Tourists in aisle three

Folks flocking to Boulder for the mountains, craft beer, pot ... and groceries

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Jorge Sanchez, grocery specialist at Ideal Market.
Susan France

Boulder is clearly a magnet for tourists. Some come for the weather, the activities and the yoga pants. Others are clearly drawn by Boulder’s epic craft brew and recreational cannabis scene.

More are here for the food. Boulder has become a legit dining destination instead of a flyover. Think Frasca Food and Wine, The Kitchen. Black Cat Bistro, Blackbelly, Basta and other culinary hot spots helmed by highly regarded chefs.

The surprising ones visit Boulder in order to go grocery shopping for hours on end. Seriously, amateur and professional supermarket tourists are a real thing. I know because sometimes I’m the one leading them on tours. It’s not a paying job. I just end up touring gaggles of foodies, food journalists and food industry folks who are here on vacation, for conventions or to simply do retail espionage for their own culinary enterprises.

For them, Boulder is THE place to find out what’s coming next in the food business. This is the Silicon Valley of the natural and organic foods industry, not to mention the epicenter of fast casual cuisine. It’s also one of the most competitive food retailing environments in the country with 17 local, Colorado and national supermarkets selling food and a lifestyle to a city of only about 105,000 residents.

Andy Gardner, assistant store director at Lucky’s Market’s new location in South Boulder, displays his affection for food shopping
Andy Gardner, assistant store director at Lucky’s Market’s new location in South Boulder, displays his affection for food shopping

There are three Whole Foods Market locations including Ideal Market and two Sprouts Farmers Market stores, and one store each for Trader Joe’s, Alfalfa’s Market, Natural Grocers/ Vitamin Cottage and Wal-Mart Neighborhood Market. You can choose from three Safeways and three King Soopers locations (if you include Gunbarrel). And Boulder now has two Lucky’s Market locations with the opening of a second store this week at Table Mesa Shopping Center.

That list leaves out the Boulder County Farmers’ Market, farm stands, neighborhood stores, ethnic shops like the Asian Seafood Market and India’s Grocery, specialty food markets like Cured, or the many unique grocers in surrounding towns.

What does all this mean for Joe and Jane Consumer living in Martin Acres? It means you are privileged to shop and eat here and feeding your family healthy food is incredibly easy. Plus, the supermarkets are doing everything but French kissing you at the front door to make you loyal to them. Me? I shop around and walk the aisles for exercise, research and horror at what’s available in Frozen Foods.

My grocery tours are often focused on natural and organic foods because even Safeway, Wal-Mart and King Soopers have substantial selections. I point out the plethora of great locally produced food products from the chilled, fermented foods and yogurt, to kids fare and pet supplies.

Among the things I’ve learned is that King Soopers is generally cheaper than Safeway. Lucky’s is less expensive than Alfalfa’s, which is cheaper than the big dog, Whole Food Market. Price isn’t everything. Alfalfa’s doubles down on “local.” Locally born Natural Grocers sells the fact that everything in the smallish stores is “safe” and they have the best supplement selection. Trader Joe’s stocks stuff nobody else has — cool foods you have to have but the quirky selection means you also have to shop at a regular grocery store.

Ironically, Alfalfa’s Market, which reopened in 2011, is now the only strictly locally owned supermarket in Boulder. Locally headquartered Lucky’s Market has expanded nationally with major investment from Kroger, the owner of King Soopers. We’ve seen this evolution before. Remember when White Wave, Izze Soda, Larabar and Justin’s Nut Butter were local?  Remember Wild Oats!

Boulder’s food scene will only get more interesting. Other supermarkets such as ALDI will open in Boulder and environs eventually because, frankly, this is the place.

P.S.: According to recent university research you are in the slowest line at the grocery store if there is only one line. Studies determined that a single line leading to multiple registers does not speed shoppers through as quickly as separate lines. The human factor wins out. Cashiers work faster when they feel personally responsible for moving the line along.

Tomato Orgy Time

Taste tomatoes to your heart’s content Saturday in Longmont.Kim Long
Taste tomatoes to your heart’s content Saturday in Longmont.

Think you know what a tomato tastes like? Prepare to be stunned by the diverse flavors, colors and aromas at two tomato-centric gatherings. You can cast a ballot in the Tomato Taste-Off featuring various varieties at Tomato Day 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at the Longmont Farmers’ Market, where Boulder County farmers are also invited to enter the Heaviest Tomato Contest. The Taste of Tomato on August 27 at Gateway Park Fun Center offers dozens of homegrown tomato varieties to taste. Details: harlequinsgardens.com.

Local Food News

Element Bistro featuring a rooftop dining area has opened in Gunbarrel at 6315 Lookout Road. … Blue Canyon Distillery in Mead has released Old Blue Straight Bourbon Whiskey. … The Louisville Homemade Pie Contest is Labor Day, Sept. 5, at Memory Square Park. To enter a pie: thehuckleberry.com

Taste of the Week

My twice-annual craving for a corned beef hash breakfast called for the real thing, not the canned variety. I found juicy, house-made corned beef with caramelized onions and potatoes at Lucky’s Cafe (near North Boulder’s Lucky’s Market). Add poached eggs, toast with jam and coffee, and I had a satisfied mouth for one morning.

Words to Chew On

“If you take a pint of rock-solid ice cream from the freezer and put it in the refrigerator, the temperature difference between the ice cream and the surrounding air will be much less than if you put it on the counter. This slows down the rate at which the ice cream gets warmer, allowing the entire pint to change temperature at a uniform rate. After an hour or so, the ice cream is at a perfect temperature throughout. Whereas, had the pint been left on the counter, the edges get melty first while the center stays solid.” —Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist

John Lehndorff hosts Radio Nibbles at 8:25 a.m. Thursdays on KGNU. Would you eat at a restaurant that bans cell phones? Comments to: Nibbles@BoulderWeekly.com.