Whether for business or pleasure, I see a lot of stores.
What gets a store on my Top 10 Store Checks? It’s hardly scientific. I’m not necessarily picking the prettiest produce departments, or the best quality produce.
I may get flak for choosing a not-so-great-looking Aldi, but that’s not why I chose it.
I have a lot of criteria, but it mostly comes from taking a look at my overall years’ worth of store photos and picking the 10 I think best exemplified my year in stores.
Creativity. Novelty. A great experience. Newsworthiness. Curiosity. Atmosphere. Excellent produce. People.
Honorable mention goes to my vacation pictures from Croatia, Italy, Switzerland, Austria and Germany. I left those off this years’ list, but you can see them here.
Without further ado, here’s my Top 10 Store Checks of 2017:
10. Hy-Vee, Blue Springs, Mo.
This isn’t the newest Hy-Vee in the Kansas City area, but Mike Orf (Hy-Vee’s assistant vice president of produce) recommended it because it exemplifies what makes Hy-Vee one of the best regional operators in the U.S. Produce manager Keith Thalken helps train new store managers and produce managers at this education lab location, where they come in and work for weeks to learn best practices to take into their new roles.
9. Starsky Fine Foods, Mississauga, Ontario
My friend and colleague Christina Yli-Luoma, who grew up in Toronto, took me here on our own retail tour during the Canadian Produce Marketing Association’s convention. Starsky’s produce had a distinct Eastern European flair, with the only apples from Poland I’ve ever seen this side of the pond. We met a produce manager, Edward, who convinced me to try the best tasting golden delicious apple I’ve ever had.
8. Northgate Gonzalez, Anaheim, Calif.
This is the first time I’ve seen a store before and after it was stocked for opening — and the first time I’ve been busted by a produce director while store checking. Alfonso Cano saw me coming in and sneaked up on me as I was checking out their fantastic salsa bar.
7. Aldi, Pflugerville, Texas
This is one of the most eagerly-anticipated store openings of my life. I grew up in the Midwest, and have been impatient for Batavia, Ill.-based Aldi to finally make its way down Interstate 35. I, and my fellow Central Texas transplants from the Midwest, rejoiced when the new store opened — on my birthday — in early November.
6. Lucky’s Market, Orlando, Fla.
Lucky dropped several stores in the Sunshine State in 2017, its first foray this deep in the South. It’ll be interesting to see what the Boulder-based retailer does as it starts to widen its footprint in targeted markets.
5. Raley’s, Rancho Cordova, Calif.
This is one of the West Sacramento-based retailer’s newest store designs, which brings produce and prepared foods forward. I was there to meet with Produce Retailer of the Year Greg Corrigan, who walked me through the new features and strong focus on local.
4. Stop & Shop, Chatham, Mass.
The United Fresh Produce Association invited me to one of its Retail Produce Manager Awards presentations, and I was happy to take them up on it while I was in town. This store out on Cape Cod is a treasure, and I’m sure a lot of that has to do with produce manager Al Garnett.
3. H-E-B Central Market Apple Fest, Austin, Texas
ME: “There’s no way Central Market can top last year’s Apple Fest.”
CM: “Hold my cider.”
2. Cosentino’s, Overland Park, Kan.
This store was the ultimate in “approachable luxury.” Cosentino’s made this new store on the south side of Kansas City premium without feeling snooty — as much you can do that with chandeliers and an entire wall of marble. But what really impressed me was the in-house meal kits, expansive value-added and … a kombucha bar?
1. Dave’s Marketplace, Cranston, R.I.
Dave’s was on my list last year, and I’m unabashedly putting it at the top of this year’s list for the new store — the company’s 10th — that opened in April. Produce buyer Kenny Banalewicz invited me to a pre-opening party and I was blown away by more than the fantastic department setup. It was the people that really make Dave’s exemplary. There were quite a few produce industry folks in attendance, and everyone had a fantastic story to share about how much they love this Rhode Island-based chain.