During my first week back in Texas I made an innocent statement that seemed to make a bigger splash than I intended – Central Market is good but Whole Foods is infinitely better.
Now, in Texas and in the foodie community “them’s fightin’ words.” Not one to piss off the grocery store powers-that-be I thought I’d share my take on each store and let you all decide for yourself “who reigns supreme.”
Central Market exists only in Texas and to me, offers a fun shopping experience that’s part do-it-yourself and it’s maze-like interior reminds me of my favorite open-air market in Israel, the Jerusalem shuk. You enter into the produce section and right off the bat I loved the featured local-ish items, extensive varieties of foods, and fresh, fruits and veggies.
What I love about Central Market is that after you select your produce you weigh it yourself, punch in it’s code, and a machine prints off a barcode sticker that you afix to your bag. It’s self-serve that’s fun and lets you in on the world of working in a grocery store.
I am also always impressed with the specialty and gourmet items that Central Market has. In the “middle aisles” there are a few products unique to the store but a majority are also found at Whole Foods, Sprouts, or a regular grocery store. What doesn’t impress me in the least is that every single gluten free item on their shelves is more expensive than at other stores. Even
Whole Payche Whole Foods. The lone exception: Udi’s Gluten Free products which are over $1 cheaper; that’s a significant amount in the world of gluten free.
I did find an entire refrigerator case of Israeli dairy products that made my heart skip a beat, and their self-serve olive, Mediterranean, and hummus/dip bars are bar none. The bulk section is also extremely impressive – you can find every gummy candy imaginable, trail / snack mixes, nuts, coffees, loose-leaf teas, and more. When I’m in the mood for those things or their prepared food, Central Market is my go-to.
*just* the dried fruits!
longest bulk bin wall ever?
Now, for one of my true loves: Whole Foods. I love that while no two stores are identical there is a general likeness in every store that to me, is comforting. You enter through the produce section where there are a good amount of varieties of fruits and veggies, many organic and local. I’m almost always impressed with the quality of those foods when I visit the store!
I generally find the staff at Whole Foods to be extremely friendly and helpful. They don’t mind answering questions, checking on a product for you, or talking to you about great ways to cook a new-to-you food. Many times I’ve looked for an item, asked a team member for it, and ended up talking to them for 10-20 minutes! In full disclosure, they also have a position that would be my dream job!
Specialty and allergy friendly products definitely reign supreme at Whole Foods. Compared to other grocery stores, they have such a wide variety of products with a great labeling system that makes shopping with food allergies a breeze at this store. There are gluten free aisles, dairy-free items clearly marked, and knowledgeable staff to help you find what you’re looking for. Many of the gluten free products I use are priced reasonably / at the standard cost, there’s also the 365 brand that is clearly labeled, often gluten free, and extremely affordable!
There’s also a different feel at Whole Foods. Coming from my yuppie bubble in DC, I find the store environment comforting, bright, and welcoming / friendly. Where to me it seems that Central Market draws in the foodie community, I feel like Whole Foods attracts those who are more in the health, clean / whole food circles. I also feel like Central Market is just a gussied up version of H-E-B, a Texas grocery store chain.
Whole Foods has good prepared foods that I always seem to enjoy; their bulk bins vary by store but at my new go-to location they span a full aisle! There’s also nothing like the extensive salad and hot bars!
I also have to state my bias. My relationship with Whole Foods goes way back. When I was first diagnosed with all of my food allergies they were the only store that had allergy-friendly products, whole foods solutions to some allergy symptoms (green juices as a 6 year old anyone?), and ideas for how to try to live a “normal” eating life.
So there you have it. Whole Foods vs. Central Market. I don’t think there is one clear winner but instead 2 fantastic stores that I enjoy shopping at that each serve a purpose. And let’s be real, you’ll probably find me in the aisles of both at some point or another every month!
Which store do you think you’d shop at?