Where Gourmet Finds Are in Full 'Bloom'

I'm always in search of the ultimate grocery shopping experience. I find myself food shopping so many times a week, so why not make it pleasant? Which is why the television ads for Bloom, a food store owned by Food Lion that promises to be a "different kind of grocery store," caught my attention.

The ads show happy employees talking about all the store's features that will rid customers of their daily problems. In one ad, a woman depressed about the fact that she used to babysit her new boss is instantly comforted when she finds out that seafood is delivered to the store six days a week.

Food Lion used American and European studies to design the look and feel of Bloom, resulting in a store that intends to attract people who like gourmet and exotic foods, Bloom spokeswoman Karen Peterson told me. Food Lion, on the other hand, is designed to attract a more traditional grocery shopper. A typical Food Lion has about 28,000 products and Bloom has about 35,000.

"The market is changing significantly," said Peterson. "We have done a lot of segmentation work to identify who are our customers. Some people find the Bloom experience is more to what they're looking for."

Food Lion saw an eager shopper in the Washington area. Of the 61 Bloom stores, at least 40 of them are based in Maryland and Virginia, from Frederick to Fredericksburg.

The first thing I noticed about Bloom's Fairfax store was the short shelves. Peterson says they intentionally made all the shelves with the average shopper in mind, who is 5 foot 4 inches tall. I must admit, it's nice not to have to scale up rows of cereal or soup to reach that much-needed item.

The prices weren't bad either. In the prepared foods section, the store had packaged a roast beef and cheddar wrap with two chocolate chip cookies and a side of cole slaw for $5. There were store-made items like Italian-style wedding soup and "ragin' Cajun" gumbo that ranged from $3.49 to $5.99. You could also get a 12-ounce serving of baked ziti or chicken alfredo for $3.99, or mac and cheese for $2.99.

The rest of the store had some pretty good deals as well, such as Angus sirloin filets for $7.99 a pound or Angus top sirloin steak for $6.99 a pound. My daughter's favorite juice was a whole dollar less than what I pay at Giant and a fruit snack I get her was 40 cents cheaper.

It's not as though the store offers a dramatically different shopping experience from say a Giant or Safeway. But there are some subtle touches -- like the soothing sound of running water heard in the produce section -- that make it slightly unusual. I digged the kiosks dispersed through the store that will do price checks, help you track down an item or print out 2,000 different recipes with directions for finding the ingredients in the store. You can also send your grocery list through Bloom's Web site to a store kiosk, where it can be printed out when you or your errand boy arrive. I liked the fact that the prepared foods are located next to desserts and wine, making it possible to stick to one corner of the store when picking up tonight's dinner.

Have you ever shopped at Bloom? What has been your experience been? Did the store fulfill its promise of offering a different shopping experience? Did it have better deals than other grocery stores?

And while we're talking shopping experiences... I'm still looking for insight on the best kid-friendly shopping malls in the area. Several readers told me about all the fun things for kids to do at Tysons Corner. Where else can you go if you must do mall shopping with kids in tow? Send me an e-mail at shoptoit@washingtonpost.com.

By Tania Anderson |  April 17, 2008; 3:00 AM ET Grocery Deals
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There's a Bloom in the Piney Orchard section of Odenton. I try to avoid major shopping as I think the prices are higher and the selection is smaller then other stores further away. If it's during the week and I only need a handful of items and don't want to waste the gas driving to the other stores (Giant in Crofton, Weis by the base), I will go there. They do tend to have decent sales and their pharmacy is also great, never a wait. I really liked them because you didn't need to fuss with a plastic card, and that recently changed!

Posted by: WDC 21113 | April 17, 2008 11:55 AM

so are the items really gourmet items, tania?

Posted by: roya | April 17, 2008 4:12 PM

Roya, I guess it's all how you define gourmet. On my visit to the Fairfax store I didn't see food there that I couldn't find at Giant or Safeway. But most grocery stores these days have their version of gourmet items. Bloom had some nice looking prepared meals, a nice produce section, fresh seafood and Angus only meats but it wasn't as though I couldn't identify things. How do you define gourmet?

Posted by: Tania Anderson | April 17, 2008 4:49 PM

I have been to the local Bloom, Whole Paycheck, my renovated Giant at the Coloonade and Wegman's is still th best price wise and quality wise. Prices as low or lower then Costco on everyday stuff, 6 types of lobster tails, day boat scallops, sushi quality tuna and fresh not frozen shrimp and a bigger organic selection then Whole Paycheck!

Posted by: Anonymous | April 24, 2008 6:32 AM

Bloom isn't any better than another average grocery store. I'd rather shop at the Safeway in my neighborhood than a Bloom for sure. I'm not sure why they claim to be "a different kind of grocery store" when compared to where a normally shop (Whole Foods, Wegman's, and a very nice Safeway), Bloom has far less quality food. The bakery items are digusting.

Posted by: Tia | April 24, 2008 4:06 PM

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