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Quality of NYC supermarket generics?


Scotty O
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I'm moving to NYC next week and was wondering if any of the common markets around the city had a reliable generic brand. Being from FLA, I'm used to shopping at Publix--which has great store-branded stuff, so I usually don't pay for name brands, but that may have to change.

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I think you're going to find grocery shopping in New York City to be different from shopping in Florida in many ways. Let me try to explain it from my perspective, and maybe some other New Yorkers can try to give their perspectives.

Supermarkets in New York City tend to be small, poorly run, and overpriced. There are very few supermarkets in the city that conform to the suburban ideal of the supermarket.

At the same time, New York City is teeming with great markets that are not supermarkets in the suburban sense: Fairway, Zabar's, Garden of Eden, Citarella, Gourmet Garage, Vinegar Factory, Eli's, and many others, plus Whole Foods. There's also a whole category of small neighborhood produce markets that just doesn't exist in the suburbs.

I'd hazard a guess that most eGulleters who do all their shopping in New York City do most of their purchasing at the Fairway-type markets and only go to supermarkets for certain packaged products that aren't really available at the standalones. Or, those of us with cars often buy all our staples and packaged items once a month or so in New Jersey or Westchester (where we have mega-supermarkets, Costcos aplenty, Target, etc., just like everywhere else in America, not to mention ethnic megastores that are not as common) and do all our weekly shopping at the local non-supermarket stores.

To get to your question, though, which may not be relevant anymore in light of what I've said, the generics you'll find in New York supermarkets are fine. For the supermarkets that are part of the national chains, the generics here are the same as the generics you'll find at those same supermarkets in other places. For example if you go to a Food Emporium here, which is owned by A&P, you'll get the "America's Choice" generic brand, which tends to be pretty good. Our Whole Foods stores sell the same generic/house "365" brand as those stores anywhere else. For the more locally oriented chains, like Gristede's and Pioneer, you'll often find the White Rose brand to be the generic of choice, and that's pretty good as well. Of course you'll find that you have to experiment product-by-product, but on the whole the generics are, as always, cheaper and just as good as the name brands in many categories.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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One tiny dissent: Pathmark frozen chopped spinach in the standard 10-ounce block is not good; probably not packed or stored well, so there's a high proportion of dried-out bits on the outside of the block. This might not be important to you, but in case it is, beware. Other Pathmark products are okay, though. Only the frozen spinach is bad.

To elaborate on FG's story: I live in lower Manhattan, near the Brooklyn Bridge and City Hall. I have no car, so no access to the suburban stores, and only limited access (via subway) to Costco. But I have a huge shopping cart, big enough to hold the contents of a normal-size grocery-store cart. I do a "big shop" once a month, loading up at Pathmark and/or Food Emporium on canned goods, staples, paper products, meats that I freeze after cooking, and so on. (And if I buy more than I can load into my cart to drag home, these stores deliver -- a godsend.) I buy most of my fresh vegetables and dairy from much smaller stores, an Associated and a local specialty/grocery store called Jubilee (also my source for fresh meat and fish).

Depending on where you are, and whether or not you have a car, you might be just fine doing things as you are used to doing, or you might have to scramble a bit. BTW: if you're in Brooklyn or Queens, Waldbaum's is also pretty good (Same corporate ownership as Food Emporium, I believe, but not as self-proclaimed-upscale.)

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A&P owns Waldbaum's, Super Fresh, Food Emporium, Food Basics, Sav-A-Center, and FarmerJack.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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I think it depends where you are shopping. For example, I like the America's Choice generic brand found at the Food Emporium -- it tends to be of good and consistent quality. However, I don't like the White Rose generic (which is available at the Met Foods in my nabe) -- frozen and canned goods are spotty at best.

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Food Emporium has a second house brand called Master Choice which is pretty good as well.

I just want to highlight a point made by Suzanne. Get yourself a shopping cart (aka "the bubbe cart). Yeah, they look dorky. But they really come in handy. They are the most practical way of schlepping home your groceries. I don't know how I would survive without mine.

"Some people see a sheet of seaweed and want to be wrapped in it. I want to see it around a piece of fish."-- William Grimes

"People are bastard-coated bastards, with bastard filling." - Dr. Cox on Scrubs

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Thank you, Ms. Bloviatrix! And to add yet another point: get a liner for it. That way you can load your groceries (also laundry, whatever you have to schlep) directly into the cart, without all the extra plastic bags. The only down side to them is that you cannot bring on onto a bus unless it is folded up -- so you always have to walk home when it's full (or else bounce it down and up the subway stairs, which is no fun AT ALL).

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This is an example of the standard NYC street-ready folding shopping cart:

http://www.stacksandstacks.com/html/8451_s...-cart-jumbo.htm

Some people swear by them; my mother uses one religiously. Me, even before I had a car, I preferred a combination of delivery (you can get ANYTHING delivered in NYC) and small-enough-to-carry purchases.

Steven A. Shaw aka "Fat Guy"
Co-founder, Society for Culinary Arts & Letters, sshaw@egstaff.org
Proud signatory to the eG Ethics code
Director, New Media Studies, International Culinary Center (take my food-blogging course)

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At the same time, New York City is teeming with great markets that are not supermarkets in the suburban sense: Fairway, Zabar's, Garden of Eden, Citarella, Gourmet Garage, Vinegar Factory, Eli's, and many others, plus Whole Foods.

I agree with everything FG had to say....But if you're an avid purchaser of generic brands and prefer cost savings, I doubt Citarella and its ilk would be suitable substititutes. That's like inquiring about the kinds of undewear Jack's 99 cent store sell, and then reccomending a trip to Bergdorf's....

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I find the main problem with generics is that they are inconsistent. I think that the supermarkets make rolling deals with suppliers and each batch may come from a different producer. I have used Shop-Rite ripe black olives and they actually vary from can to can. I think it also depends on the product-- right next to Vantage seltzer is the generic, and there is no detectable difference.

Also, as previously mentioned, Manhattan is not conducive to a large suburban-type supermarket for obvious reasons, so you will need to head to the burbs for a ShopRite, Stop & Shop or stores of that ilk.

What specific products do you like generic versions of?

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