Tag Archive for types of supermarkets

Definitive Guide to the Best Supermarkets for Fruits & Vegetables (USA Reviews)

Having an abundant supply of fresh fruits and vegetables on hand will help you succeed on a healthy diet. However, it’s important to learn how to shop smart if you want to avoid wasting money, time, and energy in the shopping process. Before talking about how to shop once you’re there, we should answer the following questions:

What are the best places to buy fresh produce?
Where should you go for fruit, and where for vegetables?
What is the difference between all the supermarkets out there?

Join me as we survey over the major types of supermarkets you might choose to source from if you are near my corner of the globe, namely the northeastern United States in the realm of large cities like Philadelphia, New York, Boston, and so on. Many of these are national and international corporations with stores or similar brands all throughout North America and Europe. (And if you’re in Asia, you won’t need them!)

Let’s get this out of the way first: Though they have their place, understand that you don’t have to go to fancy, expensive health food stores if you want to buy healthy food. In fact, some of the biggest wastes of money and lowest quality in produce are actually found at the stores which claim to be the best for a healthy lifestyle! I will touch on this more about this below as we move into our supermarket reviews. Shall we?

Brian’s Review of Major Supermarkets

In no specific order, here are some of the major supermarket and other food supply chains that are commonly found, with an East Coast USA influence. Even if you live in another area of the country or world, you will most likely find that the types of stores are parallel, but may have small differences in availability, price, and brand name.

Note #1: Ratings are from lowest to highest on a 3-point scale and evaluate the overall price range and how convenient and friendly the store is. These are completely biased from my experiences, but they are designed to be honest and helpful to you as I have been going to most of these consistently for years and know them well at this point.

Note #2: I have divided the produce section into the categories below, which I find I subconsciously do anyway when shopping. The gist of these are:

Standards (apples, pears, bananas, citrus), tree fruit (peaches, plums, persimmons, etc), grapes, berries, melons, papayas, mangos, pineapples, exotics (or rather, exotic for American supermarkets: figs, guavas, rambutans, lychees, different varieties of tree fruit, etc), avocados, tomatoes, yams/potatoes, winter squashes, vegetables, lettuces, frozen fruit, fresh dates, bulk (raw nuts, nut butters, dried fruit, etc), and organics in general.

Let’s begin! I will be reviewing the following stores:

  1. Trader Joe’s Market
  2. Whole Foods Market
  3. Standard Supermarkets (Safeway, Wegmans, etc)
  4. Bargain Supermarkets (Pathmark, Aldi, etc)
  5. Bulk Wholesale Clubs (Costco, BJ’s, etc)
  6. “Super” Stores: (Super Target, Walmart, etc)
  7. Produce Junctions and Other Produce Markets
  8. Independent or Family Grocery Stores
  9. Asian Markets (Chinese, Korean, etc)
  10. Hispanic Markets (Mexican, Caribbean, etc)

Review #1: Trader Joe’s Market

Trader Joe’s is a store with a nice feel and strong market going for it. Sort of halfway between the more “intense” health food stores and the more common supermarkets, Trader Joe’s focuses on friendly, proprietarily-branded natural foods and produce, and they’ve got some redeeming features that will make you want to stop by here every so often.

Average overall price range: $$
Average overall convenience: ***
Average overall friendliness: :) :) :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Standards: nice selection of apples, pears, bananas, citrus
Berries: fresh and are usually ripe and always available
Tree Fruit: decent peaches, apricots, persimmons when in season
Avocados, Tomatoes: usually ripe and fresh at a decent price
Fresh Dates: cheap medjool dates are some of the best around
Lettuces: best array I’ve seen of cheap pre-washed lettuces and sprouts
Yams/Potatoes: two or three pound bags are cheap classics
Frozen Fruit: good peeled/chopped frozen mangos, pineapple, berries
Bulk: nice selection of raw nuts/butters, unsweetened dried fruit for travel
Organics: fair amount of organic selection, especially greens and herbs

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Grapes: clamshells only (not available in quantity by pound)
Melons: honeydew and cantaloupe are overpriced for size
Papayas, Mangos: and other properly ripe tropicals are really not here
Pineapples: same price as larger ones in other stores
Exotics: rarely different selections each time you come
Vegetables: small prepackaged only, not available by pound
Winter Squash: often only prepackaged, not so fresh

Review #2: Whole Foods Market

Infamously known as a culprit of high-end prices, and sometimes called “Whole Paycheck” by some foodies and supermarket connoisseurs, Whole Foods is still a place I love dearly for many other reasons. One thing’s for sure: It lives up to its promise and matches quality with its pricetag. You’ll find the best organic selection here undoubtedly.

Average overall price range: $$$
Average overall convenience: ***
Average overall friendliness: :) :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Berries: they’re the freshest I’ve found and worth the money 100%
Tree Fruit: when in season, they’ve got their tree fruit selection down
Papayas: if they have them in, they’re oddly good and not too expensive
Exotics: Whole Foods would be a candidate for figs and other less-seen fruit
Avocados: if you need good avocados now, the supply for your demand is here
Tomatoes: lots of heirloom varieties and always look attractive and ripe
Lettuces: sold by “each” (con) but just too varied and fresh to not include
Vegetables: really excellent kale, collards, and every other root or shoot
Winter Squash: precut or not, every kind in season, top-notch quality too
Yams/Potatoes: if you’re into these, they’re delicious, varied, and affordable
Frozen Fruit: extensive selection including peaches, cherries, bananas, etc
Organics: hands down the widest selection of organics of any supermarket
Bulk: also an asset here: every nut, seed, bean, or dried product out there

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Standards: they have them, but they’re not as cheap and are the same!
Grapes: also usually good, but almost twice the price of other stores
Melons: honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon not so hot overall
Mangos: rarely, if ever, ripe, and exorbitantly pricey (except springtime ataulfos)
Pineapples: small most of the time and not justified for price or ripeness
Fresh Dates: same as dry ones in other stores at higher price

Review #3: Standard Supermarkets (Wegmans, Safeway, etc)

These are your standard, go-to supermarkets that are found all around North America and the Western world. They vary in name and quality but usually share some similar features, especially in terms of their produce. Not as bad as they’re cracked up to be, especially by some authors or experts who demonize anything supermarket-related. Remember: It’s what you buy and eat, not necessarily where you buy it, that matters for health!

Average overall price range: $ to $$
Average overall convenience: ***
Average overall friendliness: :) :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Standards: you can count on very fresh apples, oranges, pears, and great bananas
Grapes: some of my best grapes come from normal supermarkets, and cherries too
Berries: decently priced and decently ripe, just make sure to try before you buy
Melons: melons vary always but are relatively high-quality from these supermarkets
Papayas: when they have them, as long as they’re yellow, they’re decent
Pineapples: best place to buy pineapples (especially Wegmans, large for only $3)
Avocados: depends on the store, but there’s a good demand for these here
Tomatoes: standard selection of beefsteak, cherry, grape, roma tomatoes
Lettuces: largest variety of bagged lettuces and decent per-pound heads too
Vegetables: especially Wegmans has really beautiful whole and cut vegetables
Winter Squash: have a variety of whole and chopped squashes year-round
Yams/Potatoes: plump, tasty, and available in bags or by pound year-round
Frozen Fruit: should be able to found a nice selection of sugar-free frozens
Bulk: with the natural food industry growing, supermarkets have upped their bulk

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Tree Fruit: most of the time ridiculously overpriced or just old, unripe
Mangos: except for occasional summertime red mangos, they’re fibrous and unripe
Exotics: they may have some sort of for show, but they won’t be worth the price
Fresh Dates: may be out near bulk section but mostly dried, pitted variety only
Organics: you’ll find some, but mostly just baby lettuces, carrots, apples, lemons

Review #4: Bargain Supermarkets (Pathmark, Aldi, etc)

Keeping to the traditional supermarket layout but catering to a more tight budget, these stores still offer a nice variety of produce that can be a welcome resource if you are looking for good deals and a solid place to buy fruits and particularly vegetables. Not much in the way of natural packaged products, but the demand is growing, so keep these on your radar.

Average overall price range: $
Average overall convenience: **
Average overall friendliness: :) :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Standards: very cheap and easy to find, same standard reliable stuff
Grapes: usually decent and cheap (on sale), sometimes only $0.99-$1.49/lb
Pineapples: gonna be your standard Dole pineapples but better prices
Tomatoes: especially in summer are very cheap, sometimes even local
Lettuces: by pound or bagged is available, not too varied but pretty good
Vegetables: very nice! large selection, good for cruciferous and root veg
Winter Squash: in whole form only usually but tasty and reasonable
Yams/Potatoes: good place to buy these, cheap and long-lasting

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Berries: rarely even present and if so, very overpriced and fringe
Melons: sometimes not present either, and if so, not ripe or overpriced
Papayas, Mangos: rare to find, but may have some okay Mexican papaya
Exotics: not the place to go for these, little to no market for them here
Avocados: sometimes okay, but usually smaller and either hard or rotten
Frozen Fruit: not going to find many or any sugar-free frozen fruits
Fresh Dates: most likely only have packaged, pitted/chopped dates
Bulk: not going to have selection of raw nuts, seeds, or other products
Organics: little to no market for these either, maybe some apples or carrots

Review #5: Bulk Wholesale Clubs (Costco, BJ’s, etc)

These stores are great for bulk deals and large shopping trips, especially for the experienced fruit eater. However, selection can be inconsistent and you will need to pay a membership fee to shop, but it usually doesn’t exceed $40-60 per year, so it’s worth your while. I highly recommend checking out Costco in particular for mangos, grapes, and lettuce.

Average overall price range: $ to $$
Average overall convenience: ***
Average overall friendliness: :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Standards: available in box or large bag quantities for a good price always
Grapes: some of my favorite grapes come from Costco, in 4 lb clamshells for cheap
Berries: great for large quantities of blackberries, blueberries, strawberries, etc
Tree Fruit: when in season I can grab some great deals on peaches and plums
Melons: these will be generally of nice size, quality, ripeness and price here
Mangos: ataulfo mangos at Costco are the reason I joined, best product there!
Pineapples: larger-sized variety are available consistently in quantity for fair price
Tomatoes: Costco in particular has an amazing array of fresh ripe tomatoes
Yams/Potatoes: boxes available for bulk buyers, so no buying per lb of these
Fresh Dates: they may not be fresh per se, but are cheap, large, and still with pits

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Papayas: rarely if ever see papayas and if so, ripeness is lame and price too
Exotics: no market for them here, you will only find traditional familiar produce
Avocados: bags of 4-6 of them are cheap but often hard as a rock or total mush
Lettuces: you will find good romaine and spring mix, but that’s about it (no red/green leaf)
Vegetables: they can be good quality but are very inconsistent and only bagged
Winter Squash: rarely if ever see these here, and if so, only butternut pre-chopped
Frozen Fruit: haven’t investigated it much, but assuming there’s only some berries
Bulk: unless you want 6-packs of standard cereals and granola bars, none here
Organics: pretty much non-existent except for maybe some organic bananas

Review #6: “Super” Stores: (Super Target, Walmart, etc)

Well-known national general store chains like Walmart, Target and (I believe) KMart have stepped up to develop a line of “super” stores in the past decade or so that carry a full line of groceries and fresh produce. While they may not have the most variety, these stores are oases (sometimes the only place around) for many Americans and can definitely be considered as you go about your produce shopping.

Average overall price range: $ to $$
Average overall convenience: ***
Average overall friendliness: :) to :) :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Standards: pretty good oranges, bananas, and bags of apples (chopped or whole)
Grapes: consistent supply of usually clamshelled green and red grapes
Berries: also consistent supply from reliable growers with good ripeness
Pineapples: almost always available and at a nice price actually
Tomatoes: tomatoes are one of the better vegetables that you’ll find here
Yams/Potatoes: bags of Idaho or russet potatoes as well as some sweet potatoes
Lettuces: lots of prepackaged salad mixes but also some heads and packs
Frozen Fruit: surprisingly good yet still semi-limited selection of berries, mangos, peaches

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Tree Fruit: hardly ever would find any peaches, plums, or persimmons, let alone ripe
Melons: may have a few cantaloupes and honeydews for fun, but lower quality
Exotics: little to no market at all for exotics, only going to find regular stuff
Avocados: in smaller availability and usually under or over ripe and pricey
Winter Squash: going to be very sporadic and seasonal and lower variety
Vegetables: prepackaged mostly, not a particularly great place to source these
Fresh Dates: never seen any good quality dates at these stores at this point
Bulk: you may find a few Larabars or nut butters but not much in the way of bulk
Organics: it’s amazing they even have produce, not gonna find organics much

Review #7: Produce Junctions and Other Produce Markets

If you’re looking for clean-cut, primped produce that is carefully arranged with that polished look, you’re not going to find it at these bare-bones produce markets. But don’t despair, their deals on fruits and vegetables can be very refreshing, so it’s easy to forgive the lack of atmosphere and enjoy fresh quality from a high turnover rate, and a possible resource for bulk or wholesale-quantity deals if you get to know the owners.

Average overall price range: $
Average overall convenience: *
Average overall friendliness: :) :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Standards: very cheap! I’ve seen the best deals on apples, pears, etc here
Grapes: either by pound or pre-bagged, you can count on finding good grapes
Tree Fruit: particularly peaches and nectarines are usually available
Melons: if they have them, they tend to be on the better side and larger
Papayas, Mangos: inconsistent but when they have them, good enough to make “pro”
Pineapples: on the cheaper side and going to be the same also
Exotics: good places to find rarer fruits and vegetables for cheap
Tomatoes: if you’re a tomato lover, get your fix at produce markets
Lettuces: I love to find cheap, sometimes local head lettuces here
Vegetables: lots of great peppers, eggplants, cucumbers, mushrooms, etc
Winter Squash: abundance of whole squashes and pumpkins here in autumn
Yams/Potatoes: usually by the pound, you’ll find some great tubers here

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Berries: inconsistent and probably over-priced if even available
Avocados: can be okay, but in my experience either hard or rotten
Frozen Fruit: I’ve yet to find frozen fruit at any of these stores
Fresh Dates: I’ve yet to find fresh dates either, may be dried/sugared
Bulk: most produce markets don’t even have bulk stuff, and if so, it’s limited
Organics: especially if you want organic greens, they’re not common here

Review #8: Independent or Family Grocery Stores

Many small towns and cities alike have a significant market for food shopping in the way of independent grocery stores that vary in size, price, and quality, but are still worth looking at, especially if it’s all that’s close to you. These may include gourmet or health food stores, but also just local family-run supermarkets with small but usually well-kept produce sections.

Average overall price range: $$ to $$$
Average overall convenience: **
Average overall friendliness: :) :) :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Standards: sometimes the best part of these stores, always well kept
Grapes: grapes will be nice and fresh hopefully but may be a little more per lb
Berries: berries are almost always present with good quality reliable brands
Tree Fruit: when in season, peaches and nectarines appear here consistently
Melons: melon selection should be pretty nice, particularly watermelon
Avocados: avocados are usually ripe or able to be ripened easily here
Tomatoes: nice selection of traditional varieties like beefsteak and cherry
Lettuce: clean, organized selection of lettuces including packaged varieties
Yams/Potatoes: should be a decent place to buy these at a good cost per lb
Fresh Dates: I’ve often seen fresh or at least high-quality medjool dates here
Bulk: you may well find some of your favorite bars, nuts, and other products here

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Papayas, Mangos: most small grocers don’t understand how to sell/ripen these
Pineapples: going to be smaller and less consistent, probably double price
Exotics: little to no market for these here, so you will not find them most likely
Vegetables: can be pretty limited and not worth your while for bulk buys
Winter Squash: may have a few for show but most likely way more expensive
Frozen Fruit: no market for stocking sugar-free cut fruits, so look elsewhere
Organics: may have fringe items like apples or carrots but not many organics

Review #9: Asian Markets (Chinese, Korean, etc)

Asian markets are usually bustling and quite fascinating places that cater to an impressive variety of Asian cultures and cuisines. They are a sight to be seen, but keep in mind that you may encounter challenges with language, product familiarity, or just standards of cleanliness or pretty much anything you consider “normal” for a grocery store.

However, vendors are usually knowledgeable and will help you if you are clear and attempt to show interest if there’s a language difference. Asian markets are especially exciting for exotic fruit lovers like me who will hunt for hours and learn Chinese or Thai if it means durian or rambutan for dinner!

Average overall price range: $ to $$
Average overall convenience: *
Average overall friendliness: :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Tree Fruit: usually very good! peaches, persimmons, plums, loquats very popular here
Melons: melons are another favorite in Asian cultures and are decently sized/ripe
Mangos: your best bet is champagne mangos which are another favorite and cheap
Exotics: AMAZING! the only place for durian, rambutan, mangosteen, lychees, etc
Vegetables: very interesting part of shopping here, lots of cabbages, roots, etc
Winter Squash: also great selection usually with kabocha squash and others

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Standards: they will have them but they are usually of poor quality overall
Grapes: I’ve never gotten good grapes here, always very chalky and seedy
Berries: same thing with berries, it’s very hard to come by good berries here
Papayas: papayas are not popular in East Asian cultures, may be in Thai markets
Pineapples: same pineapples and they’re usually smaller and less ripe
Avocados: avocados are not popular either, and are non-existent or overpriced
Tomatoes: tomatoes are usually very under-ripe (almost green) or low quality
Lettuces: very questionable, sometimes full of sand/grit and not worth the effort
Yams/Potatoes: not the best place for these though you may find some
Frozen Fruit: most likely not sugar-free, but you may find frozen durian pods!
Bulk: non-existent, and if so, very old and not what you’d be looking for
Organics: non-existent from what I’ve found over the years

Review #10: Hispanic Markets (Mexican, Caribbean, etc)

Hispanic markets usually resemble a combination of traditional produce markets as well as an admittedly pretty cool-looking selection of beans, rice, pastas, chilis, spices and frozen or packaged products (along the lines of Goya). Their produce can be very good but can also be poor, largely depending on the turnover rate and if it’s well-kept and well-featured. A great place especially for papayas, mangos, avocados, tomatoes, and vegetables.

Average overall price range: $
Average overall convenience: * to **
Average overall friendliness: :) :)

Most redeeming features about these stores:

Standards: their bananas and oranges should be good, may have plantains
Grapes: grapes are usually good quality and fair prices, varied
Melons: melons, particularly watermelons, should be cheaper and riper here
Papayas: best place for papayas, and you may find several ripe varieties
Mangos: mangos in season here are cheap, ripe, and delicious almost always
Pineapples: pineapples are going to be standard but may be cheaper
Exotics: another candidate for some rarer fruits like guavas or weird citrus
Avocados: these guys love their guacamole! you’ll find a lot of ripe, good avos
Tomatoes: tomatoes should be delicious here, and most likely very cheap
Vegetables: cool to find some new vegetables from various cuisines at cheap
Yams/Potatoes: you’ll find these, plus interesting roots like ñame or taro
Bulk: bulk is good for beans, rice, spices, etc but not so much for nuts/seeds

Most likely not worth it if you’re looking for:

Berries: going to be harder to find and most likely overpriced or acid unripe
Tree Fruit: not the place for peaches, plums, apples, pears, or cherries really
Lettuces: questionable quality, may be dirty and not worth the $0.50 you might save
Winter Squash: they might have a few squashes but probably not much overall
Frozen Fruit: rarely ever have frozen fruit (except in sugared or juiced form!)
Fresh Dates: dates would be non-existent here or only packaged and pitted
Organics: pretty much unheard of in these markets, may have some apples

Summary: Best Stores for Each Category of Produce

As you will notice, each of the fresh produce categories appears both in “Pros” and “Cons” sections depending on the store. That’s both a beauty and a burden of shopping for fruits and vegetables: You’ve got to shop around to get the best of all worlds if you want a variety of good quality items. It’s what keeps it exciting, but is also sometimes a pain.

No need to worry, though, as you can just narrow down what is most important to you and focus on that. For me, it’s large quantities of tropical fruit and other satisfying fruits like grapes and stone fruit, so I head to the bulk clubs and produce terminals as much as possible.

Your focus may be different. Random examples: vegetable lover (definitely head to Whole Foods or produce markets), McDougall dieter (regular supermarket for potatoes and other starches), or banana- and date-eater (cheap supermarket for discount bananas and bulk).

Here are the best places for each category, tabulated for easy reference:

Standards: Almost anywhere, particularly standard and produce markets
Grapes: Standard supermarkets or Costco
Berries: Whole Foods, standard supermarkets
Tree Fruit: Asian markets, produce markets
Melons: Standard supermarkets, Costco
Papayas: Hispanic markets, Whole Foods
Mangos: Hispanic markets, Asian markets, Costco
Pineapples: Standard supermarkets, Super stores
Exotics: Asian markets, Whole Foods
Avocados: Hispanic markets, Whole Foods
Tomatoes: Produce markets, Costco
Lettuce: Standard supermarkets, Whole Foods
Vegetables: Bargain supermarkets, Whole Foods
Winter Squash: Standard supermarkets, Produce markets
Yams/Potatoes: Bargain supermarkets, Standard supermarkets
Frozen Fruit: Whole Foods, Super stores
Fresh Dates: Trader Joe’s, Costco
Bulk: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s
Organics: Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s

So there we have it.

Which one wins for me? For fruit, probably Costco or produce markets. For greens, probably Wegmans or Whole Foods. Thanks for reading and I hope my nerdy habit (read: obsession) of spending hours at supermarkets over my years has proven useful to you and that you will be inspired to shop smarter and buy in bulk to reap the benefits of fruits and vegetables in your life.

Also, if you were curious, I hope this has been helpful to understanding how I would personally shop when I‘m at supermarkets, as I get many questions on this topic when people find out what my diet looks like. So guys, this is what I do when I walk into the produce section of a regular supermarket if anyone was curious.

If there is one thing to take home from this article, it’s to know your prices and BUY RIPE FRUIT! By voting with our dollars to increase demand for quality produce, we can really make a difference and help co-create a world that is ever more supportive of health for everyone.

Question of the day: How do you source your food? Do you have any favorite fruits or vegetables?

Continue to Part 2 (for Once You’re There): How to Buy Bulk Fruit at Regular Supermarkets