Concept: 4 out of 5
Execution: 4 out of 5
Yeah, but: It's mainly because of the meat.
The Long Version: Rowe Farms is something of a contemporary butcher's shop, and reflects a move toward specialty retailing that targets customers who are seeking locally sourced and/or organic meats and produce. The Annex location at 468 Bloor West is a fairly new store, and it's a good fit in an area that already has a high concentration of health(y)-food stores. It replaces an organic fruit and vegetable seller that wasn't quite so successful, though, so nothing is guaranteed.
I've been a supermarket shopper all of my life, and there's nothing I like more than the "Freezer" section – growing up in the suburbs will do that to you. But Penny is more likely to shop at the specialty stores, such as Yorkville's Whole Foods, so when Rowe moved into the neighbourhood she was there to give it a try. She brought home some ground beef to make chili with, and even with all of the competing flavours and ingredients, the difference in quality and taste was inescapable.
I'm a little embarrassed now to admit that I used to just buy boxes of frozen steaks. They were convenient, I could get two month's worth at a time, and they were just as good as the unfrozen stuff at the local grocery store. I just didn't realize how low those standards are. I spend a bit more now – although see my two-year update below – but even without bringing in the personal issues of natural and/or local food, it tastes much better.
The big grocery stores are the prototype "Big Box" retailers – acres of parking lots spanning the suburbs to support massive stores that people go to because they have everything. But success in one extreme often creates a vacuum elsewhere, and Rowe Farms has local stores that really are worth an extra stop.
Updated two years later: Never ones to leave a new market uncontested once others have proved that it's viable, the big grocery stores in my area are now offering various meats that are intended to compete with the quality from specialty shops like Rowe Farms. This comes in various guises – free range, traditionally raised, hormone-free, homeschooled, and so on – and they're priced at a premium that makes Rowes' quite competitive. The product itself, however, simply isn't up to the same standard; it actually makes me a little sad to see what's being passed off these days. Rowe Farms remains my store of choice for evert product that they carry.
last updated 13 june 2013