Your Food: Fresh, Fresher and Fresh Out

“Everybody’s gotta eat.” So grocery stores are one of the most recession-proof businesses- but also one of the most competitive.

groceryshopping-copy.jpgHere in CNY, the Wegmans chain has upped the ante by leaving the competition in the dust when it comes to dazzling shoppers (see the current build-out of the already massive DeWitt/Fayetteville store on Route 5), and selling them things they didn’t know they needed or wanted. Asian stir-fry dinners? Buy their ingredients and invest your time to do it on the relative cheap, or open your wallet and pay them $7 a pound to buy the dish as a takeout item. They’ve got your business, either way.

The nearest competition- and it’s not all that near- is P&C, still struggling back from its second recent bankruptcy. Storefront columnist Bob Niedt, who’s made a career of looking over shoppers’ and merchants’ shoulders, writes in today’s Post Standard that P&C is beginning a second iteration of its Fresh Market concept with a makeover of its Cazenovia store. Maybe that’s a good place to start, since it’s a good economic cross-section: Owners of luxurious lakeshore homes shopping cheek-by-jowl with rural types of more modest income.

What will a do-over of “Fresh” get P&C? It’s hard to say. In marketing terms, it’s about the most appealing word you can apply to all foods. But will P&C’s food really be “fresher” than Wegmans, or Price Chopper, or whoever? From personal observation, all the regional stores could stand to have some fresher produce items. When you reach for a bag of salad greens and see that they’re “Best If Sold By” tomorrow’s date, that’s a problem. Or, if the store simply doesn’t have what you want.

Quick story: a couple of weeks ago, we had an urge to whip up a time-tested recipe for Pizza Margherita, which calls for fresh basil. Two P&C stores were “on the way home” from errands and a Sunday drive, including one of the company’s biggest markets, at Fayetteville Towne Center. Neither had any fresh basil, and so we were off to Wegmans. Moral: it doesn’t help you to be “fresh,” if you’re found to be fresh out.

Sunday Bonus: That Pizza Margherita recipe, originated and still being served by Vincent Scotto at his restaurant in New York City. Tip: Give the crusts a quick blast on a grill pan indoors first, if you decide to cook them on an outdoor grill- much less messy. The results are really tasty.

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