When it comes to grocery shopping, the Champaign-Urbana area has a lot of options. There’s stores that focus on sourcing local ingredients; there’s other stores that focus on value. There are national chains, regional chains, and local homegrown stores. Organics, gluten free, kosher; there are resources for all kinds of eaters. And a healthy ethnic grocery shopping presence, with everything from Mexican groceries to Indian to Korean to Chinese, reflects the diversity in our community.
While most of us have our regular shopping spots, I know very few people who only shop at one place. That’s why we decided to map out some of the unique things offered at local grocery stores. We’re focusing this exercise on bricks-and-mortar stores; if you’re looking for Champaign-Urbana area Farmers Markets, visit our guide. We also have a guide to where to buy from local farmers, directly (eggs and meats in particular).
Here’s a short list of tips we have for how to get the most out of the grocery stores in the Champaign-Urbana area:
1) Shop with your kids? Several stores offer fresh fruit for kids to eat while they shop. FREE! Thanks to our local stores – Harvest Market, Schnucks, Common Ground Co-Op – for leading the way in this effort to get kids to eat healthy.
2) Curbside Pick Up is the latest trend to hit grocery. Currently, the only grocery store offering Curbside service is Meijer, which has it at both Champaign and Urbana stores. For other parenting hacks at grocery stores in the area, read this post.
3) Sweet Treats. Not that you want to load up your little ones with cookies before dinner, but sometimes you just need to get through the grocery store. Schnucks offers free cookies for kids ages 12 and under. So does Meijer and Mahomet IGA. The deli at Mahomet IGA also serves up ice cream.
4) Salad bar. For top salad bars in the area, head to Schnucks (all locations) or Harvest Market have an amazing salad bar. Fruits, veggies, cold salads, proteins- you name it, they’ve got it. The Schnucks in Savoy also has an olive bar. Hot soups are usually on the menu as well.
5) Kid-friendly fun. Looking for a kid-friendly cart to entice your child to sit back and enjoy the ride? The car carts at Schnuck’s in Champaign are the answer to your prayers. Mahomet IGA also has miniature carts for kids to push around as does the County Market in west Champaign (Duncan/Kirby). Just keep an eye on what your kids are putting in there! Both Meijer stores offer the free “horse” ride, Sandy, which can be a great “bribe” for good behavior.
6) Delivery service. No time to shop in the store? Order your groceries online and have them delivered with Schnucks Delivers. The Champaign store will deliver to residents in Champaign, Urbana and Savoy.
7) Four letters: A-L-D-I. Two Aldi locations–one in Champaign, and one in Urbana–appeal to the eco-conscious and budget-minded alike. Recently, our readers RAVED about Aldi produce in an informal Facebook poll. You can’t find better prices around for milk and eggs. Aldi is famous for its speedy checkout process and “you buy it, you bag it” policy. The store offers many organic options, alcohol, and even some gourmet fare. A third Aldi location will be opening up in soon in Savoy.
8) Local, Organic, and Sustainable Foods. Common Ground Co-Op and Strawberry Fields are both purveyors of the good stuff. Common Ground is decidedly the larger of the two, with a full-service deli, salad bar, and selection of fresh meat (bonus: they sell booze!). Strawberry Fields specializes in vitamins and other health-related goods, and recently consolidated with World Harvest, adding more international specialties to the mix.
9) Wine! In addition to groceries, Harvest Market boasts a restaurant, coffee shop, cooking classes, and a bar. Wait, what? Yes, Harvest Market serves wine so you can order a glass and relax before or after you shop. You can also break open some wine by the glass at Art Mart in Champaign. We also like the wine selection at Schnucks when we don’t have time to go to a specialty store such as Sun Singer. For more on where to get a glass of wine in Champaign-Urbana, view our favorites here.
10) Open all night. Are you a night owl who prefers to stay away from crowds? Or perhaps you have an early riser? Do your grocery shopping while most people are home asleep. The Urbana Schnucks is open 24 hours along with Walmart in Urbana and Savoy, and Meijer locations in Champaign and Urbana.
11) All about Sushi. If fresh sushi is your thing, check out Harvest Market, Meijer, Schnucks, and Mahomet IGA. If you’ve got time, you can even watch the guys at Mahomet IGA roll up the sushi behind the counter.
12) Attention Kroger fans. No, we’re not going to announce that Kroger is coming back to Champaign, where it had a presence way back when. But if you need a Kroger fix – and you’re a fan of the store brand – go to discounter Ruler Foods in Champaign, where they sell Kroger store-brand groceries. (If you’re craving a full-fledged Kroger experience, you can drive to Decatur or Kankakee. Really. They are that close).
13) Ethnic and international grocery stores are abundant. Want specialty ingredients for that favorite Mexican, Asian, or Indian dish? Need banana leaves, or durian, or moon cake? Check out stores including Annapoorna (Indian), Amko (Asian) and El Progreso (Mexican).
14) Meat specialties. If you want local meat and like to laugh, check out the University of Illinois Meat Sales Room (note the limited hours), described by a reader as “excellent and cost-effective.” Old Time Meat and Deli on South Neil Street is a favorite too, “nice fresh cuts of meat. You can buy things in bulk and they frequently have sales.”
15) Buy in bulk. Everyone knows that Sam’s Club is the only “membership warehouse” in town (hey Costco, we see you in Peoria, come on over). But Gordon Food Service (GFS) Stores scores major points with our readers, and there is no membership required. It’s located in Champaign on Town Center Drive.
What tips would you add?