Friday, August 31, 2018

Snapshot: House of Meats - Tampa, FL

Literally next door to Huracan Supermarket is the House of Meats at 502 E Sligh Ave.
This store, whose target market is presumably not vegetarians, looks to be slightly larger than Huracan and is similarly a Latin-centered store, although it appears to have a much heavier emphasis on the meat and seafood and sell less grocery.
Interstate 275 passes right by the side of this store, explaining the large sign sticking out from behind the store.
Once again, we see signs in both English and Spanish. I don't think the business's name is any less silly in Spanish.
And really, is anyone going to be driving by on the interstate, see the sign, and say "Oh yeah, I should stop and pick up some meats"? Not exactly an impulse-buy item!
House of Meats doesn't seem overly popular, but then Huracan was pretty empty too. Probably an off-time for grocery shopping. There's not too many other markets in the immediate area, but there is a Save-A-Lot just north of here at 8320 N Florida Ave.
There's also a Bravo a while west at Sligh Ave and Armenia Ave. It seems to be the same owners as the one we saw on Monday, and to have similar stock, sales-floor size, and decor problems. There is another House of Meats at 1910 E Fletcher Ave.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Snapshot: Huracan Supermarket - Tampa, FL

Given, as I mentioned in the Bravo post, the recent hurricane season here in Florida, it would stand to reason that this supermarket (whose name means hurricane) would not be so popular. In fact, it's a very heavily-used market.
I snapped a few pictures of this store as I drove by, hoping to return for a full tour. However, that unfortunately never happened.
It's tempting to label this as a Centennial-style A&P. However, although all the elements are there, the proportions are all wrong. Plus, the building is too shallow. The A&P Centennials went far back.
"Feria", as visible on the sign to the left of the entrance, means in this context market or farmer's market. Thanks to Google Maps, we can take a quick look inside, although I'm not sure of the layout here.

If you zoom in to the sign on the right, you can see it actually advertises the "diary" department. Oops!

The butcher shop appears to be in a separate room. Reminds me a lot of the Hudson County stores!
Produce department. As you can see, the 3D view doesn't always work, like this poor man who's missing his legs (but hey, he seems to be levitating, which is pretty cool).
Overall, this store looks a little cleaner and better organized than the ones in Hudson County. It's located at 402 E Sligh Ave in Tampa.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

TOUR: Bravo 7733 - Tampa, FL

Although multiple New Jersey and New York-based grocery chains opened or considered opening outposts in Florida (including ShopRite!), the only one that maintains a significant presence is Bravo. Bravo is run by White Plains, NY-based Krasdale Foods and was created in 1999 to target Hispanic populations of New York City.
 The Bravo we're looking at today is the farther-west one.
In my experience, Bravo stores (and its sister chain C-Town) have always been reliably good -- usually clean, well-stocked, and reasonably-priced. I was, therefore, quite disappointed in this Bravo, which was overall rather depressing.
 This beautiful monument sign sets the tone very well for the rest of the store. Seriously, though, I visited Florida at Christmas of 2017, just a few months after the devastating 2017 hurricane season. Although Tampa did not see particularly extensive damage, it's possible damages like this sign were caused by the high winds.
Let's start on the outside. This Bravo was previously a U-Save supermarket and switched sometime between 2011 and 2015. Hard to tell exactly why, but it could be because of U-Save's investigation by the labor department in fall 2011. The owners of this Bravo appear to be the same as U-Save, run by Oqab Abuoqab (now that's quite a name) under the company Mi Supermercado 3 LLC.
 The carts have been kind of switched for Bravo. They're former Winn-Dixie carts whose Winn-Dixie logos have been scratched out and replaced with Bravo lettering. As a result, the aisle directory is completely wrong.
Is it the dark rainclouds in Bravo's sunrise or the Super Markets lettering that looks like it's about to fall down that bothers me more? Hard to tell. There used to be an entrance on the right side of this facade section, but it is now closed in favor of one right in the center which doubles as an exit.
Uh, someone could spell "inconvenience" but not "the"? And "de" isn't like "teh", your fingers don't accidentally slip and type "d" instead of "th".
OK, first impression - not bad. Produce runs along the first aisle, with deli/bakery in the back corner, meat/seafood along the back wall, and dairy in the last aisle. However, upon closer inspection, it's clear that the sales floor has been cut back (hence the door change). Notice the fact that the light fixtures go past the produce cases.
Sales floor reduction notwithstanding, the first aisle looks pretty good. The produce was fresh and well-priced, and the grocery shelves facing are very nice.
The selection was much more specialized than Bravos in the NYC area. You'd have a much harder time finding mainstream vegetables and fruits here than at a New Jersey Bravo. This likely comes from the fact that the mainstream grocery stores in the Tampa area make much less of an effort at ethnic merchandising.
Looking back up towards the front. Notice the stacks of rice on the left which cover the entrance to the closed-off area.
Meat & Seafood is actually one of the better-looking departments. You can tell that the store used to be larger than it is now when you make a right behind the closed-off area and go towards the deli-bakery area.
Now here's the problem. First off, I doubt Irma actually dropped by to do some food shopping and blew the letters off the wall in the hurricane season. Second, this decor is not that old. In fact, the style and design look pretty new. So it must just be cheaply made. I'd hate to be an employee in Del & Bke, since you never know when the next letter might fall down! There is a seating area across from this counter, against the area that's closed off.
Looks like there's not too much fresh bread or rotisserie chicken selling anymore, given the displays next to the seating area (which looks straight out of a 1980s fast food restaurant).
Here's a look inside the closed section, now used for storage, I guess. If you zoom in, it appears the produce department used to be much larger -- or at least in a different place. By the way, this isn't closed in any way. I didn't go through any door to get this photo.
Looking along the back wall from deli.
The grocery aisles are pretty standard, although like in the rest of the store, there is a lot of junk around. Bravo in Florida sells the Bravo storebrand along with Shurfine; in NYC Bravo sells the Krasdale brand only.
For any Florida retail people -- whose aisle markers are these? I don't know what this property was before U-Save, although it was probably a big chain store. The design actually looks more like Hannaford than any Florida chain. They are quite obviously not Bravo's since they're older than 2011.
The ceiling also looks pretty awful, although that's common. The lighting needs to be replaced throughout. But my favorite sign...
It pairs perfectly with the empty shelves underneath it. I don't think I'm in the mood for any unch mets today.
Dairy, in the last aisle, does not improve on the decor or the stocking. Although it does introduce a new decor package...
The "fresh airy" sign appears to be of the same decor package as the City Supermarkets chain in New Jersey, whose corresponding sign you can see here. The last aisle is also frozen foods.
If I have to give this store credit for one thing, it's that it was not dirty. I wouldn't go so far as to say it was clean, like the Bravo in Orange is, though.
The front corner, which probably used to have some other department, is now stocked with beer and bottled water.
Customer service is just on the other side of the advertisement to the left.
A look at the cluttered customer service counter.
Aside from the clutter, random floor patterns, and burnt-out lightbulbs, the front-end doesn't look bad. There are plenty of registers and the truth is, there is enough space around between the aisles and the registers. 
The front-end from the entrance side.
The area is also plenty bright, from the large windows. The rest of the store feels dingy.
Here's the thing: I feel bad for the employees of this store. They can't fix what's wrong with this store when ownership so obviously could not care less what shape the facility is in. I have no sympathy for the owners.

And where's Krasdale in this? They obviously don't have the supervision over their Florida stores the way they do over their New York stores. For a company that's worked so hard to improve its image and operations in one area, it's surprising that they'd completely ignore another.

If the store really isn't making the money it needs to keep the entire sales floor stocked and to maintain it, close the store. If they wanted to keep a store here, cut down the sales floor, do a big renovation, and make a big deal of the grand reopening. But it obviously isn't working in the space there is.

P.S. the Tampa stores all get better from here, including the second Bravo!

Bravo Supermarkets

7733 W Hillsborough Ave, Tampa, FL
Open Daily 7AM-10PM
(813) 885-4016
My Rating:

Scroll down to read my rant about, ahem, response to, an article I read last night!

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

8 Dark Secrets about Supermarkets -- and why they're really not that dark or secret

There is, and probably always will be, those wannabe exposé pieces about how your city's mayor is trying to kill you, or about how all car manufacturers actually want you to live in outer space. I don't know why they bother me so much when they're about supermarkets, but here goes.

Healthyway recently published an article entitled "8 Dark Secrets Nobody Told You About Food at the Supermarket". Check it out. Are you shocked, disappointed, outraged, and planning to go yell at your local supermarket's manager?

Take a deep breath. Let's look at these claims closely.

1. Big cart, big money.

Sure they do. But they can also provide endless frustration for customers. If a supermarket is cramped to begin with, having oversized (or even normal sized) shopping carts can cause frequent collisions and difficulty navigating the aisles. This leads to angry customers, and an angry customer is probably not a return customer.

Sure shopping carts have increased in size since they were introduced 80 years ago. But in 1938, the average grocery store size was also just 8,000 square feet -- compared to more than 50,000 square feet in 2000 (according to the same source), or a sixfold increase. This, of course, mirrors shopping habits: whereas in 1938, the average grocery-store shopper probably bought dry goods, produce, and meats, supermarket customers today are treated to everything from cold-brew kombucha to medicine to tonight's dinner, already made, to patio furniture. It's only logical that the shopping cart, then, would increase in size.

 ➞ The Market Report's Suggestions
  • Make a shopping list.
  • Choose a cart or basket that reflects the purchase you anticipate making.
  • If you intend to browse, choose a small cart or basket and trade it for a larger one if necessary.

2. Changing dates doesn't just mean swapping romantic partners.

And why shouldn't they, if the products are still viable to sell? Let's make an important distinction here, which Healthyway seems to gloss over: the differences among expiration dates, sell-by dates, and best-by dates.
  • Expiration dates tell a consumer when the product MUST be consumed by.
  • Sell-by dates tell a consumer when the product should leave the store's shelf.
  • Best-by dates tell a consumer when the product should be consumed by.
Only expiration dates are legally enforceable, and only in certain circumstances. Stores can be fined for selling products that may be harmful to consumers, such as meat that has visible mold on it. If meat (or other food products) is still in acceptable condition, and is packaged with a sell-by or best-by date, the date can be changed.

Supermarkets don't typically change dates on anything that's not packaged in-store. Even perishables such as milk or eggs often have dates on them at least a week in advance of their actual expiration, but look for the best date on anything.

 ➞ The Market Report's Suggestions
  • If you're buying fresh foods, be thorough. Does it look right, does it smell right? If so, it's probably fine.
  • If you're concerned about food once you get home from the store, check out these recommendations.
  • Check out your supermarket's return policy. Most stores have a 24-hour limit on perishables, so check your perishables when you get home, not when you're ready to use them. Keep your receipts.
  • If you buy any product you're not satisfied with, return it to the store. Make sure to observe your grocer's return policy. If you follow the stated policy but the store refuses to give you a refund, this is a customer service problem. Contact store management or corporate.

3. Meat glue and...

I hadn't heard about this before. It's fascinating and more than a little creepy! I got nuthin'...

 ➞ The Market Report's Suggestions
  • While you might not be able to tell whether your steak contains a nice side dish of glue, choose a supermarket with a reliable butcher, that cuts its meat in-store. Get to know your butcher, and discuss the cut of meat you want to buy. This will also help you get the freshest meats.
  • If your supermarket does not cut its meat in-store, well then, I think it's about time you find a new supermarket!

4.  ...Fruit paint?

Since there's no taste difference, this doesn't seem to be to be such a big deal. If you like bananas, you buy bananas. It's just another way that the supermarket sells the version of the product that's most appealing to its customers. If customers, for instance, preferred the taste (or price, or whatever) of Cream-O-Land milk instead of Farmland Dairies, and the store only had enough sales volume or space to carry one brand, why in the world would they carry Farmland Dairies?

This section of the article makes no mention of using genetic modification to alter the color. GMOs are a totally different issue, and one that's certainly worth discussing. You can start with this article from the New York Times. For the record, USDA certified organic foods cannot, by law, contain GMOs.

 ➞ The Market Report's Suggestions
  • If you don't like the color of your bananas, complain to the produce manager. He or she will undoubtedly conclude that you have already gone bananas.
  • Buy produce that you need to, not produce that's visually appealing, unless you're sure you'll eat it. Impulse buys in produce frequently end up in the garbage, because of its short shelf life.

5.  Controlling sales by controlling customers' paths

Uh, has the author (an apparently nameless "Healthyway Staff Writer", by the way) ever been to any supermarket in New York City? With their endless dead-ends, perpendicular aisles, and often separate rooms for different departments (!), they pretty much shatter this argument.

OK, I guess you'll probably want more of a response than that. So here's a few specific responses to what the video says.
  • It's true that endcaps are often "rented" to big producers. But in many supermarkets, they're just there to highlight what's on sale that week. It depends on the store, but in some, value shoppers would do well to focus on endcaps.
  • Endcaps can also be rented to smaller producers who want their entire product line in one place, such as La Flor spices or Bob's Red Mill grains. Typically these companies will permanently hold an endcap to ensure that their products don't get lost in with their competitors.
  • As for the claim that endcaps generally change weekly...uh, yes, because they usually feature what's on sale -- they change with the circular.
As for the people who insist that milk and bread are in the back corner of a supermarket to make you walk past everything else to get them: consider where else in a supermarket you'd put them. Here's the way I see it:

  • Milk is a high-volume item, so it needs to be replenished frequently. The easiest way to do this is from behind, so that a stocker doesn't take up space on the sales floor or block customers. That means there not only needs to be access to the back of the case, but also there needs to be enough space for a walk-in refrigerator for storage as well. The perimeter (and typically the back wall) is the only place that fits all these criteria. Notice, for instance, that at many supermarkets milk is on the back wall while the rest of dairy is on the side wall. And it's usually on the far side of the back wall because meat usually comes first, which is typically grouped with other fresh products (produce, seafood, deli). In fact, lower-volume stores sometimes do not stock milk on a perimeter.
  • Bread typically is supplied by outside vendors (i.e. not coming from the same warehouse that the rest of the groceries come from, and often delivered in different trucks), and frequently comes in through a separate door because it goes directly to the shelf. Thus, moving it to a far side of the store causes it to be somewhat separated from the inevitable confusion and time-wasting it would be subject to if it had to go through the main backroom. This way, a vendor can unload his own truck, put his products right on the shelf, and leave without taking up space at the main loading docks or in the storage room.
  ➞ The Market Report's Suggestions
  •  Make a shopping list.
  • Navigate based on the aisle markers. If you can't find something, don't wander, ask someone.
  • Use the weekly circular as a starting point, but compare all prices on the shelf. For instance, although Goya beans may be $0.99/can in the circular, the storebrand may be $0.79/can (but not listed in the circular).
  • Don't shop endcaps unless you were already going to buy the item on them.

6. Cool, clear water on old, soggy produce

Actually, water serves an important purpose on some produce. Here's the deal with some produce (mostly greens) and water. Remember your high-school science classes? Either way, the basics are:
  • Greens can be up to 90% water. If they lose this water, they get sad and droopy.
  • Due to evaporation, greens and other vegetables lose their water over time.
  • To keep greens in top condition, they need to be frequently re-hydrated.
  • In osmosis, a certain substance moves from where there's a high concentration of the substance to a lower-concentration area. So if there's more water outside the leaves (water being sprayed onto the greens), the water will naturally have a tendency to move into the cells of the leaves, which (although they are no longer living) will readily accept the water. This replenishes the naturally-occurring water in the leaves' cells as fast as it is depleted.
  • If more water is added than the vegetables can accept, it will simply run off the produce.

 ➞ The Market Report's Suggestions
  • If your supermarket's produce is old and soggy, no amount of water will bring it back to life. In fact, too much water that doesn't drain properly off of the vegetables will make them go bad quickly.
  • If your supermarket has bad produce, shop at a different supermarket. It's not the water's fault.
  • Store your vegetables in containers that can breathe, and keep them cold. Don't seal your greens in plastic.
  • It's Thanksgiving day and your family is all coming. They expect a fresh, crisp salad, but all you have are wilted greens. If the greens aren't actually spoiled (or moldy), you can revitalize them by placing them in a bowl with ice water for a few minutes. You can even add a small amount of standard white vinegar to the bowl if you like. Your greens will be as good as new -- because they're re-hydrated!

8. Fishing for fish without fishy labels.

Unfortunately, there's not much you can do about that. Seafood isn't very closely regulated by the US government, so other organizations have stepped in to inform the public about seafood sources and hazards. Seafood Watch, a nonprofit, has excellent information on its website about seafoods to buy and to avoid, as well as seafood buying guides.

 ➞ The Market Report's Suggestions
  • Get to know your fishmonger as well. If you're looking for fresh seafood but your supermarket doesn't have a service seafood counter, shop elsewhere.
  • Know generally what to buy from Seafood Watch or a similar organization. Don't be one of those people who asks the seafood clerk a million questions when there's a line, or when it's clear he or she doesn't speak English very well (and you don't speak his or her native language). Or that person who doesn't eat any fish at a restaurant and makes it clear to the server their annoyance that the restaurant isn't certified by a million sustainable-fishing organizations ... you get it.
  • Make sure your supermarket has clear labeling of source (farm/wild) and origin (country). If they don't, ask, and if your fishmonger isn't sure, buy fish elsewhere -- maybe at a specialty market.
  • Local seafood is always best. Unless you live in the NYC area, in which case I don't even want to think about what kind of pollution those poor fish have to deal with. And what kinds of diseases I'm going to get from eating them.

9. Inspecting the role of inspections.

Although people place immense value on supermarket health inspection reports, they're more of a general barometer of how the store is doing on cleanliness. Inspection violations can range from improper food storage, evidence of infestations, and unacceptable dirt and grime in food prep areas to more minor issues such as paper towels being out in the customer bathroom or burnt-out lightbulbs in employee breakrooms. If even one of the very strict health inspection criteria is not met, the store will fail its inspection. Generally speaking, because inspections cover so many aspects of a supermarket's operation, a supermarket can expect to have anywhere from five to 20 violations in an inspection, especially in very large stores. Most of these violations, however, will be extremely minor. If a supermarket regularly fails inspections with critical violations, this is a problem. Critical violations are problems that health inspectors deem important enough that action must be taken on them. Other violations will result in a fine. Stores are re-inspected to check whether they have fixed their critical violations.

 ➞ The Market Report's Suggestions
  • If you care strongly about your supermarket's inspection reports, find out how to get inspection reports (which is public data). This is different in different areas, since it's often covered at a county level.
  • If you find inspection reports, read not only how many violations the store has, but what they are. See if those things matter to you.
  • You typically don't need to read health inspection reports to gauge a store's sanitation. If it feels dirty, then it probably is.

I hope this has given readers a little bit of perspective into this article and similar articles. I don't mean to totally discredit Healthyway -- in fact, the article makes several excellent points -- but I do hope to encourage people to take anything they read with a grain of salt. (And no, I'm not also a high school teacher.)

If you really think your supermarket is tricking you in every aspect of your shopping, ask yourself --

Why am I shopping here?

Find a supermarket that makes you comfortable. And if you need to, ask any questions of management that you may have. If they won't answer you, then it's about time to find a new supermarket.

Thanks for reading, and happy shopping!
- Zachary

Snapshot: Former Grand Union - Summit, NJ

This is the last of the NJ stores before we head down to Tampa, FL tomorrow!
This store is a former Grand Union located at 29 Deforest Ave in Summit, NJ. CVS has been here for decades, although I'm not certain of an exact closing date for GU.
Summit, which currently has no supermarkets, is home to several specialty markets and several former supermarkets, in addition to this one.
  • Arenas Farmers Market - 1 Ashwood Ave
  • The Meat House (upscale butcher/deli) - 321 Springfield Ave
  • Former Summit Food Market - 423 Springfield Ave
  • Former ShopRite - probably 40 Park Ave
  • Former A&P - 23 Summit Ave

Monday, August 27, 2018

Snapshot: Former Farmtastic Market - Whippany, NJ

This particular location, in the Whippany section of Hanover Township, seems to be a pretty bad spot for a supermarket. Whippany is most famous for the Whippany Railway Museum, which is definitely worth a visit. Here's a little history, the way I understand it...(not to say the way it actually happened):
  • 1950s: Centennial-style A&P built on the property.
  • 1960s: Foodtown takes over A&P.
  • Late 1970s: New Foodtown built next door to the existing Centennial building.
  • Late 1990s/Early 2000s: Foodtown sold to Pathmark. Centennial building next door becomes a drugstore.
  • 2011: Pathmark closes.
  • May 9, 2014: Allegiance-affiliated Farmtastic Supermarket opens, owned by Roberto Laracca.
  • Approximately summer 2015: Farmtastic closes.
  • 2018: Owners of Pine Plaza announce major facade renovation to take place over the course of a few years.
How does that sound? That's probably reasonably close to what actually happened, but please, if you have corrections, let me know!
 One of the factors contributing to the store's failure is its location, set far back from busy Route 10. It's quite hard to see when you're driving by quickly. I do know that the space, at 831 NJ-10, Hanover, NJ, is still vacant at this time, although I'm not sure if the facade renovation has started.