Seven reasons Fresh Thyme makes us need a Trader Joe's less

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By: Marshall V. King
mking@flavor574.com

Marshall V. King/Flavor 574

The case has been made for why Mishawaka or northern Indiana needs a Trader Joe’s, the specialty grocery that has a cult following.

The reality is that since the opening of Fresh Thyme Farmers Market, we need one even less. (I’d call it a grocery store, not a farmers market, but it’s good nonetheless.)

It’d still be lovely to have a Trader Joe’s. I keep hoping and longing for one. But it’s pretty cool to see how Fresh Thyme is doing the grocery game, alongside others like Martin’s Super Markets who keep upping the game as we seek the food that fills our tables and then our bellies.

Here’s why Fresh Thyme, which opened in February at 5518 Grape Road, matters, particularly as a replacement for Trader Joe’s:

The produce department

When walking into Trader Joe’s, you see flowers, cheese and produce. When you walk into Fresh Thyme, you see mounds of inexpensive produce. It comes, out of season, from around the world, but the quality is good and the range of products that come off plants is impressive and stretches from the front of the store to the back. When you can buy three Haas avocados on sale at three for a dollar, the store is doing something right.

The salad bar:

Trader Joe’s doesn’t have a salad bar. Martin’s has a good one. The one at Fresh Thyme is smaller, but when you put kale alongside three other chopped greens, you’re making a statement. At $6.99 a pound, this salad bar is a great thing.

Good meat:

If you’re looking for lean animal protein such as bison, fresh seafood or chicken sausage, Fresh Thyme has it. It’s not the Trader Joe’s brand (duh) but Fresh Thyme has chicken sausage in several varieties for $1.99 a pound this week. That’s very cool.

The variety of products:

If you go to Walmart or Target, you’ll find a couple varieties or brands of specialty products such as yogurt, hummus or almond butter. If you’re trying to eat healthy and yet keep it interesting, you need options on this front. Fresh Thyme, like other markets targeting a smaller demographic willing to pay for such things, doubles down on more varieties of this stuff and less mainstream items. I’ll take a dozen kinds of hummus over 20 kinds of laundry soap at a grocery store, but that’s me.

Organic options:

Like the variety of products, some of them are organic. A larger percentage than are at most grocery stores. This is good if that’s what you want. Other stores go mainstream. Fresh Thyme specializes.

Bulk food:

Amish stores have bulk food. Maple City Market has bulk food. The bulk food section at Fresh Thyme is a full aisle of options. You can find nuts, granola and dried fruits. There are a lot of options. It’s simply the best bulk food section I’ve seen in a grocery store. Trader Joe’s doesn’t have this and that’s cool, but I like this at Fresh Thyme.

The products we love:

Trader Joe’s has these go-to items such as peanut butter filled pretzels and dark chocolate covered almonds with sugar and sea salt. Fresh Thyme has approximations of them. The store may not have every Trader Joe’s fave, but it has some and that’s huge.

I’ve become a Fresh Thyme believer and look forward to finding more local products, more interesting foods that help us eat fresh food but in interesting ways. The prices aren’t always better than competitors. Trader Joe’s is probably still better at innovating and branding its own products for consumers. Fresh Thyme is offering some nice substitutes though.

I’d still love a Trader Joe’s, but I’m glad we got Fresh Thyme. Really glad. If you haven’t visited, give it a look. It’s open 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.

I’m hungry. Let’s eat.

Marshall V. King is food columnist for Flavor 574 and community editor for The Elkhart Truth. You can reach him at 574-296-5805, mking@flavor574.com, and on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.
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