Yes, you are reading the title of this blog correctly. The research is FINALLY complete. After many date nights that wouldn’t have been possible without wonderfully, qualified (and, free!) sitters; my mom, Virginia, my sister, Jess and even the neighbor girl, Jen – we are done!! And, I couldn’t have done it without my amazingly supportive husband, Jacob. Just when my eyes were starting to go crossed looking at prices, my hand was cramping from the miniscule writing and the frustration level was reaching a boiling point, my dear husband would look at me and with a smile say “Isn’t this fun!? I am lovin’ our date!” My response to his enthusiasm was a smile forced through gritted teeth and a willingness to trudge on. I feel like I am standing at the podium; thanking my family and friends for my success and that my award’s speech is just short of thanking God, the producers, fans and industry execs!
Why did I struggle with this research so much? First, it was time consuming. When I say time consuming – I mean “bleary eyed, nauseating, the world is going to end before we are done” time consuming. Each store took about two to three hours of our time and we were only looking for four dozen or so products. And, that is taking into account that after we found prices that couldn’t be beat (e.g. Organic Sunmaid raisins at Costco) – we stopped looking at the prices of raisins. Second, I hate shopping. I go to the mall with a purpose: get in, grab what I came for and get out. No browsing. No trying on. No scoping out deals. Bada-bing-bada-boom! Needless to say, this research did not follow my shopping criteria.
But, it’s done and it is a seriously helpful resource. I can now plan my grocery trips around what I need and what stores have the best prices. Or, I can see sale prices at one store and not immediately fall into the trap that it is $1.00 off the original price, so that must mean I am saving money!
Attached to this blog is the chicken-scratch spreadsheet that became our research log. It is a PDF version. I give you fair warning: it is not pretty and it is in some parts quite illegible. Below is a breakdown of our generic findings and opinions and the fine print, too. We went to a total of seven stores and looked at the top 50 foods that we eat in our house.
Grocery Store Research PDF Version
COMMUNITY FOOD CO-OP: Award for “A+ Local Effort”
The Food Co-Op in Bellingham is one of the gems of Whatcom County. The shelves are stocked with really local foods –potatoes from Hopewell Farms in Everson and grains from Fairhaven Mill in Bellingham to name a few. And, their signage is great. You can easily spot the “organic” green signs in the produce department and you aren’t left wondering whether you picked up organic lettuce or not. The store might be small and the produce section crammed with oodles of vegetables and fruit, but you will be impressed with the quality. The Food Co-Op provides the best source of quality and affordability combined with local Whatcom County goods and hard to find organic, specialty diet items.
COSTCO: Award for “Best Bang For Your Buck”
Costco is hands down the best place for organic items – price wise. You can’t beat their quantities and the two detergents that they offer are exceptionally high quality products that boast earth-friendly and affordable. The laundry detergent is ECOS by Earth Friendly Products and is 210 ounces for $12.99. The dishwasher detergent is Wave by Earth Friendly Products and is three-40 ounce bottles for $8.99.
FRED MEYER: Award for “Confusing Natural with Organic”
In the past when I had shopped at Fred Meyer I was impressed with the massive “NATURAL” section that is located at one end of the store. And, I fell for the natural gimmick hook, line and sinker. Truth be told, this section is big and it is filled with natural items. Natural is a deceiving word. You thinking it must be healthy, because it is natural. But, natural is really a vague term that make you feel like you are purchasing something higher quality. And, you might be, but don’t count on it. Fred Meyer’s natural section is not filled with local or organic items. The prices are neither here nor there and the produce is nothing to get excited about. Don’t make a special trip, but if you are in the area, it’s worth picking up a head of broccoli or a bunch of bananas.
HAGGEN: Award for “Still My Best Friend”
Okay, I will sheepishly admit. I love Haggen. The layout, the people, the deli – everything. They are a close and dear friend. So, I wondered how they would rank when it came to organic and local. Their organic section is separate from the store and it makes it easy to find what you are looking for in a second and the produce section is clearly labeled with a variety of fruits and vegetables. But, alas, Haggen falls into the trap of most big grocery stores. There is not a huge variety of produce and the local selection leaves a little to be desired. The store certainly didn’t make my heart skip a beat, but I am not ready to say good-bye completely. I will continue to support them for some of my grocery shopping, but utilize the local resources that the Food Co-Op offers for my other needs.
THE MARKET at Birch Bay: Award for “Produce that’s Close By”
It’s a pretty lame award, I know, but this grocery didn’t make my heart go pitter patter. They have pretty good produce section and they are the only store in the north county that sells Fresh Breeze organic milk from Lynden in one-gallon containers, but the prices on pantry items stink. For the most part, they are higher than any other grocery store and they are making no effort to support local, with the exception of Fresh Breeze. But, I gotta say, the location and the fact that their organic produce seems to always been on sale makes up slightly for these deficiencies. If I need something now or we just ran out of milk, I will drive the 2 miles to the store and do a quick grocery shopping trip. But, if planning and adequate time allow, you’ll find me shopping at another store.
SAFEWAY: Award for “O – The Safeway Organic Brand”
Safeway was honestly a pleasant surprise for me. I don’t usually shop at Safeway even though it is closer than my usual haunt, Haggen. But, when it comes to organics, it is pretty darn good. They have an excellent selection of organic produce and the Safeway organic brand “O” has comparable products for most mainstream items. This was the only place that had organic chocolate sandwich cookies (a.k.a. Oreos) and there was good selection of other snack foods. The Lynden grocery store isn’t calling my name, but I do know that I can find good apples and munchies if I am in the area.
TRADER JOE’S: Award for “Easy on the Eyes Labeling”
If you want to look down crowded grocery store aisles and quickly spot what is “natural” or “organic” and what is not “organic”, you will be pleased with Trader Joe’s displays. You don’t need to squint at the fine print on each of cereal or can of soup – the handwritten postcards that hang with each product clearly state whether or not it is organic. No confusion. But, Trader Joe’s left me with a sour taste in my mouth and sad. I was disheartened by the amount of packaging that seems unnecessary. The broccoli is in bag. The pears are wrapped as a threesome in plastic. I understand that it is convenient, but it is also very wasteful. And, the shelves of Trader Joe’s do not have a single local, Whatcom County or Skagit County item. They are filled with Trader Joe’s brand or their tongue-in-cheek counterparts Trader Ming’s and Trader Darwin’s. But, I do like the organic yogurt and organic apple granola and the prices on them can’t be beat, so if I am in the neighborhood, I am apt to swing on in for these items.
Fine print (it’s not really fine because I know that some of my readers have deteriorating eyesight)
* The prices that we compared only included regular, non-sale prices.
* Things are also marked “local” or the state that they originate from is indicated if it was noteworthy.
As a completely separate outing, we went to Whole Foods in Seattle. The information from Whole Foods is not listed on the spreadsheet, because the driving distance doesn’t make it feasible to get any fresh produce and we are only going to use them for pantry staples (see my notes below). Whole Foods will also be our go to place for a healthy, quick lunch when we are passing through Seattle.
WHOLE FOODS: Award for “If you want it – we got it”
Oh, Whole Foods is like a good lover. You can’t get enough. It is an amazing grocery store. The produce is second to none. The selection of dry goods is out of this world. The bulk foods will make your eyes fall out of your head. And the salad bar and self-serve deli are absolutely incredible. Don’t even get me started on the bakery… So, they are pretty awesome. I have been to Whole Foods before and I knew most of what I would find, but I was pleasantly shocked by the oodles of local products they offered. For being a big chain grocery that is nationwide, the Seattle store had shelves full of local goods. It was beyond refreshing and it made me love it even more! All I can say, is “go”. Go to Whole Foods and enjoy!
A few of Whole Foods’ local products:
Golden Glen Creamery in Burlington, WA
Blue Bird Farms in Winthrop, WA
High Country Honey in Burlington, WA
Grace Harbor Farms in Custer, WA (only 200 yards from our house!)
Cougar Mountain Bakery in Seattle, WA
Steibr Farms eggs in Yelm, WA
Biokleen Products in Vancouver, WA
If you reading this final paragraph – way to go! Whew – you stuck in there and read over 1800 words. Yay for you! And, yay for me for keeping you entertained that long! Either way I slice the information and data, I think that the same things remain. If you want local and support co-ops, you must go to the Food Co-Op. If you are getting some organic produce and pantry items, the main grocery stores in the county are roughly the same. Save a little gas and go to the one closest to your house or work. But, take a little advice from me and swing by Whole Foods on your next trip through Seattle. You won’t be sorry!