Grocery stores are catering to kids—and their parents—in ways never seen before.
For Child’s special report, we crisscrossed the country checking out the goods and
services they’re offering to keep families happy. By Maureen Sangiorgio • Photography by David Nicolas
aking kids along to the supermarket is a practical and
essential part of family life. Retailers are realizing that
making the experience enjoyable for kids and parents is
vital to their success. From offering supervised play areas
and child-friendly carts to providing candy-free checkouts and diaper-changing areas in restrooms, supermarkets have
reinvented themselves as family-friendly destinations.
To determine which supermarket chains are the best for
families, Child embarked on a five-month investigation, sending a
comprehensive 46-question survey to 44 retailers. The first of its
kind, the survey, developed with the expert advisory-board members listed on page 160, examined the features mentioned earlier
plus fun children’s activities, special parking for pregnant women
and families, food safety standards, speedy service, contributions
to the community, and in-store services like banks and dry cleaners.
From a supermarket that rewards moms with free spa treatments
to one that has a kids’ festival with clowns and jugglers every
week, our top 10 winners are nothing short of spectacular.
65 stores in New Jersey, New York, and
■ Operates 27 W-Kids Fun Centers, in which
kids 3 to 8 can make arts and crafts, read,
and cook in a toy kitchen while parents shop
■ Makes its own line of kids’ foods such as
fish-shaped pasta and animal crackers
■ Offers cake decorating on Mother’s and
Father’s Day and breakfast with Santa
Claus and the Easter Bunny
■ Participates in many community service
programs, including Toys for Tots and Kids’
Cafes, which feed needy children
■ Houses an ATM at all stores, a pharmacy
and photo-development center at 63 locations, a coffee and juice bar at 50 stores, a
cafe area with high chairs at 36 locations,
and a dry cleaner at 15 stores
What makes Wegmans stand out from
other supermarkets? In a word: atmosphere.
The store’s produce section resembles a
European market, with up to 700 varieties
creatively displayed. The bakery features
gourmet bread—chocolate cherry and
cheese loaves are a must-try. Chefs,
dressed in white jackets and hats, staff the
extensive prepared-foods area, which
includes a children’s menu. And in 23 locations, a toy train suspended from the ceiling
gives little ones something fun to watch.
The atmosphere enhances the chain’s
emphasis, which isn’t just on eating—but
eating well. Employees host Good Food
Tours in which fourth-graders learn how
to make healthy choices. Plus, the chain
features “Food You Can Feel Good About,”
Wegmans’ play areas (right) while parents like the
vast variety of groceries and prepared food (below).
900-plus store-brand items that are free of
artificial colors, flavors, and preservatives.
Wegmans also stresses food safety. “In
1998, we were the first supermarket chain
to put food safety information on packages
of ground beef,” says company president
Danny Wegman. The chain now includes
cook-to temperatures on all meat labels.
213 stores in Maryland, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
and West Virginia
■ Offers the Be a Smart Shopper program,
teaching second- to sixth-graders how to
make healthy meals and manage money
■ Was the first supermarket to offer shoppers
in the northeast an account with UPromise,
a national college savings program
■ Has diaper-changing tables in the men’s
and women’s rooms and offers parking for
expectant moms at nearly every location
■ Hosts kids’ etiquette classes at 84 stores
■ Sponsors a program in which parents buy
a card for $1 entitling a child to a free cookie
at each visit for a year; the store donates
the money to local children’s hospitals.
Kids ages 3 to 9 who come to Giant Eagle
often rush to the Eagle’s Nest, a center
where they can have fun while learning.
Available at 84 locations, the Eagle’s Nest
is packed with computers, video games,
blocks, puzzles, and books. Its managers
must have a degree in education, and all
employees receive childcare training and
certification in first aid for kids.
Giant Eagle also emphasizes education
through its Apples for Students program.
Each time shoppers use their Giant Eagle
Advantage Card, they earn points for a
local school. Schools redeem points for
computers and other educational tools—
more than $21 million in the last 15 years.
755 stores in Alabama, Florida, Georgia,
South Carolina, and Tennessee
■ Offers kids 12 and under a free bakery
cookie and sponsors coloring contests
■ Launched a series of radio spots that
focus on family issues
■ Manufactures its own line of ice cream in
fun flavors like Crockadilly Crunch
■ Is piloting CyberLane, a computer center
where first- to fifth-graders can learn
through software programs while parents
stay in contact with them through radios
■ Hires employees to carry a customer’s
groceries to the car
Publix offers several clubs that benefit
parents of young children. The chain’s Baby
Club doles out coupons, parenting tips,
and a free copy of the American Academy
of Pediatrics’ 700-page book Caring for
Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5.
The Preschool Pals Club provides moms
and dads a newsletter with parenting
advice while kids get birthday cards, an
activity book, and a game-filled CD-ROM.
In addition, the chain hosts a Baby Fest
every spring and a Kids’ Fest in the fall.
Activities vary by location, but the fests
often include tours of fire trucks, free photoidentification cards, and face painting.
■ Has a policy that a new register is opened
when a fourth person enters a checkout
A family-owned retailer for 66 years,
Ukrop’s sponsors more than 30 kid-friendly
events annually, such as Christmas parades
and a family jubilee with music, games,
and arts and crafts. It recently opened a
youth soccer complex next to its store in
Richmond. What’s more, it commits 10% of
its annual pre-tax profits to charities, with
donations exceeding $10 million.
The generosity is part of the retailer’s
tradition. “During World War II, the store
was closed on Wednesday afternoons so
staff paid by Ukrop’s could help farmers
who were affected by the labor shortage,”
says company president Bobby Ukrop.
143 locations in Florida, Georgia, North Carolina,
South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia
■ Has a policy that customers shouldn’t wait
more than a minute from the time they enter
a checkout until their first item is scanned
■ Offers its own “Harry the Dragon” line of
kids’ foods, including cereals and rice bars
■ Operates a Web site with children’s
activities, such as Harry’s Fun Page
■ Provides diaper-changing tables in the
men’s and women’s rooms at all stores
■ Has donated more than $3.5 million to
local schools since 1998
When children walk into Harris Teeter,
they’re greeted with a balloon, coloring
page, and cookie—often by an employee
dressed as Harry the Dragon, the company mascot. Then they can motor around
in plastic race cars attached to shopping
carts. The corporate philosophy is simple:
“We think kids are special, and when they’re
in our store, we want them to be happy,” says
company president Fred Morganthall.
Other children’s activities include an
annual Safe Kid Promotion, during which
parents can register their child’s fingerprints
with the local police department, and Easter
Eggstravaganza, an egg hunt attended by
more than 3,000 3- to 10-year-olds.
190 stores in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota,
Missouri, Nebraska, and South Dakota
■ Offers a kids’ menu in the prepared-foods
department and allows parents to request
any meal in a child-size portion
■ Employs the most full-time dietitians of
our survey; these seven staffers organize
healthy-cooking classes for kids
■ Features extra-wide aisles
■ Maintains the “Kid Zone” Web site, which
provides links to vendors with fun pages
■ Offers a family health fair at most stores
Five years ago, a Hy-Vee manager in
West Des Moines, IA, hosted a “children’s
STOP AND SMELL THE VEGGIES Many supermarkets give kids a tour of the produce section.
26 stores in Virginia
■ Conducts Kids Kuisine classes that teach
children how to prepare healthy recipes
such as Popcorn Snacklaces
■ Gives children free rainbow cookies—
the colors vary depending on the season
■ Hires courtesy clerks to bag groceries
and carry them to the car
■ Offers a kids’ menu in the prepared-foods
section; all entrees include string cheese
and a choice of applesauce or pudding
night” at his store, inviting kids to come out
for clowns, magicians, jugglers, and face
painting. It was a hit. He told other Hy-Vee
managers about it, and now half the stores
schedule kids’ nights weekly.
And while all Hy-Vee locations team up
with local schools to donate time and
money, specifics vary by store. Some locations donate sports uniforms and throw a
banquet for athletes while others help
spread anti-drug messages by allowing
kids to color paper grocery bags and using
them to pack a shopper’s order.
IS THIS FUN OR WHAT? An increasing number
of supermarkets offer supervised play areas, and
one chain even gives kids a banana at each visit.
143 stores in 25 states and Washington, DC
■ Schedules seasonal children’s activities
including holiday cooking classes
■ Features kids’ cooking tips and recipes,
such as Bugs on a Log, on its Web site
■ Offers a grab-and-go natural lunch for
kids at 20-plus locations; all entrees include
fruit, a cookie, crackers, juice, and a prize
■ Requires all of its managers to undergo
food safety training
■ Donates 5% of sales to community nonprofit organizations on four days each year
At Whole Foods Market—the world’s
largest retailer of natural and organic products—you won’t run across a hot dog on the
menu or candy at most checkouts, but the
company does a terrific job of making kids
happy. At nearly all locations, children can
pick up a balloon at the customer-service
center, a cookie or piece of fruit at the Kids’
Club desk, and stickers, coloring books,
and soy-based crayons at the checkout.
The retailer also launched Whole Kids,
America’s first organic food line developed
for children. Among the 40 products:
applesauce, peanut butter, and pudding.
In fact, no products sold at Whole Foods
have preservatives, artificial ingredients,
flavorings, additives, or trans fats.
105 stores in Michigan and Ohio
■ Invites firefighters and police officers to
speak to children about safety and provide
free emergency and fingerprinting ID kits
■ Plans up to 10 children’s events each
year; at the safe trick-or-treat, kids receive
coloring books, light sticks, and snacks
■ Holds coloring contests in which kids can
earn prizes for their school
■ Gives kids 12 and under a bakery cookie
at each visit if they join a free cookie club
■ Has diaper-changing tables in the men’s
and women’s rooms at nearly all locations
and child-size toilets in 60% of them
For every dollar spent at Farmer Jack,
moms earn a point that’s redeemable for
spa gift certificates, free housecleaning,
and other little comforts. This program is in
addition to the Baby Savings Club, in which
parents receive $20 in cash for every $200
spent on diapers and other baby supplies.
Additional features to help parents stay
sane while shopping: baggers who carry
groceries to the car and no-candy checkout lanes. In the words of CEO Michael
Carter: “Parents view grocery shopping as
a chore, and we’re here to help them.”
74 stores in 25 states
■ Features pregnancy yoga classes
■ Provides diaper-changing tables in the
men’s and women’s rooms in all locations
and private areas for nursing moms in
about 20% of stores; the company plans to
add more nursing areas
■ Educates all employees about products
at an annual meeting so they can answer
questions from shoppers
■ Offers children’s cooking classes
■ Coordinates a Prom Dress Drive and
gives holiday toys to disadvantaged kids
At Wild Oats, Field Trip Factory Tours
teach students in kindergarten through
eighth grade how to be “natural shoppers.”
During the 60- to 90-minute tour, kids
sample natural and organic foods while
learning about nutrition, the environment,
and the role of exercise. The prize for completion: a Frequent Fruit Card, which is good
for a free organic banana at every visit.
All products at Wild Oats are free of
antibiotics, hormones, pesticides, artificial
colorings, preservatives, and trans fats.
Besides healthy food, Wild Oats offers
free monthly kids’ activities, such as Earth
Month; the grand-prize winner of a coloring
contest received a mountain bike.
10 (tie) IGA
1,750 stores in every state except Colorado
and North Dakota
■ Organizes IGA KidsFest, an annual event
that features a treasure hunt and prizes ➤
throughout the year. “For example, one
store manager turned KidsFest into a mini
carnival with games, elephant rides, and
clowns,” says Dr. Haggai.
That’s what encouraged Dan Gustafson,
the store manager at the IGA in Belgrade,
MT, to come up with the “Dan the Pizza
Man” concept. Gustafson regularly brings
pizza to first-grade classrooms to introduce
the students to fractions. Says Dr. Haggai:
“It’s unbelievable how much fun the kids
have while learning math.”
10 (tie) RALEY’S
START YOUR ENGINES! Little shoppers can motor around in fun carts at many supermarkets.
■ Sponsors an “Explore the Store with IGA”
essay contest in which 6- to 12-year-olds
and their teachers can win a trip to the U.S.
Space Camp in Huntsville, AL
Our Panel of Experts
The following individuals served on Child’s
advisory board for this story: David Nash,
Ph.D., founder of the American Food Safety
Institute and Foundation in Philadelphia;
Judith Princz, publisher of Progressive
Grocer magazine in New York City; Jane
Olszeski Tortola, editor of Independent
Retailing at Progressive Grocer magazine in
New York City; and Elizabeth M. Ward, R.D.,
Reading, MA–based author of Healthy
Foods, Healthy Kids. Child’s virtual advisory
board of parents also provided insight.
■ Collaborates
with youth groups on the
Hometown Trees Program; more than 6
million have been planted to date
■ Has a Hometown Kids Club, which offers
field trips, pool parties, and scholarships
■ Invites school and youth groups to use
its parking lots for fund-raising cookouts;
IGA donates the food
All IGAs are independently owned and
operated—which gives them the flexibility
they need to cater to kids, says CEO
Thomas Haggai, Ph.D. Although virtually
all U.S. locations participate in three
national events that focus on families—
KidsFest, the store essay contest, and Pet
Adoption—many enhance the suggested
agenda or sponsor additional events
134 stores in California, Nevada, and New Mexico
■ Has a nutritionist to lead groups of thirdto fifth-graders in sampling healthy fare
■ Allows community organizations to use
its event rooms at no charge
■ Offers a hassle-free checkout with high
carts that enable cashiers to remove items
from the cart to scan and bag them
■ Sets up Play Care areas, chock-full of toys
and art supplies, at 19 locations
■ Has raised more than $12 million and
donated close to 4 million pounds of canned
and dry foods to food banks since 1986
Under Raley’s policy—the strictest in our
survey—all store directors and managers
must complete a 25- to 30-hour food safety
class and repeat the course every three
years. Since children are one of the most
vulnerable groups for food-borne illness,
the company educates families through
workshops, cooking demonstrations, and
brochures. Raley’s also stocks hand sanitizers and plastic bags near the meat section
to help shoppers prevent bacteria from
contaminating other foods.
An emphasis on safety is further seen in
its charitable work. The supermarket has
launched two Children’s Crisis Nurseries to
help prevent child abuse and ease stress in
at-risk families and has joined the California
Highway Patrol in a car seat giveaway. c
To learn more about the survey and our
five runners-up, and to share your
experiences shopping at these supermarket
chains, go to www.child/web_links.
MAUREEN SANGIORGIO is a freelance health writer and avid cook based in Macungie, PA.