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I never thought I’d ever write about grocery stores

I never paid much attention to where I shopped for groceries until I left the workaday world. These days I do a good deal of our grocery shopping though and somewhere along the way I started paying attention.

I do over half of our shopping at the local No Frills. They have pretty good produce, a good selection of your basic pantry items but it isn’t the best place if you’re after fish or meat, so for those things I go elsewhere.

By far the best place for fish around these parts is a fish retailer attached to a fish wholesaler, called AllSeas. They have the best and freshest selection around and prices are as good as you’re likely to find.

These days I do most of the rest of our grocery shopping at Starsky’s, a European market, and Grant’s, an Asian market (with an honest to God picture of General Grant on the front sign beside the Asian characters). Once in a while we’ll venture deep into Mississauga to Adonis, which sells all kinds of interesting Middle Eastern foods.

Recently, a Farm Boy market has opened up on Brown’s Line, with much ballyhoo. The place was hopping for the first couple weeks and I avoided it. I finally dropped in this morning. Much to my surprise the place was quiet, only a few customers. It isn’t a huge place. They have a really good produce section, maybe as good as Starky’s. Grant’s has the best variety with a fantastic selection of Asian veggies. I didn’t do a careful price comparison, but everything seemed on the expensive side to me.

They do have a disproportionately large hot food area, with a huge salad bar featuring all kinds of tasty looking items. Everything looked fresh and appetizing but then again it was early in the day. I considered cobbling together a nice salad for lunch but I was really confused about the pricing. I also didn’t understand if the different aisles of salad bar were different prices, if you could mix and match or whatever. There was nobody handy to help me out so I thought, OK nevermind I’ll make my own salad at home. They also had an area where you could get a stir fry, but I have no idea if that is any good.

I bought some produce and a jar of veggie chili and a couple chicken breasts at Farm Boy’s but that’s about it. I think people who like to buy plenty of prepared foods might like it there but for anything beyond the staples I get at the No Frills, there are better options for this shopper.


  1. Salvelinas Fontinalis

    Salad bars were first tried in grocery stores about 25 years ago. The idea was first ti differentiate the store by having one and secondly to capture some high margin sales from folks who would be impressed with a spiffy looking display of fresh produce and not care about the price. If you look around the main line groceries these days you will see that the concept has been largely abandoned.

    There are a world of problems associated with a salad bar for the stores. The big one is waste. A store can easily keep a stash of romaine lettuce in the walk in cooler for a week and it will look pretty good when they put the heads out on display even after holding it for a week. Once you cut it up though and put it out on the salad bar you had better sell it all today because by tomorrow it will look limp and nasty. In fact if you want your salad bar to always have only fresh product you need to chuck the whole thing in the garbage every evening and start fresh again in the morning. That can get pretty expensive in winter when almost all produce is imported and expensive. Some stores said we arent going to just throw it all away and start over so they would set up in the morning with yesterday’s leftovers. To have any hope at all of getting away with that you need an extra person or two to pick through the leftovers and try to freshen it up in the morning. That can give the store an ok looking salad bar at 8 am but customers didnt buy until lunch time and by then some of the items had been on display for a day and a half and didnt look very appetizing. So they needed more staff to constantly work the salad bar. That really ran into money. The answer was to throw out more product when it was setup in the morning and just raise prices to cover the product losses. That sort of works if your store in in a big city, downtown, with lots of office workers looking for an alternative to a hamburger for lunch. For stores in suburban areas they couldnt attract enough customers to break even. Worse, they discovered that the folks who did pay the high prices at the salad bar were not also buying groceries in the rest of the store so the salad bar was not stimulating sales in other departments. In effect they had gone into the restaurant business in the least profitable way. The fad continued for a couple of years at which point the stores gave their collective heads a shake and mostly abandoned the whole concept.

    These days the trend is to have a salad person furiously prep assorted salads and pack them in clear plastic tubs. Because air flow is restricted in the tubs most of the product is still saleable the next day reducing waste to a very manageable level. If you have 11 containers of Caesar salad left over from yesterday you simply dont make any more until all 11 are sold. It also gives the stores control of what goes into a salad. If romaine is expensive this week they can substitute leaf lettuce and carrot matchsticks and still be able to price a salad of that size at $7.99 . This pre-packaging approach can be pretty profitable and customers seem to like it.

    • The stuff at Farm Boy looked really good, but it was early. One of the thoughts that flashed through my mind is that all this food is sitting open for a long time and that’s a bit of a worry. Years ago when I worked downtown, there was a place across the street that had a salad bar and at the time I ate from there occasionally when I failed to bring a lunch. It was expensive, but the selection was good and I recall enjoying it.

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