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Rating the Best Supermarkets in Massachusetts

by Eric H., 

Going to the supermarket can be as annoying as the donkey in Shrek. Running kids, frantic adults, clueless people standing in the middle of the aisles with their shopping carts, cell phone addicts spilling out their meaningless life stories in front of everybody, and checkout people with odd body piercings and perspectives on life can make for a stressful time.

Fortunately, the local grocery stores have really stepped it up in the past several years (save the behavior of customers), creating wide, open indoor spaces, pleasing aesthetics, a better variety of food, and hiring people that most likely don't have police records. This upgrade can take away from some of the annoying "givens" in a market, and ultimately make for a more pleasant supermarket shopping experience.

All major chain markets have some exceptional to offer, so you will not find any overall negative ratings here.  They are listed in order of highest quality, however:

Roche Brothers  -- Roche Brothers offers a clean, attractive layout, highly-sought after quality specialty name brands and by far, the best hired help of any of the supermarkets. They almost always offer a pleasant hello and smile and even offer to take your groceries to the car -- without being patronizing.  They are truly nice people! Roche Brothers offers a great variety of Stonewall Kitchen products, locally-made and delicious When Pigs Fly  and Nashoba Bakery breads, New York City style Finnagle a Bagel bagels and fresh Foley Brothers seafood, to name a few.  It's really a pleasure finding these hard-to-find supermarket grocery products and being treated nicely.  There's also enough organic foods (particulary in the produce area) to construct a healthy eating week.

Big Y --  Big Y has the best produce, fish and meat sections (no signs of mold at all in the produce isle), as well as the most attractive supermarket layout.  In the Walpole supermarket location, for example, a beautiful tile floor and non-intrusive lighting make the beginning of the journey enjoyable (wonderful bread, deli, seafood and takeout areas).  There's even a moderate-sized dining area and free child care.  Big Y was a little slow to pick up on the organic foods, but has added quite a few items, as of late.  The meats are absolutely tops -- we recently had a t-bone steak that was more tender than most fine restaurants. Big Y also has neat gimmicks, like at the checkout counter where you can play a fake slot machine to win discounts on your food.

Hannaford --  Hannaford has the best grocery prices around, as well as more organic food choices than the competitors.  They even have health food store quality supplements like Rainbow Light, Twinlab, Spectrum and a vitamin line produced by the esteemed Megafood whole food supplement company, of Derry, NH. There's a terrific raw and roasted nuts/granola/trail mix bin area. Another plus is Hannaford is well stocked, so you'll usually be able to leave satisfied. The help is generally nice and professional and the overall look -- while not quite up to Roche Brothers and Big Y -- is well beyond the appearance of some pretty outdated chains outside the New England region (we were recently in Florida and felt trapped in the 1960s at a grocery chain).  We generally save $25.00 a week shopping the myriad specials and every day low prices at Hannaford, making it a frequent destination.

Stop and Shop -- Stop and Shop is a New England supermarket tradition. The chain seems to be well in tune with community involvement and the newer stores have a shopper- friendly layout that can not be explained in writing, but only experienced in person.  That said, Stop and Shop, at least in our region, needs to be better stocked.  Its pricing seems to be a bit higher than Hannaford's (evidenced by our receipts).  On the plus side, its Nature's Promise organic/natural foods brand is tremendous and includes deli meats (with no nitrates), regular meats including hot dogs, breads, condiments and dairy. The Nature's Promise Brand is enough to attract us to shopping here, as healthy eating is a priority in our home. While not quite up to the organic foods at Whole Foods Market, the growing Nature's Promise product line is the next best thing.

Shaw's -- Shaw's is similar to Stop and Shop, a long-time New England supermarket chain that assimilates well into  New England communities. Like Stop and Shop, they're not always well-stocked and the prices seem a bit higher than Hannaford.  On the plus side, Shaw's has been nicely remodeled and aside from the stocking issue has many great name-brands and unique items -- including organic foods -- to make Shaw's a legitimate place to grocery shop.


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