Save Money, Live Better? Doubtful.

As if we needed any, here’s additional proof that some Houstonians don’t have an ounce of sense when it comes to grocery shopping:

New No. 1: Wal-Mart bags top grocery spot

Wal-Mart Supercenters have overtaken Kroger as grocery market-share leader for the Houston area.

That’s according to the most recent market survey published in the January 2008 issue of the Shelby Report, a national trade publication covering the grocery industry.

According to the report, Wal-Mart Supercenter has a 28.5 percent market share, compared to Kroger’s 25.6 percent. Wal-Mart Supercenter’s market share is up 0.88 percent from the previous quarter, compared with Kroger’s decline of 2.10 percent. Third place H-E-B is up 0.26 percent.

Personally, I wouldn’t buy my groceries from Wal-Mart if they were the only store in town. Leaving aside for a second their highly-questionable business practices and the fact that they also sell motor oil and paint thinner under the same roof with their groceries, let’s talk about the quality of their produce and meats.

Quality. As in, it’s non-existent.

Have you ever seen a decent piece of produce at Wal-Mart? I haven’t. Maybe I’m just going to the wrong Wal-Marts, but every single onion, potato, head of lettuce, apple, bag of carrots, orange, etc. looks decidedly unfresh. They look either wilted or dented or bruised or past their prime. And this doesn’t surprise me. After all, when you’re dealing in bulk and when you’re also shipping boxes of sweatpants and lawnmower parts into the same store, freshness and quality probably aren’t going to be your main concerns.

And the meat? I shudder to think about the subpar, low cost facilities from which that meat originates. Certain scenes from Fast Food Nation come immediately to mind. The fish all looks and tastes farmed.  It’s not the kind of meat or fish that I want to eat, and it’s certainly not what I’d feed to my friends and family.

I know the old argument: It’s so cheap to shop at Wal-Mart!  Bullshit.  When you go to Wal-Mart, you aren’t just going to a grocery store, and they know this!

You’re going to a glorified flea market, where you feel like your dollar will go further just because that porcelain angel or candle holder shaped like a cat is marked down to $0.99.  So you fill up your basket not just with food, but with all sorts of other things that you don’t need.  And all those $5.00 picture frames and $12.99 DVDs along with your bags of Cheetos and 12-packs of Big Red quickly add up to a $100 tab at the register.  How is that saving money?

It’s NOT cheap to shop at Wal-Mart.  They just make you think that it is by artificially lowering their prices so that you’ll buy more crap.

By comparison, let’s look at a normal grocery store.  Let’s look at H-E-B.

Yes, that’s a washing machine in my kitchen. Want to make something of it?

I just happened to do my weekly grocery shopping at H-E-B last night.  It doesn’t look like a lot, sitting there in bags on the counter.  But I managed to buy a week’s worth of groceries for the two of us (more like three, the way Richard eats…) — staple items like bread, eggs, milk, potatoes, canned soup, lunch meat, cat food, etc — as well as fresh meat and produce and the ingredients for two “gourmet” meals (which will be featured here later this week) and some chocolate chip cookies for a little bit over $32.

$32 for a week’s worth of groceries.  Real food.  No bags of chips or Stouffer’s family-sized frozen dinners or Easy Mac.  It’s not hard to shop cost-effectively and have good food.

And that’s the lynchpin of the whole problem here, I believe.  The people that shop at Wal-Mart don’t care about the lack of quality in the produce or meat sections because they aren’t buying that stuff.  They aren’t feeding themselves or their families real food.

They’re buying the unhealthy, preservative- and high-fructose-corn-syrup-laden food items that are leading to national epidemics of obesity, diabetes, heart disease and hypertension and to the more local problem of Houston being consistently named the “Fattest City” in America.  And the fact that Wal-Mart now leads the pack in grocery stores indicates to me that more people than ever in Houston are shopping and eating this way.

It’s truly disappointing to me to see that our city — with so many other options available out there — has chosen Wal-Mart as their destination of choice when grocery shopping.  It’s an even more disappointing inference that these people are slowly poisoning themselves with low-quality, high-calorie food of little nutritional value.  I hope that my inference is wrong, but current trends would seem to indicate that it isn’t.

I understand that not everyone can afford to shop at Central Market or Whole Foods or even a farmer’s market, either for lack of time or money.  But do you really want to shop for your food — the nourishment for yourself and your family — in a place that also sells tires?

6 thoughts on “Save Money, Live Better? Doubtful.”

  1. Lucky you. It costs the wife and I $100 per week to shop for the two of us, and get dog food for our three dogs.

    This is at H.E.B.

    Three factors:

    1. We almost NEVER eat out. The posts you see on my blog are the totality of our dining out. Maybe once every other week on Saturday.

    2. Because of this our bill includes lunch, breakfast, and snacks. (usually fresh, organic fruit.)

    which leads me to number…

    3. My wife has Celiac Sprue which, if you are unfamiliar with the term is an inability to digest wheat gluten. What this means is that, for the most part, processed foods are not included in our diet AT ALL. Neither is pasta, inexpensive pasta sauce, anything. If we want s’ghetti we have to buy rice or corn noodles ($3.99 and up) and organic sauce ($4.99) to ensure that we stay FAR AWAY from Modified Food Starch, which is industry code for: “If you have celiac sprue this will make you sick as a dog.”

    The upside of this is that I have become and EXPERT label reader. I can peruse a label for “bad” ingredients typically in 3 seconds or less. The downside is eating out is a bitch. The upside is fast food is out. The downside is everything costs a little more.

    The upside is HEB carries a LOT of gluten-free goodies.

    The upside also is Wal-Mart does not.

    The last downside is that you had to at least skim my long-assed post.

    Sorry about that.

    On topic: I would argue that the problem is less Houston shopping at Wal-Mart, and more what they are buying at Wal-Mart. When we shop it’s along the edges of the Supermarket, with quick darts into the aisles for paper products, seasonings, and (yes) Diet Coke.

  2. Wow, Cory. That was a long-assed post. 😉

    I’m very familiar with celiac disease and I certainly feel for people who suffer from gluten intolerance. The food of today’s society makes it incredibly difficult for people with celiac disease, since we’ve become so ridiculously dependent on wheat for so many food fillers and by-products.

    The upside is that you can totally eat out at the Blue Nile (my favorite Ethiopian restaurant), where they don’t use wheat or barley or oats or any of that stuff. Lots of great veggies and bread made out of teff. Yum!!!

    Also, they’re finally starting to make gluten-free beer. How cool is that?

  3. I used to also work at H-E-B, their quality of meat and fish is possibly even lower than Wal-Mart. Have you ever passed by the seafood area in H-E-B? It smells like several animals have crawled, died, and have yet to be discovered. I am not defending Wal-Mart either. My brother worked for Kroger’s in the produce section and says their produce is actually the best quality he has seen out of the major grocery stores here in Houston.

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