November 9th, 2011 | City

IRON GROCER NEW HAVEN: Elm City Market vs. Stop and Shop

Stop & Shop and the Elm City Market do not expect to compete directly for customers.
Stop & Shop and the Elm City Market do not expect to compete directly for customers. Photo by Emily Suran.

Grab your jacket, your wallet and that secret part of you that just feels weirdly comfortable in supermarkets — we’re going shopping.

The long-awaited co-op grocery store Elm City Market opened last week, bringing the number of downtown grocery stores that sell fresh produce up to two.

The two new stores are especially significant/awesome, as they open their doors after a 2010 in which New Haven sort of became a food desert when Shaw’s closed down in February.

So now we have two options. One is healthy and vegan and reeks of community love or whatever. The second is homey, sells James Patterson books and — you guessed it — stacks Coke crates in funny ways. With our responsibility to you, our beloved readers, always on our minds, we at Cross Campus decided to venture out up to the heights of co-op crunchiness and to the commercial sprawl so far down Whalley even Ronnell Higgins would use the Yale Shuttle to get there to find out which greengrocer reigns supreme. This is Iron Grocer New Haven — let the battle commence.

Be price-wise

We honed in on some of the products Yalies are most likely to go looking for. What we found was surprising and perhaps could serve as evidence for the Market’s claim that it is a healthy store that doesn’t overcharge. Staples like Doritos, to-go salads and fresh cranberries cost the same at both locations.

Even more unexpected were the products that proved to be more expensive at Stop and Shop, like a one-liter bottle of Fiji water and a box of Cinnamon Toast Crunch cereal.

Don’t despair, though — the economies of scale you learned about in that regrettable foray into the abyss that is economics may still be a factor. Stop and Shop offered a number of bulk-buying deals that make specific products more affordable than they would be at the Market, such as a two for $5 offer on Chobani yogurt and a deal on strawberries. Who says you couldn’t be kinky and economical all at once?

Going the extra mile

What’s worth noting for the informed consumer is that each store has its own specialties. Considering the contrast in their philosophies, how this works is not difficult to imagine.

The Market stocks new age goodies you’d be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, a move that’s ideal for the consumer looking to peruse the range of Annie’s organic cereals being sold at non-Durfee’s prices that don’t look like phone numbers. It also features amenities like trail mix dispensers — think froyo, but crunchier — and an on-site café and kitchen that produce hot food and desserts. You can even grind your own coffee and truly feel your Earthly truth or some such.

Stop and Shop, on the other hand, trumps the Market in terms of sheer range. If you’re not looking for specialist products, the corporate grocery outlet might be all you need. Aisles and aisles of beautiful capitalist opportunities await. And scale allows more than just variety in packaged goods: despite the Market’s street cred, Stop and Shop’s offerings of fresh produce clearly outdo its competitor’s.

It’d be easy to dismiss the choice now facing grocery shoppers as a typical organic v. corporate battle. But the truth is that hidden complexity exists behind the scenes at each store, and neither is a typical example of the stereotype you’d expect them to represent. Go forth with open minds, readers. Just wash that lettuce before you munch it — bugs, be they uber-natural or industrially sterilized to crisps, are just, ew.