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Last updated: Fri. May. 09, 2014 - 06:30 am EDT

Earth Fare gives not-so-secret shopper a glimpse of organic food store

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What: Earth Fare, 704 E. Dupont Road

Hours: 8-9 p.m. Monday-Saturday; 9 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday.

Phone: 416-3550



I received the shock of my life last October when my doctor told me I had a great many environmental and food allergies. I spent weeks poring over information, trying to figure a way to minimize allergen intake and the resulting illness.

The most frustrating part was going to the grocery store. I found very few foods I could eat. Matter-of-fact, at some point during the day - every day - I usually ate foods that contained allergens. I still do. And I still get sick.

When I heard about Earth Fare opening in the old Scott's Foods building at Coldwater and Dupont roads, I became excited. Not that this store was going to be my cure-all. No store can do that for me. However, this store's philosophy is to bring organic and natural foods to its customers without artificial preservatives, without artificial fats and trans fats, without artificial color, without artificial sweeteners, without antibiotics and synthetic growth hormones in its meat, without artificial flavors, without bromated and bleached flour and without high fructose corn syrup.

I can tell you from all those labels I've read high fructose corn syrup is in practically every name brand package on the market in every grocery store from hot dogs to Mrs. Butterworth's syrup. Since I am allergic to it, I appreciate one slice of the market eliminating that ingredient from the food it sells.

I went on a secret shopper mission Thursday to see if and how much this store could benefit me allergy-wise. The secret shopper part didn't last too long, and I'll get to that part later. The store was just as active as opening day. I parked pretty far from the building and saw shoppers lined up at the side of the door, signing up for email coupons (coupons also can be texted) and picking up a reusable grocery bag.

There were a few carts available between the two sets of doors, and there were those big Del Monte pineapples that were advertised for free with a special coupon. I grabbed one and quickly put it in the cart.

Once inside the store, just to the right was the produce section and I picked up some cucumbers and a turnip. I did not pick up the biggest turnip in the bunch as they were huge. I noticed the Dole bananas and Driscoll raspberries. Otherwise, brand-name foods that I am used to seeing in other stores are very limited for obvious reasons.

The main aisles were jam-packed with shoppers. I had a fistful of coupons and the peanut butter, jelly, cookie and cracker aisle accounted for four of my five $1 off Earth Fare items. Everyone else had the same coupon, and our saving grace was the paper marker that identified the correct item.

Right off the bat, an employee walked down that aisle and offered me a cookie, but I said I had to look at the ingredients. The cookies had soy, so I could not try one, and made a mental note not to take any samples throughout the store because people were grabbing right and left for any free samples offered. The package of cookies was devoured immediately.

Besides the paper marker indicating coupon items, there were shelf stockers attempting to stock the much-sought-after advertised specials. One stocker basically handed the product to people, saving him the time to put it on the shelf and customers from having to bend down and pluck it off the shelf.

The employees were exuberant and helpful as I made my way through the aisles. I can't remember the number of times they asked me if I found everything OK.

I was pleasantly surprised Earth Fare Organic Golden Round Crackers contained no soy. Earth Fare sells foods containing soy, like soup, so reading labels is imperative.

I eat unsweetened applesauce every day, and I picked up a jar for the $1 off coupon. Usually the ingredients of the jars I buy read "apples, water and ascorbic acid." Not this applesauce. Under ingredients, it said "organic apples from fresh, whole, triple-washed, ripe organic apples." Yes, triple-washed.

I was just as surprised that Van's Natural Foods' Gluten-Free Cinnamon Heaven cereal contained no corn or nuts, to which I am allergic, because it seems all organic cereal manufacturers feel they should be added for flavor or crunch. I ate some cereal out of the package (milk allergies) when I got home, and it was pretty good. Kashi was prevalent in the cereal aisle as well. I was pleased to see gluten-free foods were clearly marked on the boxes.

I checked out the extensive supply of probiotics and vitamins in the back of the store. If I ever had a medical complaint, I'm sure I could find my cure right there on those shelves.

I found my way to the meat counter and picked up a couple pounds of fresh ground chuck for $5.49 a pound and four rib pork chops for $5.29 a pound. I didn't realize the pork chops were a Fare Deal special and saved an additional $1.77. There were so many things to look at or read that it was impossible to catch everything, or I should say almost everything.

As I wound around the olive and antipasti bar, I caught a glimpse of the salad bar, the deli and the hot food bar. As I tried to get pictures of the displayed food, an employee walked up to me and informed me I could not take pictures inside the store. If I needed a picture, I had to speak with Amanda from the marketing department who was outside the store.

Before I checked out, I had to conduct the tuna test. Normally, store-brand tuna contains soybeans, carrots and celery, and I've only been able to find one brand that actually contains tuna and water. Earth Fare sells Crown Prince, Wild Planet and Bumble Bee tuna, among others. No soybeans.

After I checked out, I stopped to see Amanda. She was very friendly as I 'fessed up. She approved my photos and asked me if I wanted to take any more. I said I wanted to get a shot of the hot food bar, and she took me back inside for another shot before I left.

It'll take more visits to get acclimated to the products, and I'll still have labels to read. I was impressed with what I read and saw so far, which gives people with multiple allergies some new food choices.

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