My grocery list

Whenever I travel, I make sure to check out the local supermarkets.

A few issues ago, Canadian Grocer featured a kind of “bucket list” for grocers, called “25 stores to visit before you die.” Experts selected supermarkets from around the world with unique merchandising, outstanding design, unusual selection and so forth that made them worth a look. I’d like to add a few of my favourites, both in Canada and abroad.

One retailer you simply must visit is Quality Foods, on Vancouver Island. There are now 13 Quality Foods, and each excels at service and putting customers first. Quality Foods has a history of innovation. It introduced the first loyalty program in Canadian grocery, in 1991. Six years later came Western Canada’s first full online shopping service. The independent grocer has won many awards and its newest store, at View Royal, in Victoria, shows everything that is special about Quality Foods.

Another Canadian grocer to visit is Sunripe in Sarnia, Ont. It’s clear that someone from Sunripe shops at the Ontario Food Terminal every day because the produce, displayed beautifully, is so fresh. Like Quality Foods, Sunripe has won many awards. There are two more wonderful Sunripe stores, in nearby London, but I find something special about the original location.

Also in Ontario, one of my favourite stores is the Village Grocer, in Unionville, north of Toronto. It’s not large in size, but its loyal clientele love the grocer’s eclectic selection of hard-to-find spices, coffees and jams, and for its spectacular bakery, meat counter and sandwiches. The store has a cooking school on the upper floor and offers special events just about every week. Unseen by customers is the lower floor commissary, where much of the food for the store is made from scratch, including pies smoked meats and baked goods.

Stepping outside of Canada, the first store that comes to mind is the food floor at department store Galeries Lafayette, in Paris. The merchandising takes your breath away. Its fruit and vegetable displays are works of art, the bakery is stacked with tasty treats, the meat case has superb cuts, and many of Paris’s finest chocolate makers and bakeries are represented. There is also a wine room and a café, all under a gorgeous ceiling of stained glass.

Another Paris grocer worth a visit is Picard Surgelés, a chain of frozen food shops. Each is pure white, resembling a fine laundry. Instead of washing machines, though, Picard Surgelés is filled with white freezers that contain ready-to-heat appetizers, entrees and desserts. People who shop there rave about the quality of the ingredients in these gourmet prepared meals.

In Japan, you must visit the food floors of Matsuzakaya and Daimaru department stores. You’ll find just about everything possible for a lunch or dinner, including wine. And fine baked goods and meats are sold along with inexpensive bento boxes.

In Buenos Aires, Jumbo Market, a hypermarket that has a large selection of international foods not readily available in Argentina, impressed me when I visited. The best part is a clock over the bakery that counts down the minutes to the next serving of bread fresh from the oven. The closer to zero hour, the larger the crowd.

In the U.S. you should visit a Trader Joe’s. It does amazing business with only about 4,000 items, mostly its own brands. One of the interesting things about Trader Joe’s is the absolute passion for the chain exhibited outwardly by its loyal—very loyal—customers.

Of course, these are just a few of my favourite stores. Perhaps I’ll cover more in a later column!

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