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

Page 5 of 5

Finds: Gluten-free beer section; venison burgers; ground elk; Falafel Republic's falafels.

Hours: Monday through Saturday 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday 11 a.m. to 6 p.m.

Healthy Home Market, 2707 South Blvd.

LOWES FOODS

The Lowes Foods, a supermarket chain headquartered in Winston-Salem, started in Wilkesboro in 1954 and has more than 112 stores in the Carolinas and Virginia. The three Lowes Foods in Charlotte and nine in adjacent communities offer the same selections and are approximately the same size.

Lowes' pet section continues to be the best in the city, offering a choice of organic and refrigerated dog food. The produce section, with the roaring thunder when misting, has a selection of organic products and offers some locally canned items such as Hiatt's jalapeño pickled eggs ($2.99). The seafood department is still relatively small and the meat department is dominated by beef.

Wide aisles make shopping easy. A large freezer section contains such treats as excellent frozen pizza dough and New York City styled boxed-in-cardboard raviolis. Organic cereals are intermingled with regular cereals.

LOWES QUICK TAKE

Layout: Easy to navigate. Curved aisles.

Produce: Good.

Fish Department: Small.

Meat Department: Will cut beef to order. Organics available.

Prepared Foods: Good, mainly sandwiches and sushi.

Specialty Items: Above average, especially frozen Italian dishes.

International: Average.

Finds: Italian Bread baked in store; labeled section for barbecue sauces; wines segmented by varietals; beer cave.

Hours: 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily

Lowes Foods, 10828 Providence Road in the Promenade Shopping Center

TRADER JOE'S

Trader Joe's is fun: Employees and customers seem to be in a perpetual good mood. After shopping here on a fairly regular basis for a couple of years, I have learned to trust this store. I do not have to read labels for high fructose corn syrup (which I banned in my house several years ago). Plus all the products I tried -- from the one dollar marinara sauce to the frozen buffalo burgers -- were flavorful and a good value.

The Piper Glen store is small, and usually very crowded. The midtown store is much larger. Two buck Chuck (wine) is now three bucks, but is still the rallying cry of the wine department, a stack 'em high section. The produce section is small, but one of my favorite buys at Trader Joe's is the guacamole basket: two avocados, a jalapeño, garlic, and Roma tomatoes packaged together for $2.49. The bakery has bread for people with food allergies, good pita and hand-braided challah.

My favorite butter, Kerrygold from Ireland, is sold here for $2.69 a pound. The only problem with Trader Joe's is the addictive factor. If you have baked their frozen pain au chocolate on a cold winter morning, you will know why people crowd this store. The drawback is once you get hooked, a product may not be offered again since there is a constant turnover of the 2,000-plus unique items on Trader Joe's private label.

TRADER JOE QUICK TAKES

Layout: Bright, tall shelves, wide aisles, laid-back, happy employees.

Produce: Average.

Fish Department: Not a department. All packaged. Frozen paella ingredients.

Meat Department: Not a department. On shelves, packaged.

Bakery: None on site. Good pita.

Prepared Foods: Primarily sushi and salads.

Specialty Items: Excellent, and constantly changing.

International: Large and mixed in.

Finds: Great prices on almost everything including Spanish olive oil, roasted red peppers and nuts.

Hours: 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. daily

Trader Joe's, 6418 Rea Road

WALMART SUPERCENTER

Walmart did not impress me. The floors were littered with trash, while screaming or crying children were distracting. This is not a place for a leisurely stroll through the aisles. I know people who swear by the prices at Walmart, but of the six items I compared at the 12 grocery stores I visited, Walmart did not beat the price in any category.

WALMART SUPERCENTER QUICK TAKES

Layout: Easy. Wide aisles.

Produce: Selection is adequate, but the appearance of many items is less than appealing.

Fish Department: Small, frozen shrimp.

Meat Department: Prepackaged.

Deli and Bakery: Adequate variety.

Prepared Foods: A McDonald's is immediately inside the entrance.

International: Large Latino section.

Finds: Inexpensive flour.

Hours: 24 Hours daily. Closed Dec. 25.

Walmart Supercenter, 1830 Galleria Blvd.

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