What makes a great grocery store? The prices? The size of the bulk section? Staff members who won’t regard you with utter hatred when you ask for help locating low-fat coconut milk? How about free samples or a decent gluten-free section?

It’s a topic that’s being discussed on the Chowhound boards this week. The thread, “Best Supermarkets in USA: Your Nomination,” was launched November 6 by MarkG, who wrote “let’s leave out Whole Foods” and nominated his local Wegmans.

Wegmans, which is based in Rochester, New York, and has 79 stores in the Mid-Atlantic region, is getting a lot of love. (And not only on Chowhound: The chain’s first Massachusetts store drew a line of 2,000 on its opening day last month.) Texans are cheering on Central Market, which has eight locations throughout the state and sums up its central mission as “Celebrate Every Day.” And Meijer, a chain based in the Midwest, is also getting props, thanks to, among other things, the velvet ropes around its alcohol section.

Whole Foods does have at least one defender. “Why leave out WF?” asked lemons. “I mean, they’re gosh-awful expensive and can get far too smug about some of the dietary ideas…. But I know lots of folks that just love them.”

So, yes, why leave out Whole Foods? Have we officially reached a point where the company, whether through the words of its CEO, accusations by its pissed-off ex-employees, or even simply its price points, has managed to offend and/or alienate potential customers? Is the relative affordability of the chain’s bulk sections and generic goods negated by the politics surrounding them?

Which raises another question: Is what makes a great grocery store based solely on what shoppers find on the shelves, or what they see and read in the media?

Image source: Flickr member That Other Paper under Creative Commons

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