We Break Down the Champaign-Urbana Grocery Store Scene
By Emily Harrington
When it comes to grocery shopping, the Champaign-Urbana area has a lot of options. There are stores that focus on sourcing local ingredients, there are other stores that focus on value. There are national chains, regional chains and local stores. Organics, gluten free, kosher — there are resources for all kinds of eaters. And a robust ethnic grocery shopping presence, too. Many grocery stores sell ingredients from China, India, Korea, Mexico. These offerings reflect 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 about our local grocery stores. We’re focusing this exercise on brick-and-mortar stores.
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:
- Shop with your kids? Several stores offer fresh fruit. FREE! Thanks to Common Ground Co-Op, Harvest Market and Schnucks for leading this healthy initiative.
- Alternatively, some grocers offer sweet treats. Let’s face it. Sometimes you just need to get through the grocery store. My littlest one can’t even see the Schnucks marquee without yelling, “COOKIE!” (They are the best sugar cookies, too.) Mahomet IGA and Meijer offer free cookies, too. (You need to be 11 and younger for Schnucks, and you need to be 10 and younger for IGA.)
- You don’t even really need to go inside a grocery store anymore! At this time, every major grocer in our area is offering delivery and/or curbside options.
- For prepared foods: There are great salad bars at Schnucks and Harvest Market. Cold salads, proteins, soups, veggies — you name it, they’ve got it. The Schnucks in Savoy also has an olive bar. As for hot food, County Market’s fried chicken and Harvest Market’s sushi is highly rated among locals. If you’ve got time, you can even watch the guys at Mahomet IGA roll up the sushi behind the counter.
- Kid-friendly fun. County Market in west Champaign (Duncan/Kirby), Mahomet IGA and Schnucks have miniature carts for kids to push around. Both Meijer stores offer the free “horse” ride, Sandy, which can be a great bribe.
- Schnucks stuff. I am biased. Schnucks in Savoy is my grocer of choice. They are just so family friendly. In addition to the cookies and fruit, there are lots of other free edibles. Get free popcorn on Fridays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Get free hot dogs on Sundays from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. They often have free samples on Saturdays, too. AND on Saturday mornings you can decorate sugar cookies until they run out.They have coffee all day, every day! You’ll also see the Easter bunny and Santa Claus there on their respective holidays. Who needs the mall? The cashiers will often give your kiddos an “I’m a Schnucks Kid” sticker!
- Four letters: A-L-D-I. We now have three Aldi locations – one each in Champaign, Urbana and Savoy. All appeal to the budget-minded consumers. You can’t find better prices around for milk and eggs. Aldi is famous for its speedy checkout process, and it has a “you buy it, you bag it” policy. The store offers many organic options, alcohol and even some gourmet fare.
- 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.
- 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 wine by the glass at Art Mart in Champaign. We also like the wine selection at Schnucks. If you get six bottles there, you get 10 percent off the lot. And you get to use a cute carrier. If you have a few minutes to really browse, visit a specialty store such as Sun Singer. Or, get it delivered! For more on where to get a glass of wine in Champaign-Urbana, view our favorites here.
- Open all night. Are you a night owl? Do you prefer to stay away from crowds? Or perhaps you have an early riser? Do your grocery shopping while most people are asleep. The Urbana Schnucks is open 24 hours. The Walmart stores in Urbana and Savoy and the Meijer locations in Champaign and Urbana area also open 24/7.
- Reward programs. Each and every major grocer has a key chain card or app that will save you big bucks. Also, electronic or paper coupons are available in circulars and/or emails/apps. Sign up to save!
- 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. However, 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.
- Ethnic and international grocery stores are abundant. Want specialty ingredients for that favorite Asian, Indian, or Mexican dish? Need banana leaves, or durian, or moon cake? Check out stores including Amko Oriental Foods and Gifts and Green Onion Asian Market (Asian), Annapoorna Stores (Indian) and El Progreso International Market (Mexican).
- Meat specialties. If you want local meat and like to laugh, check out the University of Illinois Meat Sales Room (note the limited hours and Best Kept Secret), 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.”
- Buy in bulk. Everyone knows that Sam’s Club is the only “membership warehouse” in town (until Costco finishes its arrival at Market Place Shopping Center). But Gordon Food Service (GFS) Store scores major points with our readers, and there is no membership required.
Emily Harrington is a Chambana townie. She left her 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. job in communications so that she could be a 24/7 mom to two busy boys. Still interested in writing, Emily uses some of naptime to practice her passion and keep her mind right. Emily is a happy wife with a happy life because she fell for a fellow townie. Emily usually finds herself engulfed in balls, blue and belly laughs.