

  12. The greatest grocery store I have ever been to is a lot like the description of your perfect grocery store: HEB’s Central Market in Houston, TX. It can have some exotic foods, but I forgive them such a short distance from the Rio Grande Valley. And all the rest of it is there: huge produce section, demos, great meat/fish/bulk sections, major emphasis on whole foods. In fact, last winter I took my fiancee to this grocery store just because we happened to be in Houston for a wedding!

  13. I worked at Wegman’s all through out high school and college. It was a great place to work as a young person. They were flexible with hours, the pay was competitive, and the management was always fair. It wasn’t a revolving door of low paid workers. They even had a scholarship program. If you worked something like 30 hours/week through your summer break, you got an additional lump sum check at the end of the summer. It was great.
    And on the shopping side of it, they were doing all the things the big supermarkets are doing now but they started 20 years ago. Huge fresh produce sections, a variety of fresh made hot bar and sushi items, in-house bread making at their sandwich shop, etc. And it was all competitive priced to the other grocery stores in the area.
    When I worked there it was mostly an upstate New York thing. I have since left the North East, but my understanding is they’ve been working their way throughout and even moving down south a bit.

    1. I visited Wegmans a few times when I used to live on the East coast and I do remember it being a great store. Great layout and lots of options. Thanks for the comment!

  14. Hey Nick thought you’d like to know Sprouts are all over the Southwest and California. They were recently bought out by Whole Foods around the same time they bought Henry’s Markets in California. Here in Arizona ir was the Sunflower Market chain that Whole Foods converted into Sprouts.
    Whole Foods seems to be cornering the market on the “local neighborhood market / farmers market” concept.

    1. Wow. I had no idea. Definitely going to research that deal. I imagine that means prices at my local sprouts might go UP…

  15. Great ideas. Love the food only. I shop at Sprouts, Trader Joes and a little At Whole Foods. I work for St Vincent De Paul as a volunteer. The mark downs on foods about to expire or a bit past their prime has hurt our food distribution to the poor as these normally would have been brought to our centers. Would much rather that the stores donated these items to a local food pantry or charity that makes groceries available to those in need. Contrary to what people may think there are many people and families in dire need due to circumstances beyond their control. The poor and the needy have faces, names and a story. Today I am a helper, tomorrow I may need help!

    1. Great point Lynne. I’ve heard of a few stores who have some small donation plans. Back when I used to cook breakfasts at a local homeless shelter I could go into the local stores and they would sometimes hook me up with a bunch of near-expired stuff. I could tell that if I hadn’t asked for it though they would’ve just tossed it.

  16. Well said! I agree with the all the Wegman’s comments. I also worked there many yrs ago. Knowing how many kids/people go hungry everyday and can’t afford to eat, one thing that I saw and was devastated by was the food (i.e. the great amount of loaves of bread at date) that was tossed daily into the dumpster! I hope their practice has changed over the years. I couldn’t understand why it wasn’t donated to soup kitchens/organizations that helped the needy. Google “A place at the table” documentary…it’s a must see for all businesses/humans that have gotten away with greed.
    Congress needs to step in as they did many years ago to stop/prevent hunger. However; I don’t see that happening…they are the most greedy looking for the fatter pockets with no human conscience.
    I still long for Wegmans. I get anxiety with just the thought of a trip to ANY grocery store here in the south. So I look forward to your idea of nationwide grocery stores coming to reality!

  17. I read that the reason almost every grocery store puts produce by the entrance is because of behavioral psychology. Apparently, if we put produce in our cart first, we’re more likely to buy some junk food, too (because we feel less guilty about it with of all the healthy stuff in our cart). I like the idea of a huge bulk foods section. I’m assuming you were including this, but I’d love the bulk foods section to have tons of herbs and spices, too. I agree with Connie’s point about getting rid of all the nonfood stuff (I’d get rid of all the pet stuff, too – I have pets, but never buy anything for them at the supermarket – too expensive!).

  18. I like your ideas Nick, mine would be similar. I would love to see local IN SEASON produce… I love asparagus but I’m happy to wait for the season, I don’t need to buy it imported from Peru. Don’t even get me started on garlic from China!!!! Ugly vegetables should definitely be sold at discounts. I would like to see some exotic spices & ingredients used in other cuisines, as I like trying new things, just keep the fresh things local. I watched an English show called “The People’s Supermarket” & wished that the same type of thing happened everywhere. There are lots of farmers markets here now, but not necessarily easy to get to via public transport. I hope this changes. Thanks for another great post :-)

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