Wednesday, March 25, 2009

First impressions at Fairway Market in N.J.

The debut of New York's Fairway Market in Paramus was messy, at least when I was there before 2 p.m. Wednesday.

At the Whole Foods Market opening last week, just a few miles away, the store ran out of carts. There were plenty of carts at Fairway, but that proved to be a problem as shoppers struggled to maneuver through the store, often encountering gridlock or getting rear-ended by another shopper. Apologies were profuse.

A newspaper ad promised food samples and music, but none of that was in evidence. There also was a raffle being conducted but I never encountered any entry forms. Check out took a long time and the woman bagging my food just threw the items into my reusable bags. The checkout counter itself was dirty.

Fairway's owners say their store is a cross between Whole Foods and ShopRite, with prices at or below those supermarkets. I didn't have the luxury of looking at all prices, but a half-gallon of Tropicana orange juice was priced at $3.69 in Fairway; I purchased one last week at Whole Foods for $3. I saw organic pork chops at Fairway for $5.99 a pound, $1 dollar under the normal price for drug-free pork chops at Whole Foods that were on sale for $4.99 a pound last week.

The best deal at Fairway that I saw were the wild-caught domestic "jumbo" shrimp for $5.99 a pound; I bought two pounds-plus. Mexican asparagus were $1.49 a pound. Murray's antibiotic-free, free-roaming chicken was under $2 a pound for leg quarters, thighs and drumsticks with the skin on; my friend, Jay, complained that his wife Sue paid $3.49 a pound for drug-free thighs at Whole Foods. I also got two pounds of Fairway coffee beans, ground to my order, for $6.99 and $6.49 a pound (and an argument from the employee on how to spell Habanero; Fairway spells it Havanero).

There has been a lot of discussion of how Fairway, Whole Foods and ShopRite compare, but no one is talking about the great food and prices at Costco in Hackensack, where I shop once a week. I didn't get a chance to see if Fairway had smoked, preservative-free wild salmon, but I doubt that store could beat Costco's price, under $14 a pound. The organic salad mix at Costco ($4.49 a pound) is $1.50 cheaper than the non-organic mix I saw at Fairway.

Costco also has great 100-percent and organic juices at prices lower than I've seen elsewhere; fresh wild salmon for about six months of the year at around $8.99 a pound; drug-free chicken sausage; herbicide-free tomatoes, free-range Australian lamb and many other items. Where Costco lags is in not offering much organic poultry. I once bought organic ground beef for around $4.99 a pound, but the store had discontinued it when I returned for more several weeks later. (Corrected April 1, 2009)

I've shopped in Fairway's Harlem store since it opened, stopping there almost every time I was in the city. I'm glad Fairway is now in New Jersey, after years of delay, but it's new home is in my least favorite mall, the Fashion Center, which is difficult to get into and out of. Whole Foods is much closer to my home and it has superb seafood and a much wider selection of drug-free poultry and meat.

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