With six stores in Connecticut and New York, Stew Leonard's is a small supermarket chain but a mighty fun one. Founded in Norwalk, Connecticut, in 1969, Stew Leonard's has been dubbed the "Disneyland of Dairy Stores" by The New York Times - the chain is known as a fun place for families to shop because of the costumed characters, scheduled entertainment, petting zoo, and animatronics throughout the stores. Another aspect we love? The customer service. Stew Leonard's culture is built around a loose acronym for S.T.E.W.: Satisfy the customer; work together as a Team; strive for Excellence in everything you do; and get the customer to say WOW. The chain treats employees right as well as customers, having made Fortune magazine's list of the best companies to work for 10 consecutive years. Unlike most grocery stores, which stock an average of 45,000 items, each Stew Leonard's store carries only 3,200 items, chosen specifically for their freshness, quality and value. Some 80 percent of the products sold in store are fresh - that is, brought in daily or prepared directly in-store. Customers who spend $100 or more in a single transaction can redeem their receipt for a free small ice cream cone or free small coffee.
#19 New Seasons Market
With 21 stores in California, Oregon, and Washington, New Seasons Market is a progressive West Coast neighborhood grocer known for quality local products and fun weekend tastings from the best producers in Oregon, Washington, and California. Founded in Portland in 2000, New Seasons Market stands out for its knowledgeable, friendly staff who are passionate about helping customers discover new makers and flavors. The company also commits 10 percent of its after-tax profits back to the communities it serves. From managing the grocer's local nonprofit Hunger Partners, Bag it Forward reusable bag donation program, Lend A Hand paid volunteer hours, and Cans for Kids neighborhood donations, New Seasons Market helps ensure each store is attracting prospective staff from the local community and giving back to the supermarkets' neighbors.
Courtesy of New Seasons Market
#18 Fairway Market
Dubbed "New York's favorite grocery store," Fairway Market claims it is "Like No Other Market." Established in 1933 in the New York City area and now with 15 stores in Connecticut, New Jersey, and New York, Fairway Market has become famous for stocking an extensive selection of fresh, natural and organic products, prepared foods and hard-to-find specialty and gourmet offerings, along with a full assortment of conventional groceries. Favorites include fresh-baked breads, hand-sliced smoked salmon, the full-service butcher shop, and the store's made-to-order chopped salads.
#17 The Fresh Market
The Fresh Market is a specialty grocer known for its carefully curated selection of delicious and innovative foods, friendly and knowledgeable staff, and warm and welcoming environment. Founded in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1982 by Ray and Beverly Berry, who sought to bring back the old-world charm of local markets, The Fresh Market's merchants seek out items that make everyday eating extraordinary - from small-batch, artisanal pastas to unique baking ingredients. The selection of USDA Prime beef is noteworthy, as are the chain's private label products, many of which are exclusive to The Fresh Market; each item comes with a 100 percent satisfaction and delight guarantee. Coffee lovers can peruse the large coffee selection, including a coffee station with free 4-ounce samples. If you're not sure about an item, the knowledgeable staff is happy to help and will let customers try a product before they buy it. Every child gets a free banana or clementine from the produce department. The Fresh Market is committed to reducing food insecurity and increasing the amount of healthy food available to those in need and has partnered with Feeding America, the largest hunger-relief organization in the U.S., by donating more than $49 million in food. The Fresh Market has 161 European market-style stores in 22 states in the Northeast, Midwest and South.
Courtesy of The Fresh Market
What started with Arthur Hannaford selling fresh produce from a one-horse cart in Portland, Maine, in 1883 has transformed into 181 Hannaford stores in five states (Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, and Vermont). Hannaford partners with more than 800 local companies and farmers to stock 6,000-plus products in its stores. In 2006, Hannaford launched the Guiding Stars program, a science-based store navigation system that rates the nutritional quality of every food in the store and makes it easy for shoppers to find foods with more nutrition. Ever innovating, Hannaford was the first grocery store in the U.S. to receive LEED Platinum certification for a newly opened, environmentally friendly store in 2009, and it became the first major supermarket in the U.S. to document that all seafood products sold in every department were sustainably harvested in 2012. Since its partnership began with United Way in 1929, Hannaford has continued to give back to its communities. Hannaford has donated more than 23 million pounds of food to local food pantries and regional food banks; has helped raise more than $1.5 million in financial contributions; and has raised more than $600,000 annually for local schools.
#15 WinCo Foods
WinCo Foods began in 1967 as a discount grocer called Waremart in Boise, Idaho. Proudly Boise-based to this day, the company became WinCo Foods in the late 1990s after an employee vote. The name stands for both Winning Company and as an acronym for the five original states: Washington, Idaho, Nevada, California and Oregon. Today, there are over 120 stores in 10 states in the Western and Southern U.S. Each employee has a stake in the company doing well, from the cart clerks up to the CEO, which makes a significant difference. The company strives "to provide the best quality and variety to hungry families that need to stretch their dollars" by doing things a bit non-traditionally: They don't take credit cards (debit cards are accepted) and there are no grocery baggers, because these costs would have to be passed on to the customers. WinCo has its own warehouse, distribution and transportation system, which allows the company to deal directly with suppliers and vendors and eliminate costs in the middle. This helps keep prices as low as possible. The supermarket is famous for its bulk foods section; customers can get anything they want in any amount, from a single bay leaf to 100 pounds of flour. Don't even get us started on the candy selection, and the produce is also exemplary, in part because the current CEO - a 34-year veteran of the company who started pushing carts when he was a teen - spent many years as a produce manager in the stores. Don't forget to toss some signature salt and vinegar wings in your cart.
Courtest of WinCo Foods
Charles Hyde and David Vredenburg opened a small store in Beaconsfield, Iowa, in 1930 and in 1938 incorporated 15 Iowa and Missouri stores as Hyde & Vredenburg, Inc., forming the foundation for Hy-Vee (the name, a contraction of the co-founders' names, was determined via a contest in 1952). Since the chain's founding, stores have operated autonomously, choosing their own inventories, prices, and advertising. Hy-Vee's slogan, "A Helpful Smile in Every Aisle," is evident in each of the employee-owned stores in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.
Albertsons Companies operates nearly 2,300 stores in 35 states and the District of Columbia under 20 banners, including Acme, Shaw's, Tom Thumb, Vons, and Albertsons (which ranks No. 11 on this year's list). Nearly 900 of the company's stores are Safeway stores, which operate in 16 states and Washington, D.C. Founded in 1913 in American Falls, Idaho, Safeway focuses on providing customers fresh products no matter how they shop, whether in stores or online for Drive Up & Go, home delivery, or meal kits from Plated. Each store has in-house butchers who can offer specialized cuts of beef, and Safeway's cake decorators are specially trained to offer phenomenal cake designs. Extra perks include home delivery via Safeway's own in-house drivers as well as Instacart in nearly 2,000 locations along with the Just for U loyalty program, which offers customer and gas rewards.
Founded in 1934 in Greenville, Michigan, Meijer has 241 stories in five states: Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, and Wisconsin. Meijer created the "supercenter" concept and is known for its fresh produce, broad selection, and pharmacies that offer select free prescriptions. Freshness, friendly service, and stores open 24 hours a day round out the offerings.
Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com
Albertsons Companies operates just over 400 Albertsons stores, which operate in 14 states (Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado, Idaho, Louisiana, Montana, North Dakota, New Mexico, Nevada, Oregon, Texas, Utah, and Washington). Founded in 1939 in Boise, Idaho, Albertsons offers fresh products in stores or online with convenient options like Drive Up & Go, home delivery, and meal kits from Plated. The chain has its own private labels, including Own Brands, with 11,000 products including more than 1,000 new items introduced in the last three quarters, Open Nature, a line of natural products free from antibiotics and MSG, and O Organics. Albertsons recently introduced a new brand, Signature Reserve, to highlight 31 super-premium seasonal and everyday products. In 2017 alone, along with the Albertsons Companies Foundation, Albertsons Companies gave nearly $300 million in food and financial support to charities addressing disabilities, hunger relief, education, cancer research and treatment, and veterans outreach.
The Kroger Co. is America's largest grocery retailer with 2,800 stores in 35 states and Washington, D.C. The company operates under more than a dozen banners like Fred Meyer, Fry's, Mariano's, Ralphs, Smith's, so it's no surprise that two of its stores: Harris Teeter and Kroger, are on our ranked list. Founded in 1883 in Cincinnati by Barney H. Kroger, the company works with more than 30,000 suppliers and manufacturers and operates a Culinary Innovation Center in its headquarters city. Murray's Cheese, the country's oldest cheese shop, now has more than 400 locations in Kroger stores nationwide, and Kroger recently acquired Chicago-based meal kit startup Home Chef. Online services include Kroger Ship, a ship-to-home service that includes more than 50,000 items and is rolling out nationwide, as well as delivery and pickup options from over 1,500 store locations. The company's largest charity initiative is Zero Hunger | Zero Waste, which aims to address food insecurity and encourage sustainability.
Courtesy of Kroger
Who doesn't love a Target run? Since the first Target store opened in 1962 in Roseville, Minnesota, the department store retailer has focused its efforts on one-stop shopping. The second largest general retailer in the U.S. with 1,850 superstores, Target also sells groceries at its SuperTarget stores, which debuted in 1995. Target's private food labels - like Archer Farms, Market Pantry and Simply Balanced - include thousands of grocery products. Target has been a leading innovator in both retail and grocery practices, having introduced the planogram (a diagram that indicates in-store product placement) and redesigned its shopping carts with recycled plastic more than a decade ago. The company consistently gives back to communities across America through programs like the Target School Library Makeover Program, which has given more than 1 million books to schools and students, and Take Charge of Education, through which Target donated a percentage of Target store credit card purchases to eligible K-12 - totaling $460 million in donations before the program was discontinued in 2016.
The membership warehouse club has hundreds of locations worldwide, including 533 in 44 U.S. states and Puerto Rico, and 95.4 million members as of November 2018. Not only does Costco provide a wide selection of meat, produce, and groceries in bulk in its palatial warehouse stores, it also offers alcohol as well as consumer goods and exclusive member services like a travel agency and gas stations. Costco's business model is designed to provide value, offering national and regional brands priced below traditional wholesale or retail outlets to members, who pay a $60 annual membership fee. Costco also sells its private label, Kirkland Signature, which includes juices, cookies, coffee, housewares, luggage, clothing, and of course their famous and wildly popular $4.99 rotisserie chicken, of which they sell 60 million annually.
#7 Harris Teeter
Now a smaller branch of The Kroger Co. after being purchased in 2014, Harris Teeter sprang from a 1960 merger of two North Carolina grocers founded in the 1930s. Harris Teeter currently operates more than 230 stores and 14 fuel centers in seven states (Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia) and Washington, D.C. Known for tidy stores and an extensive prepared foods section, Harris Teeter also contributes to local communities through donations to food banks, youth sports and schools and takes part in broader Kroger Co. initiatives as well. Though Harris Teeter helped pioneer the plastic grocery bag in the 1980s, the chain and parent company have announced plans to phase out single-use plastic bags and transition to reusable bags by 2025.
#6 Whole Foods Market
Founded in Austin, Texas, in 1980, Whole Foods Market now has stores in all but eight U.S. states. Known for stocking thousands of organic products from local and global suppliers, Whole Foods Market only sells products that meet strict quality standards and prohibits more than 100 preservatives, flavors, colors and other ingredients commonly found in food. Whole Foods Market doesn't sell any food with hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners. The meat department has similarly strict standards regarding animal welfare and the use of antibiotics and hormones, while the seafood department only sells sustainable, wild-caught or responsibly farmed seafood. Each store offers a variety of local products, restaurants, cafes, and some have in-store beer and wine bars. Whole Foods Market was the first supermarket to remove disposable plastic bags at checkout in 2008, and the company has a comprehensive food waste strategy to prevent and divert food from landfills. Staff members include certified sommeliers and cicerones, classically trained butchers and fishmongers who will prepare fresh seafood for customers at no extra cost. Since being acquired by Amazon in 2017, Whole Foods has offered additional discounts to Amazon Prime members as well as improved delivery options in 60 markets can receive deliveries via Prime Now. Continually innovating, the supermarket chain recently launched an online tool that allows customers to view in-store pricing, sales and product information and filter by various dietary preferences.
Courtesy of Whole Foods
#5 Trader Joe's
Trader Joe's has stores in 41 states and the District of Columbia and inspires customer loyalty largely by carefully curating Trader Joe's branded products. This helps keep prices down, as Trader Joe's doesn't offer special promotions, coupons, discounts or sales, though it does produce the Fearless Flyer, a catalogue, newsletter, and comic book with product information, eight times per year. Some products are bought in limited supply and sold only for a short time while others have a cult-like following and have become staples like the Everything but the Bagel Sesame Seasoning Blend, frozen chicken tikka masala, Speculoos Cookie Butter, and Joe-Joe's Chocolate Vanilla Crème Cookies. The friendly "Crew" members who work in the stores are easy to spot thanks to their bright Hawaiian T-shirts worn to style store staff as "traders on the culinary seas." Owned by one branch of German supermarket giant Aldi, Trader Joe's is considered by some to be the absolute best place to buy certain grocery items.
Jonathan Weiss / Shutterstock.com
Making its debut on our list this year, Lidl has 62 stores in the U.S. in nine states (Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Virginia) with four more stores launching in early 2019 on the East Coast (Lidl recently opened in Staten Island, New York, and its first three Atlanta stores will open soon). A family-owned company, Lidl opened its first store in 1973 in Ludwigshafen, Germany, but opened its first 10 U.S. stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia only in 2017. The German supermarket is famous for its high-quality fresh produce and meat, in-store bakery, and low prices. (One 2018 academic study even identified a "Lidl Effect" - the result of which grocery retailers located near Lidl stores significantly lowered their own prices.) Wine and flowers are also standout staples at Lidl; Lidl is the only grocer in the U.S. with a dedicated Master of Wine, who is responsible for hand-selecting every bottle on store shelves, and Lidl has a 7 Day Freshness Guarantee on fresh cut roses.
Courtesy of Lidl
More than 40 million customers shop at Aldi each month. Founded by the Albrecht family in 1961, the German grocer operates more than 1,800 U.S. stores in 35 states (the first store opened in Iowa in 1976). The first discounter in the world, the no-frills supermarket - there are only four or five aisles stocked with the essentials - sells frequently purchased grocery and household items from small kitchen appliances to outdoor furniture and gardening tools, primarily under its exclusive brands. About 90 percent of the products in each store are Aldi's brand, which are taste-tested in the Aldi Test Kitchen to ensure quality competitive with national brands. These products are backed by the supermarket's Twice as Nice Guarantee, which includes replacing the product and offering a full refund. ALDI also partners with local growers and farmers to offer fresh produce, including organic fruits and vegetables, and USDA meats.
Founded in 1916 in Rochester, New York, Wegmans has 98 stores in six states (Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, and Virginia), with its first store in North Carolina and its first store in New York City opening later this year. The aisles are stocked with an abundance of choices in beautiful stores. Wegmans offers restaurant-quality prepared foods with oven-safe packaging, cold-pressed juices, zoodles and cauliflower rice. The supermarket's commitment to sourcing the highest-quality produce can be found at the Wegmans Organic Farm and Orchard in Canandaigua, New York, where different growing techniques are tested; the facility even includes cheese caves built to mimic those in Europe. The seamless shopping experience, from delivery powered by Instacart to curbside pickup at select locations to the Wegmans app, digital coupons, and online catering and cake orders, round out the offerings. It's not only a great place to shop - the chain has been named one of the '100 Best Companies to Work For' by Fortune magazine for 21 consecutive years and ranked No. 2 in 2018.
Courtesy of Wegmans
The largest and fastest-growing employee-owned supermarket chain in the U.S., Publix was founded by George W. Jenkins in 1930 in Winter Haven, Florida. Now one of the 10 largest-volume supermarket chains in the country, Publix reported retail sales of $34.6 billion in 2017. The company has 1,211 stores in seven states (Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia) with the majority - 799 stores - in Florida. Jenkins mortgaged an orange grove for a down payment on the first Publix, and the proprietor's dream store was innovative, featuring many never-before-seen features in a grocery store - like air conditioning, fluorescent lighting, frozen food cases, piped-in music and in-store doughnut and flower shops. Commentators have heralded Publix as the best supermarket for many reasons, including Plato the Publixaurus (the supermarket's mascot), the free cookies given to children at the in-store Publix Bakery (just stop by and ask), its Public Aprons Cooking School, the "Publix Promise" of transparent pricing, and the legendary sub sandwiches from the Publix Deli - which fans may argue are better than many of the best sandwiches in every state.
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Lauren Mack is the former Travel Editor and Special Projects Editor at The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @lmack and laurenmack.com.
Senior Editor Dan Myers, Cook Editor Daisy Nichols, Staff Writer Emily Jacobs, and Contributor Angela Carlos contributed to this story.