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Store Wars: Rating Charlotte's best (and worst) grocers 

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ALDI has excellent prices on dairy products. A gallon of whole milk costs $2.79 and a dozen Grade A large eggs are $.89. A whole chicken is $.79 a pound. These are not sale prices. Store brand cereals are inexpensive, too, including cornflakes for $1.19 (18-ounce box) and an oat cereal for $1.59 (14-ounce box). You bag your own with your own bags. Some boxes are available. Note: Some people believe ALDI and Trader Joe's are sibling businesses. They are not. Two sons of ALDI's founding Albrecht family split the company in 1960 after an argument. ALDI South came to the U.S. with the low-price ALDI while ALDI North acquired Trader Joe's from California. They are separate companies.

ALDI QUICK TAKES

Layout: Small store, but wide aisles.

Produce: No local or organic produce. All prepackaged.

Fish Department: Frozen.

Meat Department: Packaged.

Bakery: Only on shelves.

Prepared Foods: None.

Specialty and International Items: Lots of German and Canadian items.

Finds: Beers from Holland and Germany.

Hours: Monday through Thursday and Saturday, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday, Noon to 6 p.m.

ALDI, 555 W. John St., Matthews

SUPER BI-LO

Super Bi-Lo was just opening the last time I checked out area grocers. Privately owned Bi-Lo is native to Mauldin, S.C., where it was established in 1964.

This Super Bi-Lo in Matthews smells good. At every turn -- the bakery, within the aisles -- the place has a charming aroma. The interior is bright and friendly: The wood floor of the produce department is set off by the vaulted ceiling painted sky blue with fluffy clouds. A proprietary coffee shop is adjacent.

Even though there is music, televisions are scattered throughout the store touting specials. Near the meat department is a recipe finder which will print out a shopping list. The pet area is quite good with a refrigerated dog food section. In addition to its BONUSCARD, Bi-Lo offers FuelPerks, a program which gives customers a discount at participating gas stations.

SUPER BI-LO QUICK TAKES

Layout: Large and easy to navigate.

Produce: Excellent and attractive; some organic items; local peaches priced at $.88/lb.

Fish Department: Advertise their catfish is never frozen. Lobsters are $10 each.

Meat Department: Beef is mainly USDA Choice. Certified Angus beef available.

Bakery: Above average.

Prepared Foods: Small. Sub shop and rotisserie chicken.

International: Italian, Indian and Latino.

Finds: Section for "Natural Foods"; Turkey Hill Dairy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough premium ice cream from Lancaster, Penn.

Hours: 24 Hours daily. Closed Dec. 25.

Super Bi-Lo, 3110 Fincher Farm Road, Matthews

BLOOM

Over the entrance is a sign proclaiming "Hi There" -- the Northern equivalent of "Hey" -- which might seem too informal in this store, which is part of the Food Lion family. (Food Lion LLC is a subsidiary of Delhaize America, the U.S. division of Brussels-based Delhaize Group.) In fact, the first Bloom test-marketed was in Charlotte in 2004.

However, Bloom does not resemble any Food Lion I have ever shopped. This store is fresh, clean and well-designed. The shelves are lower for people who have a problem reaching back on the top row.

Bloom in Dilworth has a good ready-to-eat food section with sandwiches and entrées; and a large gluten-free section with a freezer running along one side and shelved products on the other. On the downside, my favorite yogurt product, Faye (regular, not the non-fat or 2 percent fat), costs almost two dollars more than it does at Fresh Market.

Bloom has a good Latino product section with spices and even a can of hot and spicy menudo ($3.29 for 29 ounces). Clif bars were on sale for $1.

BLOOM QUICK TAKES

Layout: Excellent.

Produce: Very good.

Fish Department: Not all products labeled with country of origin.

Meat Department: Average.

Prepared Foods: Excellent.

Specialty Items: Gluten free section.

Finds: Latino spices; Clif bars $1 a piece; mix and match microbrew wall.

Hours: Monday through Saturday, 7 a.m. to 11 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Bloom, 2226 Park Road

COMPARE FOODS

In the bakery at Compare Foods on Arrowood, corn tortillas are made and packed hot for consumers. Each bundle of 25 ($2.50) is wrapped in paper, and then placed in a large white cooler blanketed with a white terry cloth towel. These make exceptional tacos. In addition to tortillas, the Compare bakery has breads, cookies and sweet breads. Celebration cakes can be ordered.

The produce section has the best deal on limes: 10 for a dollar. Mexican beers are sold nearby. Dried chilies such as pasilla, puya, monta, chipotle, ancho, arbol and guajillo are sold by the pound as are banana leaves, corn husks, Hass avocados, and green and mature plantains.

The fish counter offers many fin fish including whole butterfish, croaker, mackerel and ribbon fish (from India). Baby octopus is $2.69 a pound. The meat section has a beef shirt and whole pork leg (not smoked) for $1.89 a pound. The sausages are made in-house and include Mexican chorizo, Longaniza and Colombian and Argentinean sausage.

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