The Great Grocery Store Arms Race

2016-01-13 15.13.11The profit margins for grocery stores are notoriously low – reportedly 1% – so competition is fierce and stores rely on volume to keep the doors open and the lights on. Anyone who’s bought groceries in the past five years in Columbia has seen that competition in action. Sometimes it’s in subtle ways like small shifts in how a store is laid out; sometimes it’s a wholesale renovation of a store or the arrival of a new competitor. The result is inarguably good for the consumer but it can also be a little disorienting. Which store has those awesome mushrooms? Which one stocks the best variety of local meats? Can I drink beer at this Gerbes or only the one on West Broadway? Important, important stuff.
So here’s a rundown of my takes on the various offerings around town, a list of strengths each of the places have and a few products you might want to avail yourself of. I’m only including the plus-sized grocery stores I personally go to, so having never stepped foot in Sam’s Club, I’m not including them. Only once a customer of Natural Grocers, they’re out as well. World Harvest, Root Cellar and the like are also tremendous but not part of this discussion. So here we go…let me know what I missed.
  • Relatively new remodel with centralized location of a robust liquor section is unusual, but it works.
  • Strong deli department by virtue of some good turkey breast and excellent spiral-cut ham.
  • Produce is a strong point, particularly in the realm of herbs and mushrooms.
  • The meat counter has long been regarded as about as close to a butcher shop as Columbia has.
  • Schnucks was the first (?) to enable drinking and shopping, which is of course a great idea.
  • Started off with some local meat availability but seem to have mostly or completely done away with that.
  • Still, the array of fresh seafood and meats – particularly beef – are excellent.
  • Brats, sausage and bacon are excellent even if the sandwich meats are invariably bone-dry.
  • The cafe area is nice. Grab a slice of the (above average) pizza and a pint. Good times.
  • Running Wednesday to Wednesday, “Lucky Breaks” are their way of drawing you in with discounted fruit and veggies. If you’re on a budget this is a great way to get more produce into your diet.
Gerbes (West Broadway)
  • Brand-new remodel looks nice, but still leaves narrow aisles and a confusing bottleneck over by the cheese counter.
  • About that cheese counter. It’s run by Murray’s, the decades-old and infinitely awesome cheese shop in NYC. I’m still working out how this happened but in the meantime, cheese-lovers have a new local mecca. Incredible.
  • Bolillos for $0.25! These are basically Mexican baguettes; soft, pillowy and really, pretty flavorless. Perfect for stuffing with whatever meats and cheeses you have on hand…or banh mi sandwiches.
HyVee (West Broadway)
  • Columbia’s first HyVee came along before the craft beer explosion, which may explain how the booze got shunted way over in a small corner of the store. The other two HyVees, coming much later, possess far superior selections, particularly when it comes to beer.
  • Best selection of local meats in town, period.
  • While many stores around town carry Uprise’s excellent breads, this HyVee seems to have the best selection.
  • I know every inch of this store…that counts for a lot in deciding where to stop for toothpaste, turkey salami and Prairie Moon cheese.
HyVee (Grindstone)
  • Excellent booze section, enormous frozen foods section, amazing trumpet mushrooms.
HyVee (Conley)
  • Good liquor department. Don’t know if I’ve been in the rest of the store.
Posted in Go

Author: Scott

I am a married father of two. I graduated from Rock Bridge High School and then Mizzou before spending six years in the Washington, D.C. area. We returned to Columbia, Missouri in 2006.

5 thoughts

  1. Lucky’s Bacon is superb, and it’s the only place in town you can get really GOOD organic cream. Unfortunately they are totally in love with onions and put them in pretty much every single salad and side dish in their deli section. Plus, no Charmin and really limited coffee.

    The westside Gerbes cheese counter is superb.

    Though they are still struggling I wish you had mentioned World Harvest which is trying to recover and still stocks items you cannot find elsewhere.

  2. Hey, Scott…Tim said that a friend of his in Colorado alerted him to the fact that the Kroger stores there were partnering with Murray’s Cheese, and to look for it at Gerbes here since Kroger owns Gerbes, among many others (think the Kroger Co. is the largest US grocery store chain). So now you know why Gerbes has a Murray’s Cheese display: mystery solved! 🙂

  3. Thanks for the west side Gerbes cheese counter tip Scott!

    I noticed that I could only find Askinosie chocolate in the West Broadway Hy-vee. Puzzles me why I can’t find it elsewhere.

    Lucky’s bacon gets another upvote for me. However, I’m not sure how coffee selection is limited in Lucky’s, I’ve seen all the local roasters as well as Lucky’s house brand of beans represented. The main problem is them selling out of my go-to, Fretboard’s Ethiopia, too quickly.

  4. I think I’ve said this before but the fruit pies at the Grindstone Hy-vee have been consistently excellent in the last couple of years – they have someone there who really knows how to make a crust and put fruit in fruit pies.

  5. Little known fact: Conley HyVee carries English style sausage. And sometimes offers them for breakfast.

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