Monday, May 14, 2007

from DCFUD - Review of Bloom

Come in, shop happy! After spending the past few weeks trying to get their too-catchy-to-be-ignored, too-kitchy-to-be-respected reworking of the Partridge Family's "Come On, Get Happy" removed from my conscious, I finally broke down and went into a Bloom grocery store. Since it was Mother's Day, it only seemed fitting for the Five Paragraph Bitter Food Mother to tag along as well. After a relaxing day of pancakes in Rockville and coffee in Frederick, we spotted a couple of Blooms, and the two of us went in to see if the most annoying commercial song since "Empire Today" was worth the pain. We didn't see any choreographed dancers, and no background music, but we did find a lot to like about the store.

From the folks who brought you Food Lion, Bloom's goal is to concentrate on freshness, offering an easy-to-shop, upscale layout. To call Bloom upscale, though, is a bit of a misnomer - this is not even close to the gourmet mass of Wegman's, or the organic sensibilities of Whole Foods - though it is better looking and better stocked than parent Food Lion. The store offers a good-sized prepared foods section for the busy shopper on the go. The basics - chicken, ribs, cold cut sandwiches, mac & cheese - are next to the more sophisticated - paninis, salads, sushi - are all displayed next to a nice, if not spectacular, deli. The bakery is loaded with surprises, featuring dozens of muffins, breads, cookies, no-bakes and fudges. The 5PBFM was shocked to see potato candy, a beloved fixture of her youth, made fresh in the store.

The produce section shines with a dazzling array of vegetables and fruits, many from local suppliers, arranged in well-labeled bins. Nearly a dozen different types of apples sit near such oddities like brocoflour, and a mix-and-match area of chili peppers. The whole produce area is washed in a Rainforest Cafe'- inspired environment. The walls shimmer with lighting effects, and small speakers pipe in the sounds of nature. It's supposed to give the effect of getting the produce straight from the farm, but the constant sound and impression of water just triggered my bladder response. Wisely, there's a clean restroom right around the corner. Apparently, I'm not the only one susceptible to such stimuli.

The meat section was pretty typical, with prices about 80% of Harris-Teeter, 90% of what Giant and Safeway offers, and roughly the same as Shopper's and Magruders. The seafood section was nicely stocked, again at 90% of Giant and Safeway prices, but with a higher quality and better selection than the typical Shopper's. The wine and beer sections were quite large, with special end-caps for local vineyards and breweries - apparently Bloom is trying to be a good corporate neighbor. The international sections were solid, and the baking supplies section showed their Southern roots with all sorts of fillings, chips, glazes and sweeteners. The spice section was as loaded as any store I've seen, and barbecue fans will love the range of sauces, rubs and supplies.

Basically, Bloom is a cleaner, newer Food Lion. It has some great touches - portable price scanners, online shopping lists, hand sanitizers for the grocery carts, recipe stations - that other stores will no doubt incorporate. Those who view Club Discount Cards like John Goodman views salad will like Bloom's lack of of them. Buy One, Get One Free discounts and savings are open to all shoppers. The store has some drawbacks, though. The low aisle height makes the bellowing of screaming children reverberate in the store like The Three Tenors in a shower stall. In an odd design twist, the store aisles are mostly run north-south, and then several turn 90 degrees, creating plenty of hot cart-on-cart collisions. Plus, Bloom seems to view The Beltway as its 38th Parallel, refusing to enter the urban landscape as the closest stores are in Rockville, Accoceek, Laurel, Fairfax and Chantilly. However, given the amount of advertising they're spending on the market, I can't imagine it won't be much longer before those of us inside 495 will be wandering the aisles, trying to get that damned song out of our collective head. Come in, shop happy... *grumble*

Bloom earns 7 out of 10 possible Whammies!; a solidly above-average score for being a solidly above-average grocery store. It's clean, reasonably priced, great produce section, and it's got some nice consumer touches. It's also not nearly as upscale as its marketing would lead you to believe, and it doesn't have the large amount of loss leaders that smart shoppers know to target. It's not worth the drive like a Wegman's or a sweaty Metro haul like Whole Foods, but it's definitely a nice touch for our ex-urban neighbors, and should provide a real challenge to established chains like Safeway and Giant in the region.

1 comment:

Jan Louis said...

Just last Sunday I **FINALLY** visited a WEGMANS.... It was WAAAYYY to much to take in... Need to... go... again......