Full disclosure: I was recently contacted by a PR person from the Kroger company, who had found my blog and wondered if I might like to join some other Little Rock bloggers in a tour of their new Kroger Marketplace store which opens tonight in West Little Rock. Since many of my local bloggy friends were going, I said sure! So, today, I went on a guided tour of the nicest, newest grocery store I’ve ever seen, and I ate free samples of delicious food, and I had a fabulous time. Honestly, it’s not hard to have a fabulous time when surrounded by ladies who will giggle with you over the pussy willows in the floral department and laugh at your quips about dog popsicles being FOR dogs, not MADE FROM dogs and make jokes about how a bunch of bloggers around a sushi sample tray is a lot like Shark Week. And I admit, I’m just plain interested in grocery stores, so I thought I’d share what I learned (I was not required to write about this event).
You see, though I’m a super proponent of local, sustainable food (see my “we might starve without a CSA” post for proof, or check out this post for a rundown of my “food rules”), most of my food still comes from my local grocery store. In Charleston, I was rather spoiled in my last year there, because a brand-spankin’ new Harris Teeter opened up less than a mile from my house and an awesome Earth Fare natural supermarket was located just down a greenway from us. I could bike to both. And y’all, the Teet, as I liked to call it, was FAN-CY. It had the largest produce section I’d ever seen, and, upon first visit, I noticed the fanciest thing of all– like a Methodist, I felt “strangely warmed” in the frozen foods section. I looked up to see that they were piping in hot air to cut down on the chills when the freezer doors were opened! It’s not very eco-friendly, I’ll admit, but it sure is fancy! We got most of our produce from our CSA, most of our other groceries from the Teet, and I hit up the Earth Fare once in a while to shop the bulk bins.
No grocery store I’ve visited in Little Rock has come close to being as nice as the Teet. Until today.
Have you ever seen a grocery store produce section with every veggie in a perfect little pile, not disheveled by a hundred shoppers’ grubby little hands? It’s glorious. The WLR Kroger Marketplace has the largest produce selection I’ve ever seen, and they said they make an effort to acquire local (within 400 miles) produce as much as possible. Anything you see labeled local is within 400 miles of the store. Sure, it’s not hydroponically grown in your neighbor’s back yard, but I will applaud any step in the right direction– when a company like Kroger, the largest grocery store chain in the world, tries to cut down on the amount of petroleum used in the shipping of our food, it makes a difference.
In addition to an awesome produce department, this Kroger had BULK BINS. I could have hugged them. I’m a big bread baker, and a big baker in general, and having a place to buy organic flour and raw sugar in bulk? Well, it makes my little heart happy. There was also a large selection of natural/organic products, and even a large selection of gluten-free products. Right now I have to make separate trips to a Kroger store for my groceries and a Whole Foods for the bulk bins. After this store opens, I’ll just be hauling my little hiney out to Chenal and hitting up the fancy Kroger Marketplace. (Though my usual grocery store, the Kroger in Hillcrest, will be reopening after renovations this October, and I’ll still shop there for most of my day-to-day food.)
I was also very happy to hear from the guys in charge of the meat and seafood departments. Kroger apparently is very big on voluntarily labeling country of origin and wild-caught/farmed on its seafood, which is really helpful for me as I try to eat sustainably when I consume seafood (for a consumer’s guide to sustainable seafood, check this site out). We also learned that Kroger goes above and beyond national standards and employs its own inspectors to make sure its seafood and meat is of the freshest quality. And when it comes to meat, I was happy to see that they had a number of all natural, hormone/antibiotic/nitrite free, vegetarian-fed, sustainably raised meat to choose from, including pork products. I have cut down a lot on my meat production in order to afford to eat natural/sustainable/ethical meat when I do consume meat. Beyond the products that made me happy because they fit into my food values, I have to say that the folks working the meat and seafood area obviously take a lot of pride in what they do and have a passion for their jobs. That’s fun to see!
Overall, yes, this is a conventional grocery store and it’s still full of rows of foods I wish didn’t exist– heavily processed, full of corn syrup, empty calories in boxes and bags. BUT, this store is also making it easier for people to get fresh, more local produce and fresh, more sustainable meat and seafood, and that’s a step in the right direction that I totally applaud. The store also has a commitment to helping shoppers create more meals at home by demonstrating cooking techniques, suggesting pairings, giving samples, and having well-trained employees who can answer shoppers’ questions. All of that on top of bulk bins? Well, my only complaint is that it’s way too far away from my house for me to shop there on a regular basis. Now to begin the countdown until my neighborhood Kroger reopens!
If you’d like to see more photos from the store, you can check out a slideshow on my Flickr.