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No one likes limp lettuce, mushy melons, bland brisket, or chewy chicken. And for more than two decades, Consumer Reports has surveyed hundreds of thousands of readers in search of the nation’s top grocery chains—stores that offer what consumers demand most: great fresh foods, fast and friendly service, competitive prices, and a sparkling shopping environment. It seems like a no-brainer, but finding a supermarket that’s top-notch all around remains elusive.
Success is easier to come by when you live near a boutique chain, such as the fabled gourmet grocers Citarella in New York City, Dorothy Lane Market in Dayton, Ohio, and Rice Epicurean Market in Houston. But a high level of quality and consistency is harder to achieve among companies that operate dozens, even hundreds, of stores.
That’s especially true of food quality, and our new supermarket Ratings prove the point (Read our new report on supermarket shopping.) Of the 55 chains in our survey, just six earned exemplary marks from more than 27,000 readers for the finest fare—succulent fruits and vegetables, and delectable meats.
What makes these supermarkets stand out? Here’s the inside story from several of the retailers.
“At Whole Foods, we are highly selective about what we sell, dedicated to strict quality standards and committed to responsible, transparent sourcing,” said Margaret Wittenberg, vice president of quality standards. “Whether it’s chicken from a local rancher a mile away, or bananas from across the globe, no other retailer has higher quality standards, knows more about where and how their products were produced, or provides more transparency to their shoppers. Our strict quality standards ensure that our meat departments only offer excellent meat and poultry products from animals that were raised the way nature intended—without antibiotics, added hormones or animal by-product in feed—ever. When it comes to produce, our skilled buyers ensure that we offer the largest variety of high-quality natural and organic produce possible, including locally sourced and seasonal picks to fairly traded produce through our Whole Trade program.”
“Produce drives our business at Sprouts, so we go to great lengths to guarantee that quality is there every step of the way,” said Doug Sanders, president and CEO of Sprouts Farmers Market. “This includes leveraging our regional buying teams to source product from a variety of local, regional, and national growers, providing our customers with the freshest produce at the best prices every day. Our meat departments are staffed by trained butchers who create ready-to-cook kabobs, pinwheels, stuffed roasts, and up to 20 varieties of chicken and pork sausage. Each batch is made from scratch using all-natural meats and wholesome ingredients.”
Maria Brous, director of public relations for Publix, said: “Our customers trust the Publix name and look to us to provide meal solutions. Our perishable departments address the question of ‘what’s for dinner?’ and we provide the products, services and information our customers are looking for.” One such initiative is the chain’s Seasons’ Peak Program, which identifies when various particular fruits and vegetables are at their flavorful best. Customers can even sign up for e-mail alerts, notifying them when their favorites, peaches, for example, are ripe and ready for harvest.
At Wegmans, according to Jo Natale, director of media relations, quality begins with having high standards. “We work very closely with our supplier-partners to see their facilities, operations, and products first hand,” she said. “And we invest in training and education of our employees about the products we sell, which enables them to monitor and maintain quality and share their knowledge with the customer.”
Raley’s and Costco
If you’re finicky about your perishables, check out the stores at the top of the class, which also include Raley’s and Costco. Costco and Whole Foods are national chains, and thus more accessible to most shoppers. A caveat about Whole Foods. It’s not cheap, and in fact, ranked as one of the most expensive supermarkets in the Ratings.