In a recent comment, Elise referred to Whole Foods as Whole Paychecks, and I have to admit that the name fits the store well. You know it’s going to be expensive from the first moment you enter and I’ve found that the best way to avoid spending a whole paycheck is to only get a small basket to carry your purchases in as opposed to a large cart.
The displays of meat, produce and cheese are artful. Packaged goods are labeled with adjectives that always work on a sucker like me–artisnal, fire-roasted, hand-crafted, free-range, grass-fed. You can almost convince yourself that the store deserves to charge you more because everything just looks so dadgummed attractive. There’s soft music, non-flourescent lighting and at least a fifty-fifty chance of seeing a celebrity.
And then there’s Wal-Mart.
Eco-packaging of generic brands. The pervasive aroma of…what exactly is it?…a cross between popcorn and industrial cleaning solution I think. And the food–shrink-wrapped, tired produce, Kraft singles and Sam’s Cola.
But have you looked lately?
The lighting is still bad, but those bins are great. According to an article in the latest Atlantic, Wal-Mart is on a mission to support local farmers and suppliers. The company has developed a program call Heritage Agriculture that is designed to get locally grown produce into its stores. It also wants to encourage farmers to branch out and plant a greater variery of produce.
I can hear y’all sneering and scoffing right now.
Obviously, Wal-Mart’s motives aren’t purely altruistic. But they aren’t purely pocketbook driven either. In an effort to entice buyers like me, they have revamped many of the produce sections and started arranging the food more as it would appear in a farmer’s market or fancy store. The shrink wrap has been replaced and the variety has increased.
You already know the food costs less than at Whole Foods, but what about the taste?
The author of the article arranged for a blind tasting in Austin, Texas. He took a list prepared by a local chef and bought identical ingredients at Wal-Mart and Whole Foods. The judges were local foodies, chefs and writers.
First course: bowls of almonds, fried goat cheese, red onion jam and honey. Slam dunk for Wal-Mart
Second course: Spring greens with a sherry vinaigrette. Another win for Wal-Mart
Third course: chicken served with a poached egg on a bed of spinach. The Wal-Mart chicken was roundly dismissed (it had been injected with broth), but the Wal-Mart spinach was preferred.
Dessert: Panna Cotta. This was Whole Foods only real win of the evening.
The article states that the judges were none too pleased to discover that they had chosen Wal-Mart over Whole Foods in several instances.
So am I going to start doing all my grocery shopping at Wal-Mart. No…but that’s a matter of covenience as much as anything else. By the same token, I don’t do a lot shopping at Whole Foods either, and that’s a matter of cost. This summer though, I will make it a point to check out the produce at Wal-Mart to see if they’re particiapting in the Heritage Agriculture program.
Food for thought, for sure.
p.s. I just realized that this is my third post in a row about grocery stores. No more.