Susan absolutely loves the novelty of food shopping when we visit the UK, and we often hear how much our UK visitors love the American supermarket experience when they visit Orlando. Grocery stores here are large, aisles are wide, the selection is often bewilderingly huge and there is plenty of staff on hand to help you find items. In addition, car parks are enormous (and free).
Then there are the small differences, such as carts (trolleys) that only roll forward and backward, cashiers that aren’t allowed to sit while serving, and there is always an attendant to bag up your groceries. Some even bring them to your car and load them up for you.
In the land that thrives on variety, grocery stores are not immune. Orlando boasts 5 distinct grocers, each with their strong points and weak points, and we’re going to help you find the one that will become your new favourite.
Publix is the big dog when it comes to Florida grocery stores, and the convenience of finding one is a big draw. It’s a mass-market choice, with friendly staff and slick marketing.
Strong Points: Publix has nearly everything you need under one roof. They carry national brands, some organic foods, beer and wine (no spirits), and a pharmacy. They also have a small section of international items, including a selection of British goods.
Weak Points: Publix major weak points are its produce and fresh foods. Too often, fruits and vegetables go bad within a few days, or are rotten inside when you purchase them. While they will refund money for spoilt produce, it’s a pain to have to return it and take a chance that the next lot will be okay. Meats, especially steak, are of lesser quality than the price might indicate, and everyday items are more costly than the same items at other stores. A small number of weekly Two-For-One items may help offset the higher price point.
Conclusion: Exceptionally convenient, but with lower quality fresh foods and a higher price point.
Winn-Dixie is Florida’s other major supermarket, with an emphasis on tourist-oriented goods.
Strong Points: Less expensive than Publix, with a greater focus on pre-made meals and international foods, which appeal to many tourists. One of the big draws here are their prices on sale items, which can be significant.
Weak Points: Similar to the grocery section at WalMart, quality can be lacking, especially in the produce department. Many items are “home brand” and generics, which keeps costs down but can be somewhat confusing when you’re not entirely sure what you’re getting, as you may be with national brands. Although stores are clean, there is a distinctly “tired” feel about them.
Whole Foods Market
Into organic foods, natural medicines, and health-conscious brands? You’ll find them here in far greater abundance than at the major supermarkets. Stores are clean, bright and appealing, and if you bring reusable grocery bags you can donate ten cents per bag to a local charity or have it credited to your bill.
Strong Points: If you’re used to clean-eating, keto or other speciality diet, gluten-free, or foods without hormones or antibiotics at home, this is the place for you. Their fish counter and cheese selection are superb, the bakery is huge, and another big plus are the massive prepared-foods steam tables, where you can choose pre-made hot and cold items from several different cuisines, such as Mexican, Indian, and American Southern foods. Watch for daily specials at the in-store Wine & Beer Bar (we’re big fans of Beer and a Burger and every-day Happy Hour from 4pm-7pm).
Weak Points: Whole Foods price point is noticeably higher than at a supermarket. That said, as a general rule the quality is higher, too, especially for fresh foods.
Conclusion: Great choice for fresh, healthy foods and ready-made meals. If your primary focus is basic canned or frozen foods, you’ll do better elsewhere.
We’re in gourmet shopping territory now, but we routinely visit Fresh Market when we’re looking for something a bit special.
Strong Points:Excellent fresh meat, seafood and fish counter, fabulous bakery, and a large variety of gourmet items. Need truffle butter, corn husks for tamales, or five kinds of mushrooms? Shop here.
Weak Points: Prices reflect the gourmet nature of the market.
Conclusion: It’s going to cost you, but if you’re a serious foodie it’s probably worth it.
Lucky’s is the newcomer to Orlando’s tourist area, though it’s well-known throughout Florida and elsewhere. It’s a rare eco- and community-conscious vendor, it carries the best produce we’ve found in Orlando, and its bacon, smoked in-house, is legendary.
Strong Points:Sip And Stroll! Okay, so it’s nice to have a glass of beer or wine to enjoy while you shop, and we’re never against a great Ramen Bar and hand-rolled sushi, but the serious strong points here are its superb fresh produce, terrific meats, fish and seafood, and its prices. Like Whole Foods, there is a strong emphasis on healthier foods, including their pre-made meal kits. Lucky’s is also extremely community-orientated, which comes through in the number of locally produced items they carry and the amount of money that gets donated to local charities when you purchase their “home brand” items or donate your ten cents per bag when you bring reusable bags.
Weak Points: When it comes to food and pricing, we’re struggling to find a weak point. However, the emphasis here is primarily on comestibles, and while you’ll find a few eco-friendly paper products, the selection is small. You’ll probably want to get items such as paper towel, toilet paper, and food wraps or sandwich bags elsewhere.
Conclusion: Lucky’s has become our favourite place to shop, for its fresh produce, meats and seafoods, local products, and overall value for money.
As a reward for having made it through 5 grocery stores, we’re going to let you in on the absolute best place to purchase the beer, wine or spirits you’ll have with the great meals you’re going to make. Total Wine, in the shopping plaza across from Mall at Millenia, is the locals’ choice for its warehouse-sized selection of alcoholic beverages at the best prices you’ll find, bar none (okay, maybe you’ll find a few cents off at Lucky’s Market during a sale). If you enjoy a drink with lunch or dinner, or while watching the sun set on another fantastic day in Orlando, make Total Wine one of your first stops. Cheers!
[Note: Our opinions are based on 15 years of shopping at each of these stores, and are not based on polling or scientific research!]