Posted by The Editorial Desk / Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Every region of the country seems to have its own grocery stores that dominate the food-related market. While some have expanded from sea to shining sea, there are some you just don’t see when you’re out of town. It’s hard to tell the difference between most of them, but some people have sworn loyalty to one specific store for no particular reason. Could it be close proximity, good deals, or friendly service? What, if anything separates them from one another?
1. Giant has always been the one I frequent the most, but I have tried to mix it up recently. All 202 locations are centered around three states, four if you count the District of Columbia. Delaware is home to at least six, but the bulk of them are in Maryland and Northern Virginia. Impressive renovation efforts are an ongoing process in order to keep up with the competition. I’ve never been to one that disappointed me, but prices may vary. The Giant Rewards card has become more of a valuable commodity since they teamed up with Shell gas stations. The more food you buy, the more you can save on gas. I’ve saved up to $1 per gallon, but points don’t carry over from month to month.
2. Harris Teeter is a relative newcomer around these parts, but they certainly have made a name for themselves. The official grocery store of the Washington Redskins serves nine states, including the District. The majority of the 201 locations are in the Southeast, but they stretch as far north as Delaware. The quality of their food and service has forced other chains to improve upon their own. I get the feeling that they genuinely aim to please, which is refreshing to see at a super market. The weekly specials and sheer variety of beer and wine keeps me coming back for more. The VIC card also offers special savings for loyal customers.
3. Safeway and Shoppers have kind of struggled to stay comparatively relevant as of late, but they boast over one hundred locations combined in and around the region. It wasn’t that long ago that they were competing with the best of them, but they both continue to do relatively good business. Customers are sure to find surprising deals and quality products, but the decor and design seem to be lacking a bit. That takes nothing away from what they have to offer though. Reward programs and community outreach have prolonged their life expectancy. They will not meet the same fate of Food Lion, who has been relegated to only a few locations in southern Virginia.
4. Wegmans has built somewhat of a cult following since it first expanded to NoVA in 2004. Now there are six locations, and over 75 along the mid-Atlantic seaboard. They pride themselves on the gourmet food they sell for a reasonable price. You will find plenty of deals and specials. It doubles as a great cafe for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I even saw a wedding rehearsal lunch take place at the one in Sterling. The meticulous design of the store itself is worth the trip. There’s something special about it, but it’s hard to put your finger on what exactly makes it so. Visit one for yourself when you get a chance.
While there may be several national chains to choose from, only a few are deserving of mention.
Costco is a members-only club that sells everything in bulk. There are over 560 locations around the world, and four in this area alone. It has a little bit of everything inside one gigantic construct. Just $50 a year gains you entry to one of the best and biggest stores known to man. I may just be saying that because I thoroughly enjoy the samples, but it’s definitely something to behold. Costco can be a little intimidating at first, but that feeling subsides as soon as you find one of their many great deals. Be sure to try their food up front, the pizza is delicious!
Whole Foods and Trader Joes shouldn’t be overlooked either. They may cater to more of a niche market of individuals, but there’s actually something for everyone. Both specialize in organic food that is not only beneficial to your health, but also quite tasty. Samples are not uncommon at the locations I’ve visited. These include, but are not limited to hot food and wine tastings on certain days. Other stores can offer you more specials, but the gourmet factor can be a powerful draw for some people. With multiple locations around the region, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to visit one or the other if you happen to come across it.
Suffice it to say, there really isn’t a grocery store that is better than the rest. While it may waste gas, visiting several different stores is actually the best way to save money on food. Even the gourmet stores are prone to having great deals from time to time. Don’t forget about your local farmer’s markets for the freshest produce, but these have a tendency to be seasonal.
I’ll leave you with one important rule of thumb. Try not to grocery shop when you’re hungry. I’ve learned that the hard way.