Saturday, August 23, 2008

Grocery Shopping for Organic and Natural Food
in Tucson

I rarely shopped at, or even looked for a natural or organic foods grocery store when I lived in Michigan. I had one or two friends that frequented these places, but as much as I considered myself a new-age liberal tree-hugger, going out of your way to shop for organic food seemed a little too “out there” even for me.

That changed very quickly once I moved to Tucson. There are so many choices, and the prices are so competitive with ‘regular’ groceries you have to ask yourself “Why wouldn’t you shop there?”

Of course there are conventional places to shop for groceries for when you reeaaally need to have that Twinkie, or it’s time to pick up some more Ban roll-on. Tucson has Bashas’ and Fry’s aplenty.

But today’s post is all about going natural, and for that you basically have three choices here in Tucson. Here they are, in alphabetical order:

Sunflower Farmers Market
Sunflower Farmer Market Sunflower is a small Western grocery store chain with two locations in Tucson. I’ve been to their location on Speedway Boulevard. Two things impressed me about Sunflowers. One is the sheer volume of fresh fruits and vegetables they have. It takes up most of the center of the store. This is the spot if you’re looking for variety in fresh fruits.

The second thing that impressed me was… the chocolate in their bulk food bins. I know, natural/organic foods and chocolate don’t seem to go together (“Hey, you got chocolate on my tofu!”). But trust me, this is some of the tastiest chocolate I’ve ever had. I recommend the chocolate covered peanuts and chocolate covered raisins.

I think their strategy is to lure you in with awesome chocolate, and then once you’re in the store you’ll think ‘as long as I’m here I might as well get some healthy food, too’.

Trader Joe’s
Trader Joe's Trader Joe’s is a larger grocery chain, and they have four locations throughout Tucson. I’ve shopped at the location at Wilmot road.

On my first shopping trip there, an employee was handing out fresh baked chocolate chip cookie samples. It’s almost as if these places are DARING you to buy junk food while you’re there.

I really like shopping at Trader Joe’s. They have a great variety of foods that you don’t often find in any grocery store. If you’re tired of having the same old same old for dinner every night, give Trader Joe’s a try. You’re bound to find something unique to take home.

Another bonus with Trader Joe’s is the quality of their house brand of foods has been excellent for the items I’ve tried, including their chocolate (I do buy fruits and vegetables too, honest!).

Whole Foods Market
Whole Foods Market On a recent Daily Show with Jon Stewart, Lewis Black was doing a bit on inflation in Zimbabwe. He showed a clip of a reporter that had just come out of a store where he had paid over a billion dollars for a can of beans. Lewis came back with “A billion dollars for a can of beans?!! I didn’t know Zimbabwe even HAD a Whole Foods Market!”

A billion dollars for a can of beans may be a bit of an exaggeration, but the prices here are noticeably higher than the other places I’ve shopped. This is probably where the misconception was born about natural and organic foods being so expensive.

Whole Foods does have two pluses. It has a nice variety of foods, and it has a wine selection that has a section for sulfate-free wines. It was the only one of the three food chains that did that as far as I know.

Whole Foods has two locations in Tucson, and I’ve shopped at the location on Speedway Boulevard. While standing outside taking a photo for this blog entry I noticed an old man in a security guard uniform keeping a close eye on me. Because, you know, a middle aged white guy with a digital camera is obviously a security threat. As I headed into the store to do my shopping he approached me about what I was up to. My blog explanation seemed to confuse the old gentleman even more and he talked about taking me ‘up to see the owners to see what they think of you taking pictures’. I thought for a moment the guy thought by taking his picture I was stealing a bit of his soul but then it dawned on me he probably didn’t have one. I realize now that since I mentioned a ‘blog’ and the ‘Internet’ he probably thought I had just stolen his identity.

"You kids get off my lawn!"

I told him I would be happy to go with him to see ‘the owners’ so I could let them know how the company they hired for security purposes was hassling paying customers that would also give them free Internet publicity. I left him muttering to himself about not knowing I was a customer, and finished my (last) shopping trip at Whole Foods Market.

So there you have it. Three choices with eight locations total, for natural and organic grocery shopping. My recommendations would be for Sunflower Farmers Market for fresh fruit and vegetable variety and totally awesome chocolate, and Trader Joe’s for a great variety of unique foods and an excellent house brand line of groceries.

Sunflower -
Trader Joe’s -
Whole Foods Market -


Tucson Localvore said...

You haven't been here long, have you? Because you've picked the most corporate, most traveled food in organics. Eating well has now progressed to eating local too. For eating well, eating organic, and eating food that hasn't traveled to more exotic places that you have, better choices would be: Tucson Co-Op on fourth ave. Since 1971 it's the go-to place for folks in the know, it's more than a great place, it's a community. Then there's the 17th Street Market for the BEST deals in local organic veggies. (and be sure to stop by the Barrio Brewery just around the corner for local brew and friendly folks). And, I'll admit, Traders is a great place to shop for little splurges. And, the only thing whole foods is good for is the best selection of organic heirloom vegetable and flower seeds.

Robert said...

Thank you for the suggestions, localvore. You are correct, I have only been in Tucson a short time and am still discovering all it has to offer.

I appreciate the recommendations, and will add them to my list of places to check out.

You have to admit though, the chocolate at Sunflower is pretty awesome!

- Robert