There is no doubt that improving technology, changing consumer preferences and the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way that we shop for food. This is especially true in the Raleigh-Durham area, where the population is said to grow by 20 people a day. This trend has not slowed down, despite the year-long challenges of the pandemic. The grocery industry has typically operated on very thin margins, and that has been changed as the in-store experience has become increasingly important to consumers, and discount stores have started to aggressively enter markets across the country, including the Triangle. So we wanted to dive into some of the options in the area and compare each of them to help shoppers in the Raleigh-Durham area find the best options.
Wegmans – Best Overall Shopping Experience
Wegmans was founded in Rochester, NY in 1916 by the Wegman brothers. The company has since grown to a massive player in the grocery industry, with 104 locations throughout New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts, and most recently North Carolina. Their third store in the Tar Heel State is set to open on February 24, 2021, in Chapel Hill. Many die-hard fans say that Wegmans is not a store, it’s an experience, which has helped them become thought leaders and innovators in the grocery world.
Wegmans stores are designed to give the feel of a European market. They include an extensive bakery, several take-out or in-store dining options with seating (including pizza, sushi, subs and in the Triangle, burgers), a cheese shop, a pharmacy, an impressive beer and wine section that features a wide variety of products from local breweries and wineries, and a huge selection of international ingredients. Transplants from the Northeast frequent Wegmans to get items that are a taste of home that cannot be found elsewhere.
Wegmans has also received quite a few national accolades since the 1990s. They were ranked the #2 Best Grocery Store in 2020 by Food and Wine Magazine, and have been continually ranked in the top five on the list of America’s Best Grocery Stores for the past 20 years by Consumer Reports.
Harris Teeter – Best Grocery Store Headquartered in North Carolina
Harris Teeter began as a merger agreement between William Thomas Harris and Willis L. Teeter in 1959 after each had found retail success in the Charlotte area. The chain now boasts 260 stores across North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, Florida, Maryland and Delaware. Many lifelong Triangle residents are fiercely loyal to Harris Teeter.
Harris Teeter infuses some small-town business charm into each of their locations. Looking to be rewarded for your grocery spending? Harris Teeter offers fuel points, which translates into discounts on gas for frequent shoppers ($0.10 per gallon for every 100 fuel points). Searching for North Carolina brands? Harris Teeter has an extensive offering of local foods. For example, they carry a large selection of barbecue sauces, representing Lexington Style, Eastern Carolina, and South Carolina sauces. There are free sugar cookies and fruit for the kids to eat. Curbside grocery pick-up is also available, which has been extremely helpful for shoppers over the past year. Harris Teeter sends their E-VIC rewards members special offers and coupons at least once a week.
Harris Teeter has also been working hard to improve the in-store experience. For example, the Harris Teeter in Brier Creek has installed a full-service bar inside of their store. They have also improved the quality of their prepared foods greatly over the past few years. Their wine section is highly impressive and features a varied selection of wines at every price point.
Lowes Foods – Best Craft Beer Selection
Winston-Salem-based Lowe’s Foods has also been improving its in-store experience in recent years. Starting as a single store in the small town of North Wilkesboro in 1954, this retailer has grown to almost 100 stores throughout North and South Carolina to date. Lowe’s showcases products local to the Carolinas, including carrying a wide variety of produce from local farms. They have also been known to give customers a free cake once in a blue moon and donate unsold bakery items to the local food banks.
Lowe’s offers local beers and ciders on tap. There is a small bar area where you can sit and enjoy a beverage before finishing your shopping and you can purchase growlers of whatever is on tap. The local beer selection is very robust and offers a wide variety of beers for every taste, with most of the shelf space being dedicated to North Carolina breweries and cider mills. If you are looking for your favorite brew from a local place, you will likely find it at Lowe’s.
Trader Joe’s – Best Store for Unique Products
Founded in Pasadena, CA in 1967, Trader Joe’s has exploded in popularity in recent years, not only aggressively expanding their retail locations, but growing a loyal following, so much so that there are various blogs and social media accounts dedicated to Trader Joe’s finds. Currently, there are 530 stores across the US, and the ninth location in North Carolina is set to open in Morrisville in the near future.
Trader Joe’s has been able to grow its customer base with low prices, unique products, a focus on sustainability and stellar service. One way that they accomplish this is by sourcing their products directly from suppliers. They also rotate many items on a seasonal basis, and there are always new products to try. If you are looking for something out of the ordinary, or have specific dietary restrictions, a stop at Trader Joe’s is a must.
Publix – Best Customer Service
Ask any Florida transplant in the Triangle for their preferred grocery store and they are likely to say Publix. Wegmans and Publix are often fighting each other for the top spot on national grocery store rankings. Founded in Florida in the 1930s, you can now find locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee. They are the largest employee-owned grocery chain in the United States and pride themselves on being the grocery store “where shopping is a pleasure”.
While many Publix fans will cite their subs, fried chicken, or bakery as the best things about the store, the customer service is the real difference-maker. There is always someone willing to help load your car or hand you an umbrella in the rain. Team members are always asking shoppers if they need help finding something, if they are having a good day, etc. The bakery offers free cookies for kids and a free “smash cake” for a baby’s first birthday. The cleanliness and overall organization of each store makes things easy to find and adds greatly to shopper satisfaction. Publix centers their entire business around making sure that consumers have a positive experience at their stores every time.
Whole Foods – Best For Organic Options
Whole Foods, originally based out of Austin, TX and now owned by Amazon, offers a wide selection of high-quality organic products. They entered North Carolina by acquiring Wellspring Foods in the 1990s. There are currently over 500 Whole Foods locations across the country and seven in the United Kingdom.
Whole Foods has strict policies when sourcing products. They ban all artificial colors, flavors and preservatives. They have strict animal welfare standards while also making sure to create a clean and inviting grocery shopping experience. They have published standards for what ingredients are not allowed in their products, as well as their standards for humane animal care and slaughter. They also carry many hard-to-find ingredients, especially in terms of produce and spices. Whole Foods is great for people with dietary restrictions because there are many high-quality options that are delicious.
The Fresh Market – Best Boutique Store
The Fresh Market was founded in 1982 in Greensboro, North Carolina and now has 159 locations in 22 states, five of which are in the Raleigh-Durham metro area. From the start, the vision for The Fresh Market was to provide an intimate, boutique shopping experience that brought high-quality fresh food to shoppers on a daily basis.
Fans of The Fresh Market rave about their meat department, produce, flower selection, the $20 Meal Deal (ingredients are packaged to create a recipe meant to feed a family of four for $20), and the hard-to-find products that other stores either do not carry or have not yet discovered. If you are looking to pick up a few high-quality products in an inviting, smaller-sized store, The Fresh Market fits the bill perfectly.
Lidl – Best Discount Retailer
Looking to pinch pennies while still finding high-quality food for the family? Check out Lidl, a German-based retailer with 12,000 locations worldwide. Wide aisles and large shelves make each location easy to navigate. The bakery offers delicious bread and sweets for very cheap prices. Lidl offers a number of organic, vegan and gluten-free products, along with quite a few seasonal items and an extensive wine section. You will find many major brands at Lidl and also find a few new brands that are low cost but high quality. If you decide to venture into one of their six Triangle locations, make sure to bring your own reusable shopping bags, as they will not provide bags.
There are tons of options for grocery stores in the Raleigh-Durham metro area, and they all have unique and interesting features. It is very common for residents of the Triangle to shop around and go to different stores for different things depending on their needs. The good news is that we have plenty of great options from which to choose.