Here in Coastal North Carolina, we have nick names for our grocery stores. Some of them are funny, some are just abbreviations, and some are, well, laced with left handed compliments like only a Southerner can deliver. You know, that old “bless their heart” thing we like to attach to insults, as if that makes it more palatable somehow. Harris Teeter is simply “The Teeter.” Lowes Foods is just “Lowes” (they don’t sell food at the other Lowes). Piggly Wiggly is “The Pig,” though there is only one Pig in the region where I live so many are not acquainted. Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s haven’t been here long enough to get knick names, and The Fresh Market is, well, too fussy for one. Food Lion is “Food Kitty” or “The Lion King.” Yeah, I know, it’s goofy. But that’s how we roll. I am not including Walmart because I try not to go there. Ever.
Food Lion is famous for purveying every part of the pig under cellophane. If you need oxtails or smoked ham hocks or fat back or streak of lean, Lion King is your place. I love that about them; they reliably have all the old Southern essentials. But folks, you have got to go see what the heck is going on at The Kitty. It is not just your Grandma’s grocer anymore!
I was a bit surprised to get an email from a representative of Food Lion a few weeks ago. I almost disregarded it, as I do so much seeming junk mail. Instead, I gave it a read. It turned out to be an inquiry regarding my blog – yup this one – asking me if I’d be interested in reviewing the changes they are making to my local store. When I said that I would be happy to go take a look, since I shop there occasionally anyhow, they offered to provide me with gift cards – some for me, some to give away to you. So I guess you could say I was compensated for this, but no one has said one word about what to write. In fact, all they asked was that I give away some of the gift cards to my readers; they didn’t even ask me to write anything. So this article is all me with no influence from the folks at Food Lion. The gift cards are already in my hand, so let the review begin!
I don’t know if your neighborhood store has made these changes yet, but mine has. It is awesome! There’s been some painting and reorganizing, new display cases, new checkout lanes (our store used to have this awkward corral thing in the middle of the checkout lanes) and signs, and a tweaking of the store color scheme, all of which serve to modernize the store. The store was immaculately clean, which is something the fancier competitors are a bit slack on at times. Take a look for yourself.
One thing that’s missing is a self-checkout. I’m guessing that was intentional, since personal service seemed to be the name of the game. A young lady even helped me unpack my cart at the register. Still, I like a self-checking option for my less chatty days.
What really matters to me are the improvements in the product offerings. I have been living with a new (to me) medical condition over this past year that has made it necessary to be very selective about foods, and to eliminate a good many things from my diet altogether. Basically, I don’t each much of anything from a package these days, and if I do I have to scrutinize the label for rogue substances that aggravate my condition. I also can’t eat meats from animals that have been fed grain diets, because grains are off my list (except for rice). So until now, my shopping at Food Lion had been reduced to produce and household items – and frankly, the produce was never all that great in years gone by.
Fruits & Veggies
Imagine my surprise when I found all this lovely produce with so many new varieties! The produce, while mostly not organic, has greatly improved in quality. It was a feast for my eyes! I actually checked the store two weeks ago and went back again this week, wanting to see if I would notice a lapse in quality. I did not. The fruits and vegetables looked super fresh, and the selection had improved even in the two weeks since my last visit. In produce, you can still get basic hot house tomatoes at the same steal-deal prices that Food Lion is known for, but you can also get sweet little gourmet grape & cherry tomatoes for a little more money. They even had Cherokee Purples! The spinach was calling my name from the top shelf, so it went in the cart with the little tomatoes. Potatoes were on my list, so I grabbed a 5 pound bag of golds for the same price I pay at any other store, $3.99. They had white potatoes on sale, but I was in the mood for yellow.
More Meaty Options
Aside from the aforementioned pork, I have never been very impressed by Food Lion’s selection of meat. I have now officially changed my mind. Both chicken and beef went in my cart today. The beef was grass fed ground beef, and I hope they will offer more grass fed selections in the future, like a steak or a roast. The chicken is antibiotic and hormone-free and veggie fed. Not organic, but it meets all my requirements. I have been buying my chicken at the Teeter and my beef at Whole Foods – so I am thrilled to find selections friendly to my dietary needs at the Lion King!
All of the meat now comes into the store already packaged, according to the Landfall Store’s Perishables Manager, Fred. Right away, I thought of the folks who used to work at cutting and packaging the meats; did they lose their jobs? Fred assures me that the changes have not resulted in a loss of jobs, but rather an increase. Apparently, all the freshy-fresh changes throughout the store take more people to deliver it all to you.
Fred says the new vacuum packed beef – some of it Angus – ensures freshness. It also makes the meat freezer-ready; no more unwrapping and re-wrapping at home, so less trash for the landfill. A very nice lady was grilling samples of the beef, but I was not able to partake due to the seasoning used (my diet is such a bummer sometimes). There are also new ready-to-
cook, pre-seasoned selections in the meat case including kabobs, bacon-wrapped chicken or beef medallions, jalapeno poppers, and bacon-cheddar potato skins, just to name a few. All the ingredients are carefully listed on the packages for folks like me to review, and the selection is the best I’ve seen at any local grocery store. I guess they opted out of the more-expensive-to-operate deli counter of their competitors, but these selections look every bit as good. I hope some of you without dietary restrictions will try these ready-to-cook selections and let me know what you think.
Boxes, Bags, and Cans
The industry insiders call this the “grocery” department. Think of it as all the edible stuff on the shelves that doesn’t require refrigeration. I was extremely impressed with the changes in this category. As I roamed the aisles, I found something notable in every single one. One employee told me that they removed about 200 products and replaced them with 400 new ones (don’t quote me on this; I may have the quantities wrong). She said the changes were based on customer feedback, and thanks to my neighbors for your input. But can I just say that the product selection is really, really good from my perspective. There were undoubtedly some professional buyers and researchers involved in these changes, and they scored a home run with me!
The products they have picked in the natural, whole foods, gluten free, and specialty categories are mostly brands that are already well known and trusted among those of us using these product types. Udi’s, Bob’s Mill, Nature’s Path, Enjoy Life, and Bear Naked are among them. But I swooned when I saw King Arthur gluten-free offerings on the shelf! King Arthur has long been my most trusted brand of flours and baking ingredients, so I grabbed a box of their Multi-Purpose Gluten-Free Flour and some Enjoy Life Chocolate Chips to experiment with some cookies or a cake. New and worth a try are Nature’s Place (which seems to be a proprietary label for Food Lion that is on dry goods and some of the chicken), Back to Nature, Eat Smart, and Anna’s, all of which have short ingredient lists absent a bunch of chemicals.
For all you traditionalists, never fear! Mt. Olive, White House, Duke’s, and all the budget-friendly Food Lion store brand products are still on the shelves.
Now, I’m not eatin’ this stuff anymore y’all, so I only breezed through. But I noticed a few things right away. There’s some mighty fine looking big cookies begging to be eaten, the bread looks fresh and good, and there were some fine looking Savory Crisps from 34o Bakery that have only a few ingredients and look perfect for the cheese tray at your next cocktail party. I did not torture myself with further inspection, but you really should go look at the goodies in the bakery – if you can!
In my opinion, they have done an outstanding job of selecting new product offerings while holding onto the beloved brands of loyal customers. I have a few products that I’d like to see that I didn’t find today, and I will be asking my local store manager if they are able to get them. But mostly I was pleasantly surprised. I might be able to save a couple of trips across town now that my neighborhood store has more of the products I use.
Can I just say, “Way to go, Food Lion!”
The Give Away!
I have four $25 Gift Cards to give away to you so that you can experience the new Food Lion for yourself – on them!
If you will simply tell me what you are most looking forward to or happiest to see offered from my comments and pictures here, you will be entered to win. I will select four winners randomly on Wednesday, August 27th, and announce them here on my blog, along with instructions for claiming your winnings.
Here’s a little something I threw together with my freshy-fresh Food Lion purchases. Enjoy!