Grabbing a bite in your grocery is not only contributing to a growing trend, but it’s also a way to help your market deal with excess product (read: not throw away food) and ensure the fresh items you want in the perimeter departments are there the next time you need them. You’re not being lazy, you’re being green — and an important part of your market’s ecosystem. (Does your market serve wine? Go ahead and grab a glass as well. I mean, you don't want that Pinot to go to waste.)
Here are how some of those cold and hot bar foods are green and use up food that might otherwise be wasted.
That vegetable soup on the salad bar has a secret: it’s made with the Jennifer Lawrences of the produce world, the imperfect (but delightful) trip-up-the-stairs potatoes and the say-too-much tomatoes. These perfectly fine, perfectly delicious, but somewhat flawed veggies are often the last ones of the batch to be picked.
Rather than tossing them, the produce buyer issues paperwork to give them new, exciting life at the hot bar or deli, where they can be appreciated by the spoonful.
See something new on the salad bar? Chopped pineapple, or perhaps some chopped green onions that aren’t normally there? They may be gifts from the produce department: an unexpected delivery, an over-order, or left over from a sale. Rather than risk that the surplus of veggies go bad on the sales floor, produce managers often spread the wealth in other areas of the store. (Note: Keep an eye out for house-made guacamole the day after a huge avocado sale.)
Working in the bakery is a wistful business, worthy of its own Neil Diamond song. It’s a stretch to think that the Solitary Man sings about grocery bakeries, but imagine the daily pain of the bread business, with its one-day shelf life. Beautiful baguettes and heavenly dinner rolls, all at their prime the moment they’re pulled out of the oven, bagged, and stickered. Then it’s all downhill from there.
Enter the salad bar crouton, the bread pudding, the panko-crusted salmon. The bakery finds a way to give back across the board. By eating something glutenous, you’re extending the life of a baked good (and, because stores don’t like to make things that don’t get used, you’re ensuring that those rolls are there the next time you need them).
Prepared Foods: Specials
If your market has a working kitchen, it will often operate like a traditional restaurant — serving specials to help move through excess ingredients. There’s a symbiotic relationship between the butcher shop and the prepared foods section of your retailer. Some stores (such as suburban Chicago’s The Standard Market and its sister restaurant, Bakersfield, or downtown Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats) make the nose-to-tail-to-table relationship official. Others operate more subtly.
Rest assured that your proteins are super fresh, but it’s not uncommon for a retailer to fry up a batch of excess house-made bacon (if too much bacon is ever a thing) to serve atop a special Cobb salad, or to dice up a rotisserie chicken to make a one-day-only smoky chicken salad.