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I am a Grocery Store Nerd

by Meghann on October 29, 2012

Hello, beautiful.

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Last spring I heard a rumor a Whole Foods Market was coming to my area of town. A Whole Foods? All the way over here? Could it be? I’ve been lucky enough to live in towns with Whole Foods for the last 5 years, but never one that was less than a 20 minute drive away. :)

Slowly, but surely a building started to rise from the empty lot, a Whole Foods Markets sign went up, and I stalked the new Facebook page waiting for any indication of opening day. Once the opening day was announced (November 1st!), another message quickly followed offering reservations for a sneak peek tour of the new store before the grand opening. The tours were $5 and all proceeds would benefit the Bob Sierra YMCA scholarship fund to help support our youth. Sign me up!

side note: Though I’ve worked with Whole Foods Markets in the past, I was NOT contacted by Whole Foods to take this tour. I saw the note on Facebook just like everyone else, registered on my own, and paid the $5 out of my own pocket. I’m a HUGE grocery store nerd and would have taken the tour whether I blog or not, I just had so much fun, I wanted to share what I learned – especially for my local Tampa readers who are just as curious about the new store as I was! </end>

They had tours going every 15 minutes throughout the day, so I registered for the 3:30 tour. When I arrived the parking lot was packed and there were people waiting outside. From what I heard they sold out almost every tour slot – that’s a lot of money going to a great cause!

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Bags filled with store flyers and a water bottle were handed to everyone at the beginning of the tour. We were also handed goodies at different spots of the tours to add to our bags. I came home with lip balm, yummy chocolates, maple cheese planks, mints, and a few other items that more than made up for the $5 donation to take the tour.

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The tour itself was oddly fascinating (grocery store nerd – right here!). The other Whole Foods Market in Tampa is pretty small, so this one was HUGE in comparison. Not quite as large as the Dr. Phillips store in Orlando, but definitely much larger than the one we have now.

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The tour was broken down in departments. We had the opportunity to hear a little bit about the store through each department’s team leader. First up was produce, which is my favorite section of any grocery store. I love exploring the fruit and vegetables and trying anything interesting or exotic that may be in stock.

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We sampled pineapple and heard a little bit about how the produce is labeled (organic = no fertilizer or pesticides were used to grow the fruit/vegetable, conventional = the grower is not considered organic, but Whole Foods has high standards to ensure the fruit/vegetable is of the best quality, local = produce was gown within X amount of miles).

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Steve, the produce guy, also encouraged us to ask for samples if there’s ever a piece of produce we’re curious about and want to try before buying. This became a running theme through the rest of the store. Every team leader couldn’t emphasize enough how happy they are to provide a sample if you’re not quite sure about something. That’s something I’ll need to remember in the future. ;)

Whole Body was up next.

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First of all, I loved how passionate the Whole Body team leader was. I wish I’d gotten his name because he really was an awesome guy who was so knowledgable and full of great information of what was stocked on his shelves. He explained the various regulations and standards that Whole Foods enforces for all the products on the shelves (did you know there are no nationally regulated standards for beauty products that are labeled organic?) and shared background on his favorite products. He wasn’t trying to sell us on anything, just educate.

After Whole Body, we were ushered to the Health Starts Here team, which was lead by the healthy eating specialists for both the Tampa and new Carrollwood stores.

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Health Starts Here is Whole Foods Market’s way of introducing and encouraging healthy eating in the community. They host weekly cooking classes and store tours in-store, but they also visit local schools and fire stations to perform cooking demonstrations and share their nutrient-rich diet approach. I’ve always wanted to take one of their cooking classes, and now that I have a store nearby, I might just actually do it.

The team leader didn’t just share what goes into a healthy diet, but also what went into building this store. Like the recycled glass and chicken wire at the registers, the rain water that’s collected outside and used to water the plants, or the scraps of jeans used as installation in the building’s roof – pretty cool right? Even the chairs outside are made of recycled plastic. Basically the whole building is a huge example of recycling/repurposing and not letting anything go to waste.

We were handed a recipe.

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And some brownies to sample.

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I’m not a fan of date-based bites, so I was a little nervous digging in. Fortunately the dates weren’t strong at all, instead it tasted like I was biting into a big ole’ ball of peanut butter. Yummy.

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Another favorite section was up next – seafood.

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If I had a bajillion dollars I would eat nothing but seafood every night of the week, but it’s so $$$ that I usually only eat it on special occasions. Our guide inspired me to splurge a little more when it comes to seafood. Again, he was uber- passionate (everyone that works for this company loves what they do so much – how could that passion not rub of?!) and very knowledgeable when it comes to fish. He walked us through the various labels Whole Foods use, including their high standards when it comes to farm raised fish (no hormone injections, etc). For their fresh caught selections, if you see green the fish is abundant and fishing methods cause little damage to their population, if you see yellow they may not have as abundant of a population or fishing methods may cause some harm, and if you see red the population is low (you will not find these in Whole Foods).

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We sampled shrimp that were cooked in a Key Lime Oil I plan on purchasing on opening day. :)

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Meat!

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I should note that all of the killer Opening Specials happening at the Carrollwood Whole Foods for the grand opening will be around for 2 weeks post-store opening. They will also have the exact same sales going on at the Tampa store. So if you want something for the awesome price – but don’t feel like fighting the crowds at the new store – head to the old store for the same deal.

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I learned something new about organic meat regulations. Do you know if an organic chicken is cut on the same board as a conventional chicken, then it’s technically not considered organic anymore? Everything that is sliced, chopped, and handled in the meat department is carefully logged and documented to keep 100% with the crazy organic standards. No mixing of knives or chopping blocks allowed!

We sampled bites of sausage in the meat department. It was unexpectedly spicy and I was happy to have that water in my welcome bag.

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Check out that dairy section!

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Something I noticed about the new store – all of the refrigerated cases have doors. I’m not sure why that is – or why I noticed? – but definitely something that stood out in my mind. They’re renovating the old store to have the same look – maybe it’s a new grocery store trend? Trying to keep up with the times?

Grocery department time!

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We learned a little bit about various labels through the store (gluten free, local, Whole Trade, NonGMO certified, organic, etc) and how to spot what we’re looking for. One thing that I’ve always appreciated about Whole Foods Market is how well everything is labeled. If you ever have a question about what a product contains or where it hails from, the answer can usually be found relatively quickly on the front of the box or on a label on the shelf. All products found on Whole Foods Markets’ shelves are free of high fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, and food dyes. All of the eggs in store are cage free and the bakery only uses cage free eggs in their baked goods.

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Beeeeerrrr

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Wiiinnneeee

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Cheeeeesssse

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Another department I wish I had a bajillion dollars to spend in. For now I’ll just take advantage of the free samples of parmesan.

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Psstt… Whole Foods sell the parmesan rinds at a discounted price. I was told that that if you soak the rinds for a couple of hours, then bake them, they can be a mighty scrumptious snack. ;)

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Now, what every Whole Foods is famous for – their prepared food section.

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I’m such a sucker for colorful chalkboard specials.

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Don’t the pretty colors and fonts make you want to order something right now?

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Not all of the prepared foods are made on site. If you’re not sure about something – don’t be afraid to ask for a sample. The majority of items are for sale by the pound – if you just want a scoop of mac&cheese, then get just a scoop of mac&cheese. :)

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We sampled pumpkin tortellini with butternut squash.

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It was good, but would have been better warmed up.

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Bakery/ coffee shop

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Fun fact: if you bring a reusable coffee cup or tumbler to Whole Foods, then your drink is only $1. <- must take advantage!

I’m VERY excited about the juice bar going in!!!! Our Tampa store was missing one and it was definitely something that I missed from my Orlando store. I can’t wait to come here for fresh juice and smoothies!

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They also have cookies by the pound

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Which we had the opportunity to try.

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p.s. the lemon cookie is delicious

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Let’s see. What else did I miss?

They’re pickling their own pickles in store (can’t wait to pick up a jar of these!)

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The registers all ready to go.

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There is a place to eat inside, but it’s tiny compared to what I’ve seen at other stores.

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There are also some outside options which would have been particularly inviting on a beautiful day like today.

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Overall the new store really impressed me. It’s a great size, clean, and simply gorgeous. I can’t wait to take advantage of all the great deals ($1.99/lb grapes and honeycrisp apples to name a few!) this week and I look forward to many, many, many visits in the near future.

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Welcome to Carrollwood, Whole Foods Market! We are SO HAPPY to have you here! :)

Obviously I spoiled my dinner with all of the yummy samples, so I kept dinner simple with a Pumpkin Protein Smoothie (I could seriously have one of these everyday and not grow tired of them) tonight.

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Alright, it’s time for this grocery store nerd to get to bed.

Good night!

Have you ever done taken a grocery store tour? They do them before every Whole Foods Market grand opening – if you have a store opening near you, I would highly recommend it!

p.s. My thoughts are with all of my NE friends tonight. Please stay safe up there!

{ 37 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Hayley @ Running on Pumpkin October 30, 2012 at 12:00 am

This post made me really excited – I’m a total grocery store nerd too! I wish I could go to a Whole Foods tour but I’ve never lived somewhere where there hasn’t already been one open (I guess I shouldn’t complain about that). I actually went to Whole Foods today on my lunch break!

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2 katie October 30, 2012 at 12:23 am

Sad to say, that not all the food in Prep Foods is made on site. Most of the stuff on the hot bar and in the chef’s case is, but the rest comes from the commissary. Still good stuff though!

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3 Meghann October 30, 2012 at 7:45 am

You are totally right. That was my error when I stated it across the board, I corrected the sentence. :)

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4 Chelsie @ Balance, Not Scale October 30, 2012 at 4:37 am

Okay. First off — LOVE that you’re a grocery store nerd and not a grocery store snob … there are a handful floating around the blogging world, and it’s SO refreshing to see someone who is genuinely interested and involved in the what’s and why’s of the products.
Secondly — I’m incredibly jealous of anyone and everyone who lives less than the oh, half day of travel, that I would need to make it to a WF, nonetheless the 8 hours of shopping time and the other half day of travel back … I’m a HUGE grocery store nerd myself (used to use it in an unhealthy way, now it’s quite the opposite) and visiting a WF is totally on my bucket list (visiting a TJs is also on there). I guess I’ve been drinking the blogging kool-aid?! ;)
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5 Sara @my less serious life October 30, 2012 at 6:25 am

i am SO jealous of this! my boyfriend thinks i’m strange that i love grocery stores so much and sadly – we don’t have a whole foods. one day…
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6 Charlie (The Runner Beans) October 30, 2012 at 6:48 am

I love Whole Foods and have one right near my office in London. Everything is laid out so beautifully and it’s all so tempting, just wish I could afford to shop there more!
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7 Cher @ Weddicted October 30, 2012 at 7:05 am

So jealous! My closest Whole Foods is an hour away!
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8 Allison October 30, 2012 at 7:25 am

We used to live in the Austin area and we spoiled by the flagship store downtown! But there are a ton here in Dallas which is nice.
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9 Katie @ Peace Love & Oats October 30, 2012 at 7:39 am

oh my gosh, I would love to go on a tour like this! I am a HUGE Whole Foods fan and I’m so lucky to have so many around me living in downtown Chicago! There are 2 within easy walking distance, and 2 more for a long walk! Haha or just the bus…
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10 meghan October 30, 2012 at 8:04 am

I missed the tour. Wish I had gone, but I ended up working until 6:30 last night and not being able to get over there and get everything done I wanted at home. It looks awesome. Where exactly is the store? I’ll look it up.
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11 Sara@RunningInPinkProject October 30, 2012 at 8:14 am

Love Whole Foods. I am a huge fan of grocery stores in general especially since learning to cook and preparing most things from scratch. There are a lot of really cool products/bells/whistles out there!
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12 Emily N October 30, 2012 at 8:21 am

That is one heck of a Whole Foods! Far bigger than the ones around here. And check out those beer/wine sections! Amazing.
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13 Laura October 30, 2012 at 8:23 am

That looks like it was such a thorough tour. On a side note, I am sorry people give you so much crap about working with Whole Foods (to the point where you have to clarify that you spent your own five bucks! :) ) I am obsessed with Whole Foods – I’d be excited to work with them, too!
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14 Krissy @ Shiawase Life October 30, 2012 at 8:25 am

Sounds like fun! I heart touring grocery stores too!!!!
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15 Hope October 30, 2012 at 8:44 am

THAT IS SO COOL! I would love to do a tour like that! My brother-in-law is a manager at Publix and he took me “behind the scenes” one day and I was far more excited about it than I should have been. I just love stuff like that! And I LOVE Whole Foods. I live in College Park in Orlando and the closest one to me is the one in Winter Park and it’s just SOOOOO small. I’m dying to have a bigger one closer to me. The new location looks gorgeous – enjoy!!

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16 Emily October 30, 2012 at 9:18 am

What a huge Whole Foods!! Oh, to live in Suburbia….

Also, I’m confused, I’m a new reader and don’t really get what a grocery store nerd is. Do you just really like going to the grocery store? Or are interested in the economics of grocery store supply chains? Thanks!

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17 Meghann October 30, 2012 at 9:25 am

I would classify a grocery store nerd as someone who is so excited about the opening of a new grocery store that they spend $5 to take a tour of the store before it opens. ;) Oh, and they have to really enjoy going to the grocery store!

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18 Tiffany October 30, 2012 at 9:20 am

I wish we had Whole Foods. I live in the capital city of my state, but I don’t think the market would support it. We don’t even have a freestanding Starbucks and people are more interested in junk food :-(
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19 Natalie @ Free Range Human October 30, 2012 at 9:31 am

I am so jealous! Unfortunately, the nearest Whole Foods to me is about three hours away :(
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20 Karen @ Runner Girl Eats October 30, 2012 at 9:40 am

This is awesome! We have a Whole Foods opening soon here, I will def have to see if they are offering this tour. Ah, now I’m even more excited about WF coming to Tallahassee!
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21 Becky @ runfundone October 30, 2012 at 9:44 am

Ha! I’m not sure that there could be a more enthusiastic grocery-store-tourer! I’m glad you had fun.

RE: The doors on the grocery case…I would think that this keeps cold in/heat out, so it’s more economical and environmentally friendly???
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22 Meghann October 30, 2012 at 9:50 am

That’s a good point. I wish I would have asked because I really am genuinely curious.

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23 Christine, Random Hangers blog October 30, 2012 at 11:21 am

Yes, Becky’s right, that’s why. They just popped some doors on at the Sandlake Whole Foods and when I asked, they gave that as a reason.

On a related sidenote, you might want to see if any of the Whole Foods near you does a Savvy Shopper tour. The Sandlake one does, and it was really eye-opening to hear how often the sales flyers change (the main colorful one is once a month v the specials page which is once a week), how to spot sales (look for yellow tags), the ins and outs of the bulk area and the like. Fascinating stuff. I just assumed Whole Foods was out of my budget, but that’s definitely not true.
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24 Bobbi October 31, 2012 at 8:17 pm

I don’t understand, don’t all refrigerator cases have doors on them? sorry, a littl slow here…lololol

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25 ct cupcake October 30, 2012 at 9:56 am

how cool that they offered the tours for charity donations! WF is super generous to my Junior League. Are the date balls you sampled made from the recipe you posted above? The recipe doesn’t appear to have coconut but the ones you sampled appear to. I ask b/c I dislike shredded coconut but that recipe looked good!
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26 Meghann October 30, 2012 at 9:58 am

It is the same recipe, I think they just added the coconut to make them pretty. I’m sure you could skip rolling them in coconut and be fine.

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27 Steph October 30, 2012 at 11:18 am

I had SO much fun yesterday! Loved all the freebies and tastings! The shrimp was Ah-MAY-ZING. My post will go live this afternoon! (and totally realizing the importance of a point and shoot, as my iPhone pics are just NOT cutting it anymore!).
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28 Abbie October 30, 2012 at 11:22 am

Becky is absolutely right! The doors are to keep the cold in, thus using less energy to keep the fridges cool and making the store more environmentally friendly. What a great store, we don’t have anything like this in the UK!!
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29 Meghan @ After the Ivy League October 30, 2012 at 11:32 am

I love Whole Foods so much! We have a nice big one like that in Providence, but I rarely go (TJ’s is more wallet friendly). It’s always a special treat when I visit WF and take the time to browse the aisles slowly, I love food!
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30 Jessica October 30, 2012 at 12:03 pm

I am SO excited about this Whole Foods in our hood. I will be taking a tour of my very own soon!
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31 Hillary {Nutrition Nut on the Run} October 30, 2012 at 1:29 pm

What a beautiful store! I love the sign “Cookies by the POUND” – mmm!

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32 Carrie @ The Cook's Palette October 30, 2012 at 2:16 pm

Wow! Thanks for giving us such a thorough tour as well! I’m a grocery store nerd as well, so I totally get the excitement. Glad you have one nearby!
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33 crystal d. October 30, 2012 at 3:50 pm

that is so cool you got to go on that tour! I had no idea Whole Foods did that but I am going to keep my eye open for one to open now so I can go! I am a huge grocery store nerd too. When we go to a new town or go on vacation I am always excited to check out the grocery store. Even ethnic grocery stores I love! I will wonder up and down all the aisles! I am glad I am not the only grocery store nerd out there! :)

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34 Alaina October 30, 2012 at 5:22 pm

haha this post made me really excited! both of my brothers work there (i spotted a massive man in the produce section who may or may not have mylast name) and i have been asking a million questions! i am so excited to come home from fsu this weekend to visit this place!!!!

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35 Crystal H October 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm

This post makes me regret not driving to Carrollwood for this tour! I have never been to a Whole Foods, but it looks amazing. I am totally a grocery store / food geek too. I hope they open one up in St. Pete soon and do a tour of it too. Until then, enjoy it for me. : )
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36 Aleksandra October 31, 2012 at 9:38 am

My dad worked for a company for 25 years that made refrigeration parts for supermarket applications. Standard refrigerating cases have an air curtain that flows over the top of the case. When the case is overloaded, then nothing stays cold. Anytime you see a carton of milk that is expanded or bowed out at all, that’s because either the case isn’t cold enough or because it’s been overpacked.

In general, doors make it easier to keep the cold in and the heat of the store out. And they make it impossible to overload the case and inadvertently ruin everything inside — which happens more than you could believe. In addition, I’d imagine it would be much more economical. And if the power goes out, it’s more likely to hold cold.

My dad always taught me to check my milk carefully for bowed sides and to buy from the very back of the case.

Anyway, hope that answers your question. :)
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37 Carrie @ Fitness and Frozen Grapes November 3, 2012 at 7:23 pm

I’m catching up on my blog reading now that I have power again post-Sandy, and Meghann, this sounds like so much fun! I’m such a foodie–and love Whole Foods, obviously–so a grocery store tour would be a great way to spend an afternoon. :)
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