By Rachael McMillan
Some days I actually wish we had fewer grocery options in Champaign-Urbana. The fact is, however, that we are lucky to have a variety of places to purchase foodstuffs, and you are sure to find one (or probably several) to fit your family’s tastes and budget.
By category, here are the places to try for your next cartful. Insider tips are given when possible:
Local, Organic, and Sustainable Foods
If these are your mainstay, you’ve picked a GREAT area to live in. 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.
Of course, Wal-Mart has several area locations, and there is a Sam’s Club as well. Regional superstore Mejier is a great alternative, especially if fresh produce is a major love of yours. Signing up for their mPerks program will enable you to clip store-specific coupons online which you can redeem at checkout.
The Champaign Target has (relatively) recently undergone a transformation and includes some fresh and frozen groceries. They carry some niche brands you might not find at other stores, and their prices are competitive.
County Market and Schnucks are our regional chain grocers. Of course the two brands do things a little differently, but every specific store in a each chain is a little different from the others. You might want to wander through them all to see which one suits you best.
One thing to keep in mind: Schnucks’ new weekly ads come out on Wednesday, not Sunday. Look for double and triple coupon specials, which (as far as I know), only Schnucks does.
Also, at County Market, you can sometimes get a special coupon booklet at the Customer Service desk. Sign up for a Max Card, and you’ll definitely get the coupon booklet in the mail.
Two Aldi locations–one in Champaign, and one in Urbana–appeal to the eco conscious and budget minded alike. Aldi is famous for its speedy checkout process and “you buy it, you bag it” policy.
This piece of advice comes from experience: if you’ve always assumed Aldi isn’t your kind of store, consider giving it a try. They carry very few national brands, but their version of popular convenience foods pass the taste test with mostly flying colors (I can personally vouch for their take on Nutella). Plus, you can always expect to find a few delightful gourmet items mixed in with more popular eats. They also offer a modest (but solid) selection of beer and wine.
New to town is Ruler Foods, which I have yet to visit but am told operates in a fashion similar to Aldi, so be sure to bring your own bags. They are affiliated with the Kroger chain of stores and carry mostly the Kroger generic brand.
There are a few major players in this category, and many smaller mom-and-pop shops. My advice? Find the ethnic grocer nearest you and give it a try–likely, you’ll find something delightful.
First is the granddaddy of them all: World Harvest International and Gourmet Foods. Now, C-U has its share of Latin American and Asian grocers, but for the cuisine of probably every other country in the world, you’ll want to try World Harvest (which definitely has its share of Latin and Asian foods as well). They also carry a good selection of locally-made fare such as bread, honey, toffee, and cheese (speaking of which, their cheese selection is one of the best in town). Also, in the past few years, World Harvest has nearly doubled the size of its store, adding an extensive selection of frozen foods to their offerings.
AMKO Oriental Foods and Gifts is probably the reigning champ in the Asian grocery category. It is to my shame that I have never actually shopped there. Please, don’t live with the regret I’m feeling right now; try AMKO this week.
Likewise, if the number of Yelp reviews are any indication, El Charro wins the popularity vote in the Latin American grocery category (specifically, they identify themselves as a Mexican grocer). It’s also the only one of these I’ve visited, and I can vouch that their ready-to-eat foods are worth a visit all by themselves.
Here are some other specialty grocers, with links to more information:
Latin American goods
Did we leave your favorite shopping spot off the list? Let us know in the comments!
Rachael McMillan teaches sixth and seventh grade history at Campus Middle School for Girls. She also tutors at The Reading Group and serves as the education coordinator for Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade retailer in downtown Champaign. She is totally in love with her Chambana life, which she shares with husband Scott, third grader Jack, second grader Kate, and super smiley baby William.