The term, “curated grocer” is a bit of a misnomer because even when you walk into the average supermarket, what you see is already curated. From available products to where they are located, big food companies pay retailers a startling amount to place products in front of consumers and hopefully, in their carts. There’s an element to this that’s probably not surprising, especially in the age of AI-informed marketing and other seemingly invasive capitalist practices.
Bigger, richer companies are simply able to pay more to retailers than their competition, which is largely made up of small businesses. This means retailers stick to their lane and often only stock a narrow range of products, ultimately sinking many small businesses altogether. In response to this and a confluence of other factors, many small retailers choose to either take things online and/or specialize their product pickings.
Bottom line, it's more about the experience than the products these days. More customization, less time at checkout, greater convenience, better price-to-value ratio, and closer eye on social and environmental impact. Now, instead of browsing a sea of reviews and an abyss-like inventory, consumers are gravitating towards niche grocers who do less, but do it better.
Socially and Environmentally Conscious Shops
This retailer prioritizes products founded and owned by black, indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC). Interested consumers can even get to know a bit of the personality behind each brand, as their stories are posted on Tiny Bodega’s site. What’s more, the company favors products that are healthy and naturally allergen-free.
From pantry staples to bacon, Mouth stocks a range of products that you can browse by value, like non-GMO, organic, and vegan. You can also subscribe to their boxes, which cover a variety of fun food-centric niches, like pickles and jerky, or you can choose to build your own gift box.
It’s estimated that 40% of food produced is wasted, which means that if food waste were a country it would be the third-largest producer of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions behind the US and China. Imperfect Foods aims to solve this problem by snatching up foods that would have been wasted and selling them to consumers. Of course, this doesn’t mean they carry inferior foods; to the contrary. Most food waste at the production level is due to reasons like cosmetic imperfections or surplus, so not only are they perfectly good to eat, but consumers can often buy them for cheaper.
The International Pantry
Umami Cart is an online Asian grocer that spans many cultures and countries with its offerings. It’s a great option for those who want to learn more about Asian ingredients and cooking but may feel out of their element shopping in a store. You can nab items like Chinese black vinegar and make an authentic dipping sauce for dumplings, or purchase sashimi-grade seafood.
Gustiamo in Italian means “let’s enjoy”, which is very befitting given this company’s mission to be a retailer of authentic Italian ingredients. With its range of real San Marzano tomatoes, extra virgin olive oil, and porcini mushrooms, Gustiamo has built quite an impressive inventory of products since it was founded in 1999.
Mala Market is a mother-daughter brand dedicated to bringing authentic, high-quality Sichuan ingredients to the American consumer. Among its many offerings, the site features four varieties of Sichuan peppercorns, famed for the tingly sensation they impart on the palate, as well as a fermented broad bean and chili paste, known as Pixian doubanjiang. As a part of its responsible sourcing practices, Mala Market builds direct relationships with its producers so there’s no mystery chain of middlemen handling your food.
As corn has become one of the most industrialized ingredients, it's simultaneously become one of the most tasteless. Masienda founder, Jorge Gaviria, aims to change this. His company nurtures connections with farmers based in Oaxaca, Mexico who grow heirloom corn using traditional, sustainable methods. Although real corn tortillas are a source of infinite delight, they stock a variety of other authentic Mexican ingredients, like heirloom beans, hibiscus, and even chicatana, an ant commonly eaten in Oaxaca.
These days we don't just eat for satiation, we eat to reap the full health benefits beyond nutrition. Zippy Pantry is an approachable market for medicinally-minded snacks that fit the "Zippy Seal" determined by their own panel of chefs, fitness leaders, nutritionists, and wellness practitioners.
We hear mushroom everything is all the rage and this is your one-stop shop to making fungi magic happen. Mushrooms can be overwhelming for the average customer in terms of the varieties, usage, benefits. These functional mushrooms products are highly personalized as there's even a quiz to determine the best buys for you.
Bubble fits in a number of categories with everything from health to responsible sourcing in mind. Their mission is clean ingredients from passionate food makers curated for easy navigation due to a strict set of standards. Their biggest competitor separation is the "bubble" of influencers within the food space curating their pantry items
The Healthy Butcher seeks to make mystery meat a concept of the past, promising total transparency and stringency in how consumers’ meat is both raised and processed. From 100% grass fed beef to a handful of game and fowl options, if you’re in the business of ethical, high-quality meat, this company has you covered. Healthy Butcher even expanded its products to include produce and supplements, applying its same scrupulous standards across its catalog.
As a Certified B Corporation, Vital Choice maintains high standards across its products, as well as environmental and social practices. Its flagship product is wild Alaskan salmon but Vital Choice also offers a range of seafood and shellfish that’s certified sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Alaska’s Responsible Fisheries Management (RFM) program.
This monthly subscription will show you the difference between quality, grass-fed meat and the package protein you'll often find at your local grocery. The team works with a group of family farms and cooperatives to deliver organic beef, pork, chicken, and fish to your door. Choose which products, how much, and how often you get deliveries.
Spice and Herb Lovers
Diaspora Co. is founded by Sana Javeri Kadra, who is dedicated to “decolonizing the spice trade”, putting the power back into farmer’s hands and quality back into spices. The company accomplishes these two objectives by paying farmers what they need to continue operating (a startingly rare occurrence in the industry) and working with them directly to ensure they meet sustainability and quality standards. The beautifully designed site supports a range of Indian spices, including heirloom turmeric, USDA certified organic cardamom, and single origin chiles.
When Kimberly Jung and her comrades in the Army served in Afghanistan, they were compelled to forge a path for sustainable peace in the country. As it turns out, that path was lined with saffron. Harvested from the crocus flower, saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, delivering a nuanced, floral taste. Rumi pays their farmers fairly, allowing them to make six times more than they would by growing poppy for opium production. It’s an inspiring model and one that Rumi has extended to additional spices and blends.
From medicinal herbs, mushrooms, spices, to teas, Mountain Rose Herbs is a veritable index of ethically grown, high quality ingredients. The company proudly maintains a “Fair For Life” standard, which ensures environmental and social standards throughout the supply chain. Based in the US, the company focuses on supporting a domestic network of growers but when appropriate, will source from the country of origin.
SOS Chefs, a small specialty food market that holds many hard-to-source ingredients from all over the world, was founded in 1996 by Atef Boulaabi. Based in the East Village of New York City, this culinary wonderland offers gourmet spices, vinegar, herbs, syrups, powders, and more. There’s no lack of interesting ingredients, from celery vinegar to dill pollen to fried grasshopper. The brick and mortar ships nationally for those out of the state.
Gourmet and Charcuterie
Self described as a Williams-Sonoma food hall meets Dean & DeLuca, Riley/Land is hand-picked by owner Joseph Riley Land with the intention of highlighting the best makers around the country. You will find everything from beautiful wooden bowls to handmade chocolates to hot pepper bacon jam. We even have a few curated packages on the site centered around Black food makers and Women-owned businesses.
Founded by Italian immigrants during the 1930s in Philadelphia, DiBruno Bros. began as a small neighborhood grocer. With time, the company evolved into a gourmet food retailer with a specialty in cheese. Shop its top-notch selects, including cured meats, specialty foods, and of course, cheeses.
iGourmet is an online specialty food shop curating a range of offerings, including classic favorites like Parmigiano Reggiano and rare products like whole black truffles. Though if the idea of choosing from their comprehensive collection exhausts you, you can also subscribe to one of their many curated monthly boxes.
Schweizer, Errol. “Why The Grocery Industry Is Concerned By Mass Consolidation.” Forbes.
The consumer is changing, but perhaps not how you think. (n.d.). Deloitte Insights.
Kurzrock, Daniel, Caroline Cotto, and Sue Marshall. “Upcycled Certification Standard.” Upcycled Food Assoc., 2020. https://www.upcycledfood.org/certification-standard.