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My Grocery Store Power Rankings

There comes a time in every young pup’s life where they find themselves crossing the bridge between their reckless, fun years and into real adulthood.  It’s a graduated process starting with a general contempt for life itself, to waking up with new aches and pains, and at some point realizing that you have a favorite burner on your stove.  All signs you’re no longer young and cool.  Me? I started recognizing the symptoms about 3 years ago when I would go nap in the trunk of my car at work because I couldn’t make it through a full day without wanting to drink a gallon of bleach.  The final nail in the coffin for me was when I realized that I could no longer keep up with Gen Z trends and humor.  A truly sad day in the life of what seems to be an exponentially aging me. 

But alas, trying to stay young forever is a fool’s errand.  One fun part about progressing into adulthood is that I can now power rank all of the grocery stores I have frequented in my lifetime, a luxury a youngster could never have the life experience to accomplish.  As a person whose job requires them to cook and who has lived in multiple cities across different states, I feel that I am of good authority to provide such a list.  So let’s get down to business. 

A Fair and Objective Scale

There is nothing I hate more in games and competition than subjectivity.  Those Cards Against Humanity style games that you play on Thanksgiving and Christmas with your family that everyone thinks are so “quirky and fun” are my own personal Vietnam.  Not only do they expose how deficient most people’s senses of humor are, they also fail to provide any objective data for how to select a winner.  I wish for our grocery store rankings we could have clear evidence to show which is superior, but I’m not sure it’s possible.  While it would be nice to develop an objective, robust ranking system to encompass all factors of what makes a grocery store great, that’s way too much work for me and this isn’t that important.  So whatever.  Subjectivity is going to have to sneak in.  After all, there is no way to objectively measure the disgust you feel deep inside of your body after passing through the doors of a Super Walmart.  

To try and put at least some values to this madness we are going to rank each grocery store on 4 different metrics: Ambiance, Produce, Food Selection, and a Wild Card where I get to say whatever I want because this is my game.  

A Story of Grocery Stores Past

For these rankings I can only include the stores that I have frequented at one point in my life.  I can’t include stores simply based on their social status in the zeitgeist.  So when you read this list and see that it doesn’t include H-E-B or Publix don’t come at me, I’ve never shopped at those stores.  Some of the stores on my list are regional.  I’ve lived in the Midwest, Seattle, Las Vegas, and now Texas so I’m limited to the stores in those areas.  Unfortunately I haven’t spent any real time on the east coast.  All of the stores included in my rankings are stores that I have shopped at multiple times.  Here is that list:

  • Hy-Vee
  • Walmart
  • Whole Foods
  • Traders Joe
  • Sprouts
  • Target
  • The Kroger Family of Stores (Kroger, Quality Food Centers, Smith’s)
  • Albertson’s

Number 9 – Walmart

Coming in dead last is Walmart.  This one should be obvious.  Walmart sucks and we all know it.  

Ambiance – 1/10

I said it above that we all have a feeling of disgust when we walk into a Super Walmart.  You know what I mean.  It’s something about the lights, the white flooring, the awkwardly placed McDonalds/Subway at the front of the store.  It all sucks and you know it. 

Produce – 3/10

A decent variety in their selection but I am always underwhelmed by the quality.  The only good thing about the produce section at Walmart is that the bakery is in the same area and they have these little chocolate sprinkled donut holes that were electric back in 2011.  Now they suck too because they clearly changed the recipe. Not happy about it.  

Food Selection – 9/10

These guys have literally everything you could ever want.  That’s kind of the point of Walmart.  They even have a solid selection of specialty ingredients.  It honestly could be a 10/10 but they never have ground chicken so I can’t give them the perfect score here.  So close.

Wild Card – 3/10

I can’t tell you the last time I walked into a Walmart and I didn’t feel like I was in some kind of Zoo.  There’s broken stuff on the floor, people getting too close to me, and always the off chance that you see some kind of trainwreck occurring which honestly, is a plus in my eyes and the reason this is a 3 and not 0.  Keeps you on edge, I like that.  Permanently burned into the annals of my brain is the time I watched a man empty his colostomy bag into a vacant parking spot as I walked to my car, groceries in hand.  I went a few weeks ago for a couple of items and my cashier was watching Netflix on his phone, with the volume all of the way up while I checked out.  A problem to many this may be, but not I.  I want zero human interaction in my grocery stores.  I hunt the self checkout like a starving lion on a wounded gazelle.  I actually respect the guy for not even trying to hide it.  

Final Score – 4/10


Number 8 – Albertson’s

Okay to be honest, I’ve only been into an Albertson’s once.  It was last week.  I hated it so much I had to include it in this list.  

Ambiance – 1/10

I need natural light in my grocery stores.  The Albertson’s I went to had none of it.  They had the windows blocked by a bunch of junk that was just taking up space.  The lights they used in this particular store are yellow and gross and they need to change them.  It also smelled.  Now all Albertson’s in my mind are like this.  

Produce – 3/10

Decent.  Whatever. Nothing to write home about. 

Food Selection – 6/10

This is a full service grocery store so they are going to have everything you could probably ever need.  Their selection of specialty items isn’t the strongest.  However my biggest gripe is that I needed some parchment paper the other day and it wasn’t anywhere to be found.  Turns out it was next to the sweatshirts.  In a grocery store. Not by the other food storage type things.  The sweatshirts.  

Wild Card – 8/10

There were two aisles in this store that were perfectly stocked with everything facing forward and in straight lines.  It was like that meme image where the guy got high and organized the whole convenience store to look perfect.  Had to give them points for that.  

Final Score – 4/10


Number 7 – Target

When I lived in Las Vegas there was a Target directly across the street from my apartment so I ended up doing a lot of my shopping at Target.  I hope to god I never have to do that again.  

Ambiance – 6/10

All Targets smell the same and they have smelled the same for as long as I can remember.  There’s also something about the red color that feels warming.  

Produce – 2/10

I don’t know if it is possible to have a worse selection of produce than most Targets do.  I get it that they technically aren’t a grocery chain but just about everything they throughout there in the produce section is horse shit.   

Food Selection – 4/10

For not being a full service grocery store they have a surprising amount of what I need, just not a lot of different brand options with those products.  

Wild Card – 7/10

I’m well aware that most of you reading this are women and probably love Target.  I don’t share the same sentiment.  I don’t need to shop for clothes at the same time I am getting shampoo and makeup.  But I do like that that stuff is there which is why this gets a 7/10. 

Final Score – 4/10


Number 6 – Kroger

Included in this section is every store I’ve ever shopped at that fall under the Kroger umbrella.  In Seattle that is QFC, in Vegas it is Smith’s, in Dallas it’s Kroger.  They are all practically the same anyway.

Ambiance – 3/10

Fluorescent lighting. Grocery store tile floors. High shelves. The constant hum from the freezer and refrigerators running all day. Just your standard grocery store here.

Produce – 4/10

For being a real grocery store the produce section in the Kroger, QFC, and Smith’s I frequented were all disappointing. Rarely did the produce ever smell fresh or look perfect. My barrier to eat vegetables is very high so I need all of the help I can get. Kroger doesn’t do it for me.

Food Selection – 8/10

A full service grocery store. They have just about everything.

Wild Card – 5/10

I struggled with what to rate this section for the Kroger family of stores.  One one hand they have the Kroger cards where you scan your card and at the end of checkout it applies all of your discounts and the feeling you get when those numbers pop up can only be rivaled by a good night at the blackjack table.  It’s so fun.  A perfect 10/10.  However, I once watched a fine gentleman take a dump in front of the bushes at the Lower Queen Anne QFC in Seattle and that, for lack of better words, soiled my idea of all QFCs and therefore Krogers across this nation. 

Final Score – 5/10


Number 5 – Costco

I almost don’t count Costco as a grocery store because you can’t be a normal person and only shop at Costco.  There’s almost no chance you won’t have to visit another store.

Ambiance – 6/10

There is absolutely zero natural light in this store.  It’s a warehouse.  Normally that would be an automatic 0 from me but something about the super high ceilings makes me feel cool so it gets a pass.  I’m also kind of into the warehouse vibe.  It makes me feel like I’m cheating the system and pulling a fast one. 

Produce – 3/10

The variety of produce at Costco definitely leaves me wanting after I make the pass through the section.  I don’t shop at Costco for my produce though so whatever.  A 27lb bag of spinach is one of my worst nightmares.  I can’t even finish a 1lb bag before it rots in the fridge.  They have good apples and they are cheap, so 4/10.

Food Selection – 5/10

Costco never has everything I need but they always have stuff I didn’t know I needed.  I can never only go to Costco when I need to make a grocery run, there is always another store that needs to be visited.  Like maybe I need a small bunch of green onions just to use as garnish for a dish, I can’t get that at Costco.  However, while I am at Costco buying way too much Greek yogurt I may catch a glimpse of a 50 pack of granola bars that will be making their way into my cart whether I like it or not. 

Wild Card – 7/10

The ability to buy things in bulk automatically gives this a 7/10.  There is something happening in my caveman brain when I see a 5lb box of Frosted Flakes that makes me feel safe.  That can’t be taken lightly.  I’ve also recently discovered that my “single” serving of syrup was actually 3 servings after I weighed it out and that is likely the reason my household goes through syrup like it is water.  The ability to buy a gallon of syrup at once makes me feel less bad about my overconsumption problem because I don’t go through a bottle in a week. 

Final Score – 5.25/10


Number 4 – Sprouts

I don’t go to Sprouts all that often but every time I do I ask myself why I don’t go more.  The one by my house in Kansas City always had tapioca flour for 99 cents a pound.  Those of you who always wonder why I use tapioca flour in my recipes, that’s why.  It was cheaper than cornstarch.  They also sometimes have ground chicken which is for some reason an American luxury.  

Ambiance – 7/10

They are made to look like Farmer’s Markets.  That’s pretty fun.  They are big and open to make it feel like you’re outdoors.  

Produce – 9/10

The produce selection at every Sprouts I have ever been to has been solid.  It always looks and smells fresh, is pleasing to the eye, and there is good variety.  No complaints here. 

Food Selection – 4/10

It’s kind of a specialty store so their food selection outside of produce is a bit barren. The actual grocery aisles are small and don’t have much in them. 

Wild Card – 3/10

There is not much that is special about Sprouts in my eyes.  Aside from the fact that they have ground chicken 25% of the time I go looking for it, it’s just a regular store.

Final Score – 5.25/10


Number 3 – Traders Joe

I hadn’t shopped at a Traders Joe until October 2019 so it is fairly new to me.  Upon first trip I wasn’t a huge fan but I have warmed up to it over time.

Ambiance – 9/10

Because the stores are so small it is very easy for natural light to penetrate all of the way to the back which makes it feel way better than regular grocers. There is also a vibe in all Traders Joes that is better than the vibe in a different store. It’s hard to put words to but it exists. Demographically speaking, the clientele of a Traders Joe is more health conscious than a Kroger or Walmart and that is a clear and obvious plus. 

  

Produce – 4/10

The produce selection is small and nothing ever looks that appealing but it’s vegetables we’re talking about here so how good can they really look?  I’ve noticed that many of the fruits and vegetables from Traders Joe spoil faster than from other stores.  I’m guessing this is part of how they keep their food prices down, they order the slightly older products. This is fine if you are prepared to cook immediately.  It’s not great if you just like to keep stuff on hand. 

Food Selection – 3/10

Everyone raves about Traders Joe for all of the fun freezer products they sell.  I can’t support this.  This is a direct rival to Snack City and Snack City is so obviously superior in every way.  0/10 for the frozen food.  It’s disgusting and degenerate.  Barf.  HOWEVER, they do always have the elusive ground chicken so bravo Traders Joe, 3/10.   

Wild Card – 8/10

While the freezer food is no match for that of Snack City, they do have one of the greatest products underneath the sun.  The magical, effervescent Scandinavian Swimmer.  It is a Sour Patch kid but bigger, better, and worthy of all 8 points I’m scoring this category. 

Final Score – 5/10


Number 2 – Whole Foods

It should be obvious that an upscale grocery store would rank highly on my list, you’re literally paying for the extra features.  I don’t do much shopping at Whole Foods because of the prices of the meat and grocery products but I find that the produce is actually reasonable when compared to other stores.  

Ambiance – 9/10

I have a weird obsession with polished gray concrete so any store that has it is automatically in good favor with me upon entry.  I also like the font they use on their product tags and that is reason enough for me to shop here. 

Produce – 9/10

Out of any store I’ve ever shopped at, Whole Foods has the most consistent and best produce.  It always looks fresh, clear of blemishes, and I don’t feel like it has been contaminated by whatever it is I feel when I pick up a piece of fruit/vegetable from a regular store.  Maybe it’s a clever branding trick.  Maybe it’s real. Who cares.  I like it. 

Food Selection – 4/10

I’m not going to pay 1.5-2x the price for most regular grocery items and meat so this category really shouldn’t even be here.  The only time I buy those items at a Whole Foods is if I’m in a pinch or really don’t want to go to another store.  

Wild Card – 5/10

Shopping at a Whole Foods just makes a person feel like an erudite scholar.  Like the high brow, Lululemon wearing, yoga class on Saturday morning attending, Range Rover driving individual you thought you would be when you pictured where your life would be in 10 years, 10 years ago.  The extra price we pay to live this life is the Whole Foods tax my friends.

Final Score – 6.75/10


Number 1 – Hy-Vee

I’m kind of cheating by ranking this one 1st.  Hy-Vee has been in my life for 27 years.  My father was a store manager of a Hy-Vee when I was growing up but it is the best and I think that is fairly objectively true.    

Ambiance – 8/10

Many of the Hy-Vees have undergone renovations in the last decade and now have gray polished concrete, check one for the good box.  A lot of Hy-Vees also have sky lights making the buildings less fluorescent and fake feeling.  Big fan.  

Produce – 6/10

The selection and variety are pretty run of the mill.  One thing that I think Hy-Vee does better than other stores is that they often have locally grown produce that is clearly labeled and available. 

Food Selection – 8/10

A full service grocery store can probably never score below a 6 here unless they were completely incompetent.  Hy-Vee has the best meat selection out of any store I have ever been too and we all know the meat section is the most important part.  

Wild Card – 7/10

Orange Creamsicles.  Hy-Vee has a self branded Orange Creamsicle that is only 70 calories per popsicle and that is what dreams are made of.  Also they have an exclusive brand of ice cream called It’s Your Churn and the Extreme Moose Tracks may be the best store bought ice cream on the planet.  

Final Score – 7.25/10

The Final Standings

Here are the final standings.  I know you all have your own rankings with stories from each and irrational reasons why you hate some and like others and that is what we like to call being an adult. 

AmbianceProduceFood SelectionWild CardAvg
Wal Mart13934
Albertsons13684.5
Target62474.75
Kroger34855
Costco63575.25
Sprouts79435.75
Traders Joe94386
Whole Foods99456.75
Hy Vee86877.25

This Post Has 15 Comments

  1. Emily Lopez

    This article was def worth the read it made me laugh, thank you for the recipes and newsletters!

    1. Josh Cortis

      I appreciate your support and happy to hear you enjoy 🤠

  2. Mary Perhai

    Thoroughly enjoyed this. Your grocery store humor is top notch 👏🏼 Would love to hear your thoughts on Aldi if you have been there…I am not as cultured as you in the realm of grocery store exploration but Aldi is a fave. As I am less experienced, I greatly appreciate the way it leads me through each aisle so I *usually* don’t miss anything. But I also eat mostly the same things all the time and don’t need specialty ingredients often. So I don’t predict they would score very high on your food selection criterion. Great read Josh, always love your meal ideas and blunt opinions ✌🏼

    1. Josh Cortis

      I’ve actually never shopped at Aldi. I’ve walked through a couple of times but haven’t bought anything so it’s hard to give an opinion on it. I would assume I would rank it similar to Traders Joe considering they are owned by Aldi 👍👍

  3. Rachael

    You need to make your way a little more South/deeper into Texas and try HEB. 😂

  4. Jo

    The sushi and poke bowls at Sprouts are a 10/10 wild card for me! Loved the article, excited to see what’s next!

  5. Joscelyn

    I live in DFW and have never gone to a Trader Joe’s but because of my obsession with sour patch kids and you claiming their Scandinavian Swimmers are better than SPK I’m gonna have to go. Still shopping at Walmart though. 🤪 Thanks for the laughs while reading this and your amazing recipes.

    1. Josh Cortis

      Sour Patch Kids are good but the Swimmers are bigger and gummier and i like that

  6. Tyler H.

    Love this article, very entertaining and it’s interesting to hear your thoughts on different stores. Keep up the good work 😁🤘🏻

  7. Amalia

    You’re a great writer! In my area my choices are Wal-Mart (no go for me), Piggly Wiggly, and Aldi. Nonetheless, I enjoyed your article a lot.

  8. Josie Klosterman

    I just can’t believe how many times poop came up in your grocery shopping experiences lol

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