Of changing grocery store markets and food abundance or food deserts

Three decades ago, the Chicago area grocery market was very different:

Photo by Angele J on Pexels.com

For years, Chicago was largely a two-grocery town: as recently as the late 1990s, Jewel and its No. 2 rival at the time, Dominick’s, controlled two-thirds of the local grocery market.

Times have changed:

But the grocery landscape in 2022 is vastly different. Dominick’s has been gone for nearly a decade, while Jewel and 21st-century rival Mariano’s face increased competition from major retailers such as Walmart, Costco and Amazon Fresh as well as specialty grocers, including Trader Joe’s and the Amazon-owned Whole Foods.

Jewel is still the most-commonly cited grocery-shopping destination for Chicago-area families, according to Nielsen data, but Aldi is nipping at its heels, having transformed itself from the stock-up store of the 1990s. Throw in a handful of online delivery startups that popped up during the pandemic and shoppers have more options than ever, squeezing Jewel from all sides.

Yet, newer grocery stores that once signaled hope are changing locations too:

The Whole Foods that opened in Englewood six years ago to live music, TV-ready politicians and out-the-door lines will close Sunday with little fanfare…

The city spent $10.7 million to subsidize the construction of the shopping center in which the store is located. When Whole Foods announced the 832 W. 63rd St. location’s closure in April, local activists said they felt betrayed, adding that the shuttering would limit access to fresh and healthy food in the neighborhood.

The company closed five other stores across the country “to position Whole Foods Market for long-term success” at the time, including a location near DePaul. It also opened an almost 66,000-square foot location in the Near North neighborhood the same week.

Few grocery options remain in the neighborhood. The handful of grocery stores remaining include a location for low-budget grocer Aldi close by and the smaller “Go Green Community Fresh Market” run by the nonprofit Inner-City Muslim Action Network. Another nearby Aldi in Auburn Gresham abruptly closed in June.

This highlights how much change can come to an essential market in a relatively short amount of time. New actors, new methods, new contexts.

The issue of food deserts was commonly discussed not too long ago but is not mentioned in this second article. However, these two articles highlight ongoing patterns even as the stores and brands change: some places have plenty of grocery stores (with Jewel and Mariano’s locations nearby) while others are not attractive to companies and residents have to search harder and further for food options.

Does this rapid pace of change suggest grocery stores will be quite different still in a few years? Can we imagine delivery only or virtual reality grocery shopping?

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