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Many supermarkets still fall short on 'fresh,' survey shows

Consumer Reports focused on "fresh" for this year's supermarket survey. The results show that food retailers have a lot of work to do.
/ Source: TODAY

Supermarket shoppers expect low prices, great selection and a speedy checkout. These days, they also want fresh: high-quality fruits and vegetables, as well as store-made meals.

That’s why Consumer Reports focused on “fresh” for this year’s annual supermarket survey. The results released on Thursday, show that the nation’s food retailers have a lot of work to do when it comes to delivering what their customers want and expect.

A lot of stores are really average or sub-par when it comes to the quality of their produce and fresh offerings,” said Consumer Reports senior project editor Tod Marks. “Only a handful stuck out in terms of the overall perception of excellence.”

The magazine’s ratings are based on responses from nearly 63,000 subscribers who rated 68 chains on the quality of their produce, meat/poultry, bakery and store-prepared food, as well as store cleanliness and employee courtesy. Some key findings:

  • Only six in 10 shoppers were completely or very satisfied with the quality of their store’s produce, meat and poultry
  • About 50 percent were highly satisfied with their store’s prepared food and bakery items
  • Only three of the 68 chains earned top marks for produce quality: Wegmans, The Fresh Market and Whole Foods
  • Standouts for prepared foods: Wegmans, Publix, Costco, Whole Foods and The Fresh Market

Once again this year: Wegmans (with 85 stores on the East coast) blew away the competition scoring 90 out of 100 and Wal-Mart remained at the bottom of the list at 64.

“Wegmans does everything right,” Marks told TODAY. “If you’re looking for perfection in a supermarket, Wegmans comes closest. They have exemplary service, very good prices, tremendous store brands and out-of-this-world perishables and they know how to treat their customers.”

Wal-Mart received below average marks in every category and it was one of only five stores that received below average rates for cleanliness.

“They’ve got a lot of room for improvement and it’s something that the chain’s own shoppers have been telling us for years,” Marks said.

NBC News contacted Wal-Mart to see if the company wanted to comment on the poor showing. They sent a statement from CEO Doug McMillon, which was originally delivered at an investors meeting last October:

“Every store I go in has room to improve. I can take you to stores right now and we can walk out of that store with a list of things that we can do better. And if we nail those, one store at a time, our short-term performance gets better.”

Here are the top-rated supermarkets according to Consumer Reports 2014 Supermarket Survey. Stores with the same scores are listed alphabetically:

Wegmans (90), Publix and Trader Joe’s (87), Fareway Stores and Market Basket (85), Costco and Raley’s (84), Sprouts Farmers Market, The Fresh Market, Stater Bros. and Winco (83).

A complete list of the ratings is in the May issue of Consumer Reports.

Herb Weisbaum is The ConsumerMan. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter or visit The ConsumerMan website.