Friday, March 13, 2015

A Look At What Just Sprouted on Yale

Arizona-based Sprouts Farmers Market opened it's new location on Yale this week. The store, just south of the I-10 feeder, announced their grand opening with a flyer celebrating their "Heights Location." Well, sort of. Regardless of their actual geography, the neighborhood has been buzzing about having an option closer and/or more affordable than Whole Foods, that isn't Kroger.

The first thing I noticed when I walked in is how small it is. When you compare it to any of the other supermarkets in the area, it's practically minuscule. Having never been to a Sprouts before, I am unsure if this was a choice specific to this location, or if all of their markets are roughly this size? It kind of reminded me of the conversation I had at holiday party once with a regional manager from Target. I mentioned I live in the Heights and he told me the Taylor location is the 2nd highest earning Target in greater Houston, with the first being a huge super store in Katy. Everyone at Target corporate was shocked when this came to be. It was largely because they built it based on the demographics from 2000, which didn't reflect any of the growth that had happened in the Heights or Washington corridor between the census and the development. This was why they didn't build it as a Super Target and subsequently reconfigured the space to cram food in there, as well as to bring in more merchandise across all departments. Knowing this story, I am left to wonder if Sprouts under-estimates how much business they will actually do, or if a smaller store is their m.o.?

Either way, the store size has its pros and cons. I like a smaller, easy to navigate store. I like to get in and out quickly and know where everything is. That said, inventory has to suffer based on space limitations. After my walk through and small shopping trip, I think this store will do very well and satisfy the needs of many in the communities around it. Here is a look inside the store at 195 Yale:

When you enter through the southern door, you will find a large vitamin/supplement section, plus some health and beauty. The north door takes you in to their bread and bakery section. It was small, yet solid; not overwhelming but you'll find most of what you want. Muffins and other breakfast pastries, breads ranging from Mrs Baird's White to Ezekiel Sprouted in your normal price ranges. Some pies and cookies, but not as much as you see at either WF or Kroger. There is also a large case of chilled, natural sodas for individual purchase here, in close proximity to the prepared foods.

The prepared foods case is small with mostly salads, but also some pasta casseroles and other items to bake that look suited for 1 very hungry or 2 not as hungry people. Not huge and probably best suited to "it's late and I need to grab anything for dinner" for my family.

When the Sprouts was first announced, everyone who had been in one before raved about their bulk selection and how it blows our usual supermarkets away. I rarely ever buy from bulk bins so I can't comment from experience, but they did have a nice selection and I bought yogurt covered raisins, happy to buy just as much as I think my five year old should have access to.

With two small kids at home, crackers are a staple. We love the Annie's bunnies and the Back to Nature version of wheat thins. The prices were comparable to Whole Foods and less than Kroger's natural foods section. However, if you want something like basic Triscuits or cheap saltines, you'll be out of luck at Sprouts.

Cereal was the same way. Lots of organic variety but no Cheerios.

Small "ethnic"selection of Asian and Latino pantry items.

There were definitely ample Gluten-Free options sprinkled through out the store, including several quinoa pastas. The overall pasta selection was small, but the sauce variety was surprisingly wide, with their house brand organic sauce on special for $2.00/jar. This is a great deal (as long as it tastes good, which I can't verify at this point). Even the regular price of $3.49 is good for a decent organic sauce.

Good dairy selection- plenty of yogurt and the basic sour cream/butter/cottage cheese. Mostly organic but they did also have some non-organic milk. Prices were normal, but specials were really good! Note that if you come in the south door (on your left when facing the store), and go straight back to dairy, you won't find cheese. The cheese selection, including slices, shredded, and blocks, is over by the bread department.

The produce was a sight to behold-- so pretty! Now, common sense might suggest to you that the store just opened, so of course the produce looked great. Those of us who went to the Broger on Studewood when it first opened know this isn't always the case though. You might remember, I found multiple bags of rotten lettuce on their first day open. Anyway, the produce at Sprouts looked gorgeous. Their veggies are everyday basics, not a lot of exotic or unusual items. I think for most people this is ok, but if you are, say, looking at a recipe that calls for something not-so-basic, you may want to save yourself two trips and head straight to Whole Foods or Central Market.

I neglected to scope out the percentage of organic versus conventional, so when my friend Kat went, she posted some pics on THL's Facebook page of the wide variety of organic veg, including this celery at an amazingly low price:

Thanks, Kat!

Wine and beer selection is very small, but there are at least a couple things any wine or beer snob can throw in their cart for dinner at home or to carry to a BYOB restaurant.

Meat case looked great. My husband is all about a variety of sausages, so this will please him.

Bacon, hotdogs, and other meats of that variety are pretty much all organic and uncured versions.

Meat loaf and stuffed peppers looked really good! Glad I saw these outside of the other prepared foods selection.

Fish looked nice. Cheaper than Whole Foods; not dried out and old-looking like Kroger's.


Cashiers were nice and helpful, although they did not know (or just didn't bother to) pack my cold items together and pack other like-items together. I worked at a grocery store in college and we were trained very specifically on how to bag. Because that  made me somewhat neurotic about bagging, I always put things on the belt in the order I prefer them bagged. Whole Foods always gets it right.  Kroger will put a bottle of bleach in with your produce and a half pint of ice cream with your dry goods. Like most other aspects of comparing the three, Sprouts still has some work to do, leaving them firmly in the middle. 

Generally, though, it was a very pleasant experience. Prices are average and the specials are really good. Sadly, I will still not be able to buy all the things my family eats on a weekly basis in one store. That said, I am glad this is here and can replace Kroger for a lot of the "I just need an onion, some milk, and tortillas" trips I find I take. And certainly there are a lot of people in and around the Heights who will welcome this as their new, primary food shopping destination. It's not an HEB, but it's something...

P.S. You can access their sale flyer and store coupons on their website.