The major thrust of my professional cooking falls into the genre that most people would call "healthy". Although the specific details of their regimens do vary, everyone I cook for has the goal of being well and strong, and they all pay close attention to their nutritional choices to make sure they feel they are always working towards the goal of good health. That being said, many people automatically assume that I have some strong opinions on which grocery store or chain best supports the goal of good health. I tell clients that I will honor their consumer preferences but if you press me to find out what I really think...the big surprise is that I think all of my vendors are about equal! There are great choices and not-so-great choices in every store: I find great products in the rinky-dink mom-and-pop shops and poor choices in the places that proclaim they are the champions of good health. Furthermore, even though some stores have a reputation of being expensive and some have a reputation of being cheap, I have to tell you I've patronized them all and most of the time my total bill only varies about 10% no matter where I shop...every store marks some items down, but then marks others up. It's called "loss leader" marketing. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loss_leader
So, if you can get "healthy" products anywhere, and if it's really that hard to manipulate the bottom line of your grocery budget based on perception, then where in the heck should you shop? The short answer is: wherever you want to. I do admit that some stores seem to do especially well in certain categories. I am willing to share my opinion and will do so here, with the reminder that opinions are like elbows (sic)...and everybody has one:
-HEINEN'S: Heinen's built their reputation on meat and their meat department is great. Even the stuff that is not wearing a certified organic or humanely-handled sticker is still up to very impressive standards...after all, the Heinen family (who still runs the chain of stores), knows they built their reputation on fine meats and is not willing to let that slide. They have adequate organic selections, health foods, gluten-free items, and their local produce really IS local! (Some chains call items "local" that were trucked from 3 states away!)
-WHOLE FOODS: Their produce display is usually impressive, their cheeses are always nice, and they are one of the few places that still has a bulk section...sometimes you only need 1/4 cup of an ingredient and WF will let you buy it that way! They also sell great coffee.
-THE FRESH MARKET: The Fresh Market posts the latest Wine Spectator ratings (if available) on the wines they sell. This is immensely helpful if you are like me and appreciate good wine, but do not keep up with it as a hobby, so you need a little extra help avoiding trumped-up vinegar. They also provide an east-side alternative to Whole Foods for those who like to focus on organic selections.
-DAVE'S MARKETS: Dave's is the dark horse of Cleveland grocery stores---some folks want to dismiss them, but they are undeniably strong in a number of categories. Firstly, I think their fish is great. Some outposts do not carry the fancier catches, but their selection is always fresh, beautiful, and well-priced. I also find their bakery to be very good, both savory breads and sweet treats are top-notch. Finally, if you are looking for ethnic specialties, Dave's is your best bet.
-GIANT EAGLE: If you want a lot of selection and extended hours during which to consider that selection, Giant Eagle has both. Also, when you just can't get around to doing your own cooking, I have to admit that their prepared foods are quite tasty and professionally done.
-FARMER'S MARKETS, PRIVATE VENDORS, & SPECIALTY SHOPS: Here is where you really can find special items. However, it is always on a catch-as-catch-can basis and often priced to support the local business owner who doesn't have the purchasing power of a chain. These places are great venues for serendipitous gourmet surprises if your time and budget enable you to make them a regular part of your shopping week.
-ZAGARA'S: Their beef is often excellent, and they will carry some harder-to-find meat items (i.e. rabbit) They are very fair about labeling and reducing the price of day-old produce which is a wonderful way to extract flavor AND savings when making a stew or other slow-cooked item that benefits from overripe ingredients.
Yes, I know there are many more ethnic shops and smaller vendors in this great food-centric town of ours, but I am making mention of the ones that are most practical for me to use on regular basis in my profession...where I can get almost all the healthy stuff I need for the good people for whom I cook.
But feel free to offer up your opionions, too. Where do you like to do your shopping, Cleveland...and why??