November 25, 2008

Healthiest Chain Grocery Stores? Whole Foods beats Safeway.

It’s little surprise that WFM beats the competition in the healthy department. It’s a mild surprise that Safeway comes in at numer 2, but WFM themselves have been complaining to the FSC about mainstream competition for years. So, with Trader Joe’s coming in at number four, and some nice info about affordability as well, my only complaint is—as this blog with link to the Top 10 points out—what about local food co-ops and independent groceries?

Doesn’t conscious consumerism and sustainability, at its root, got something to do with shopping local and independent?


1. Whole Foods

279 stores in 38 states and Washington, D.C.

We figured this natural-foods chain would make the list, but who knew it would hands-down top it? “It’s the Rolls Royce of healthy eating,” says Kate Geagan, a nutritionist in Park City, Utah, and one of our judges.

Whole Foods has the whole package — from an extraordinary selection of fresh conventional and organic fruit and vegetables to delicious prepared foods with healthy ingredients and clear labeling. (Most other stores offer mystery meals that may very well be loaded with butter.)

And Whole Foods puts a premium on products that are grown or produced locally (read: super fresh). There’s also hard-to-find grass-fed meats, ready-to-cook organic and free-range chicken, and a well-stocked selection of just-caught seafood. The desserts are pretty good for you: Every item in the bakery is free of artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives, and trans fats.

Our judges also raved about Whole Foods’s snacks, singling out the store’s own dark chocolate, fresh-cut veggies, and nut and seed mixes. Alan Greene, M.D., a Palo Alto, California–based pediatrician and one of our panelists sums it up best: “The store celebrates great, healthy food from start to finish.” Health.com: Wegmans: the next Whole Foods?

2. Safeway

1,700-plus stores nationwide

Safeway is the traditional grocer you’re familiar with, but look closer and you’ll see a huge transformation going on. “They now have their own organic brands and a section of locally grown produce,” says judge Lisa Pawloski, Ph.D,. chair of the department of global and community health at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia. Besides those organic brands — O Organics for packaged goods (the biggest organic brand in the country) and Eating Right for prepared foods — many of the chain’s redesigned stores have a greatly expanded produce section.

Safeway’s specialty items like organic spices and packaged nuts make it a regular stop for judge Dr. Greene. Bonus: Its online Food Flex program analyzes shoppers’ purchases based on metrics like recommended sodium consumption, and then suggests healthier choices. “They’re a major pioneer in this area,” says panelist Christine Palumbo, a Chicago, Illinois-based nutritionist. “It’s like having your own registered dietitian.”

3. Harris Teeter

176 stores in the Southeast

This grocer boasts 600 varieties of fruit and veggies, with a good selection of organic and locally grown items, as well as hard-to-find nonfarm-raised seafood. But what catapulted it to third place is…for more, lick here. I mean, click.

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