I’ll admit it: When it comes to supermarkets, I’m a little biased. Sure, places like Harris Teeter and Whole Foods have their appeal, but if you want a place that’s totally committed to the local customer—and the local community as a whole—it’s hard to beat Lowes Foods.
The Winston-Salem-based grocer operates seven stores within Forsyth County, most of which have underwent a pretty substantial makeover in recent years. The new-look stores feature an enhanced façade that allows for more natural light and a number of nostalgic, brightly colored signs. But the primary change has nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with the shopping experience.
“We decided we wanted to do something more than a standard remodel,” says brand manager Kelly Davis. “We wanted to try to invent the perfect grocery experience and give it an intensely local focus.”
To get an idea of what shoppers wanted, company officials conducted 120 in-house interviews with consumers, mostly in the Winston-Salem market, then took that research to its 110 store managers around the state. Their main finding was that shoppers want the grocery experience to be more enjoyable and less chore-like, with an increased focus on fresh and local.
As a result, the store has added features such as Pick ‘n Prep, The Beer Den, Chicken Kitchen, and the Community Table while also putting a priority on locally made products. Some of these items are longtime favorites while others are relatively new and unknown. Sure, you can find staples such as Texas Pete and Krispy Kreme just about anywhere in town. But what about Chad’s Carolina Corn? What about Black Mountain Chocolate? What about Uncle Chris’ Pimento Cheese?
“We have several local products that start in one store and then prove themselves,” Davis says. “The great thing about a local product is that our guests can meet the people who actually make the item and learn their story. Why did they start making it? What makes it special?”
With this in mind, we decided to highlight some of our favorite local products found at Lowes Foods. The following takes a look at 17 of these items—from craft beer to chocolate bars to fried pies—all of which were born in or around Winston-Salem.
To learn more about Lowes Foods products, rebranding, store locations, or online shopping/delivery, go to www.lowesfoods.com.
Chad’s Carolina Corn
Forsyth County resident Chad Huskey started this gourmet popcorn company in 2011 with one goal in mind: “To make the best-tasting popcorn people have ever had.” After sampling a few varieties, we’re believers. His all-natural popcorn is snack-food perfection, packing tons of flavor into each little kernel. Huskey currently makes around 10 varieties, including Caramel, White Cheddar, Buffalo Wing, and the surprisingly tasty Dill Pickle. If I had to pick a favorite, though, I’d go with the salty-sweet Kettle Corn Edition, which we found at the Lowes Foods in Clemmons. You can view all the flavors at chadscarolinacorn.com.
Black Mountain Chocolate
As North Carolina’s original bean-to-bar chocolate company, this local chocolatier makes all its wondrous treats inside a “visible chocolate factory” in downtown Winston-Salem. Lowes Foods began carrying a few of the company’s chocolate bars recently—and luckily, they stock my favorite flavor: the best-selling Sea Salt Bar. A touch of Celtic sea salt helps enhance the decadent black chocolate, making each bite sweet and savory. We found this bar and a few others at the Lowes Foods on Robinhood Road. To see all of the company’s products, go to blackmountainchocolate.com.
Texas Pete Hot Sauce
Ever since Thad W. Garner and his father, Sam, introduced their Louisiana-style hot sauce in 1929, Texas Pete has been a flavor that defines our city. It’s currently the No. 3 best-selling hot sauce and the 23rd most popular condiment in the country. While some might like the spicier version—Hotter Hot Sauce—I usually stick to the original, which blends three different types of peppers for a natural, bold flavor. It’s great on BBQ, chicken, eggs, pizza, veggies, and pretty much anything else. For something completely different, try Texas Pete’s new Sriracha (Cha!), a hot chili sauce with a spicy/sweet flavor. texaspete.com.
Green Mountain Gringo
Since 1989, Green Mountain Gringo has been producing this tasty, thick salsa using superior, all-natural ingredients. The salsa was created on a farm in Vermont before T.W. Garner Foods bought it and shifted operations to Winston-Salem in 2004. With a restrained but definite spice, the salsa is slightly sweet but full of flavor, thanks in part to the apple-cider vinegar used in the recipe. Green Mountain’s commitment to quality has garnered several accolades over the years, including the “Best Brand” award from Health Magazine, who called it “as close to homemade as store-bought salsa gets.” greenmountaingringo.com.
Miss Jenny’s Pickles
Launched in 2010 by friends Jenny Fulton and Ashlee Furr, this Kernersville-based business has taken the pickle world by storm, developing a local following and appearing on programs such as “60 Minutes” and “Good Morning America.” The company sells four varieties of all-natural, old-fashioned pickles, all of which were inspired by a family recipe passed down from Jenny’s grandmother. My favorite of the group is the Signature Salt & Pepper, which features a tangy flavor with a slight kick, thanks to the ground pepper. They’re great to eat plain or heaven on a cheeseburger. missjennyspickles.com.
A Winston-Salem staple since 1949, these old-fashioned fried pies are still cut, rolled, filled, crimped, fried, wrapped, and boxed by hand. Apple remains the business’ top-seller, followed by chocolate, peach, lemon, and cherry. While the recipe is more than 65 years old, the taste is as good as ever. The pies are still fried to a golden-brown each day inside a factory on Old Lexington Road, then packaged in a nostalgic wrapper. While we didn’t see the pies at every Lowes Foods, we did spot them at both the Clemmons and Lewisville stores. bgpies.com.
Uncle Chris’ Pimento Cheese
I spent a lot of years thinking pimento cheese wasn’t for me. That is, until I tried Uncle Chris’ Pimento Cheese on a hamburger last year. Simply put, the cheese is a game-changer. Founded in 2013 by Chris Russell and Kevin Heath—both Forsyth County residents—Uncle Chris’ uses cheddar cheese instead of processed American cheese in its spread. It also forgoes the use of artificial ingredients. As a result, this brand lacks the sharp bite of a lot of other varieties. It currently comes in three flavors— regular, chipotle, and smokin’ habanero—and is found almost exclusively at Lowes Foods.
Little Black Dressing
Wallburg resident Kissie Stroup launched this condiment company in 2010 after tinkering with her grandma’s beloved salad dressing recipe. Since then, her business has earned several major awards and developed a large local fan base (us included). Little Black Dressing Co. currently makes four flavors including Far East Flair—winner of the N.C. Specialty Foods Product competition—and best-seller It Takes Three to Tango, a mix of ranch, thousand island, and blue cheese. Like many of our favorite items, the dressings feature a homemade taste and have zero preservatives. littleblackdressingco.com.
Sunshine Energy Drink
Officially called Buck O’Hairen’s Legendary Sunshine, this flavorful, easy-to-drink energy drink was created by Forsyth County residents Keith Vest and Joe Parrish in 2013. Their goal was to produce a counterpart to the extreme energy drinks that dominate the market, such as Red Bull and Monster. “We wanted something that people could drink when they just wanted to clear their heads and jump-start their day, not jump a bike over the Grand Canyon,” says Parrish. The key ingredients are 50 mg of caffeine, electrolytes, vitamin B-12, ginger-root extract, Stevia, and a touch of blackberry for flavor. drinkthesunshine.com.
Grins flavored water
Labeled a “better-for-you beverage,” Grins was created in 2011 by the father-son team of Ed and Nathan Battle, who wanted an alternative to sugary sodas and artificially flavored sports drinks. Their beverage has no artificial flavors, no artificial colors, no caffeine, and very few calories. Instead, it relies on fruits, vegetables, vitamins, and real sugar for its sweetness. Grins currently comes in three flavors—Grape, Citrus Punch, and, our favorite, Strawberry Kiwi—and is sold in local schools, gas stations, and select Lowes Foods. As a bonus, Grins donates 3 percent of its yearly gross revenue to local charities. grinsbev.com.
Foothills Hoppyum IPA
Foothills has crafted a lot of great beers over the years—People’s Porter, Jade IPA, and Sexual Chocolate, to name a few. But if I’m forced to pick just one, I usually go for this full-flavored, easy-to-drink IPA. Crafted by head brewmaster Jamie Bartholomaus, Hoppyum features a crisp, clean flavor with lots of hoppy goodness. Not only is it one of Foothills’ tastiest beers, it’s also the company’s top-seller, appearing in stores and taprooms across the Carolinas. (Word of warning, though: Hoppyum features a slightly high ABV at 6.25 percent, so indulge with caution.) foothillsbrewing.com.
MORE LOCAL FAVORITES
Bixby Wildflower Honey: “Direct from the beehive to you” is the slogan of this Advance-based honey farm, which uses no chemicals on its hives and produces some of the purest honey on the market. bixbyhoneyfarm.com.
Cherries Café Salad Dressing: Concocted in the kitchen of Cherries Café in Clemmons, this sweet, creamy dressing is something that my family always seems to have in the fridge. cherriescafe.com.
Krispy Kreme Juniors: While you can’t beat a dozen HOT-NOW doughnuts from Krispy Kreme, these cake-style mini crullers are a nice secondary option for snacking. You can find them in original glazed or seasonal flavors. krispykreme.com.
Musten & Crutchfield Pimento Cheese: With no preservatives and a rich, creamy flavor, this locally famous spread could be called comfort food in a container. mustenandcrutchfield.com.
Mrs. Campbell’s Chow Chow: The perfect topper for hot dogs and pintos, this Southern-style relish combines cabbage, onions, vinegar, peppers, and various spices. goldingfarms.com.
RayLen Category 5 Wine. Lowes Foods stocks dozens of great local wines, but my favorite is this smooth, full-bodied blend from Mocksville’s RayLen Vineyards, named for the five red grapes used in its creation. raylenvineyards.com.