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8 Biggest Grocery Stories That Shocked Us This Year

It's been a busy year at supermarkets across the country.

It almost seemed impossible that 2021 could be an even more eventful year at the grocery store than 2020 was, but the almost 12 months since January 1 have been full of shortages, price hikes, new technology, environmental protection efforts, and everything in between.

If you're looking to show off your supermarket trivia knowledge, look no further! Here are the eight biggest grocery stories of the year that surprised us, pleased us, or made us say "huh?"

Related: This Major Grocery Chain Is Putting Purchase Limits on Bacon and Other Popular Items

A Mac 'N Cheese Lawsuit

mac and cheese from a box

One of the biggest grocery stories of the year involves a food many of us consider a favorite. Back on April 5, two plaintiffs brought a class-action lawsuit against the Kraft Heinz Company for not warning consumers of a chemical found in mac and cheese products. The two claimed the company knew about the presence of phthalates—which are synthetic chemicals used to make plastics more flexible—but did nothing about it. According to a 2015 study, phthalates are linked to an increased risk of asthma and obesity.

In July, the Kraft Heinz Company asked a federal judge in Illinois to throw out the case because phthalates are approved by the FDA.

Drone Delivery Services Ramping Up

walmart drone
Courtesy of Walmart

If contactless shopping isn't enough for you, then the technology 2021 brought should be music to your ears. Several grocery chains teased the possibility of drone delivery this year, including Kroger, Walmart, and Greer's Market.

The retailers are currently testing this possibility, but don't expect to get a full grocery run by drone quite yet. Kroger's weight limit for drone delivery is only five pounds. However, it sounds like the perfect solution for when you run out of an ingredient mid-recipe. Let's just hope it doesn't drop the eggs!

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Amazon's Just Walk Out Technology at Whole Foods

Amazon Fresh

The days of waiting in line at the checkout are over. In September, Whole Foods announced a partnership with Amazon to bring the Just Walk Out payment option to two locations (one in Washington D.C. and one in California).

Customers just scan a QR code in the Whole Foods section of the Amazon app, then shop normally. The store's sensors track everything they put in their cart (and even items they return). When finished, customers scan the same code when leaving and get a digital receipt. Introverts everywhere are celebrating!

Starbucks partnership with Amazon Go

Starbucks Amazon Go
Courtesy of Starbucks

On November 18, Starbucks and Amazon Go opened the first of several planned location partnerships in New York City. The store combines Amazon's Just Walk Out technology and Starbucks' contactless payment options.

Customers can order ahead on the Starbucks app and pick up their drinks inside. To buy food, they log into the Amazon app and the store's sensors track whatever customers take from the shelves (no need to wait in line to check out). The sensors can even tell if you put something back on the shelf, according to a Starbucks press release. When the customer leaves, Amazon charges their credit card. The combination cafe/grocery store even has tables to work or eat lunch at.

The Return of Nostalgic Food

Oreo cakesters
Courtesy of Nabisco

Out with the old, in with the…old? A few of our favorite nostalgic foods made comebacks this year. Some of these haven't been seen in over 10 years! Oreo Cakesters, Creme Savers, Lime Skittles, and Jones Soda's Turkey and Gravy soda all came back to store shelves this year to the glee of fans everywhere. We can't wait to see which nostalgic foods surprise us with a comeback next year (Squeezits anyone?).

Related: Costco Just Put These 6 Grocery Items on Sale for the Holidays

A Jewelry Store Within a Supermarket

H-E-B Jewelry
Courtesy of H-E-B

Now you can pick up avocados and an avocado charm bracelet in the same place.  Texas grocery store chain H-E-B has over 420 stores around the state and in and Mexico, and just announced plans to partner with James Avery Artisan Jewelry at certain locations.

Customers in League City, Portland, and San Antonio can now get their jewelry cleaned while crossing items off their grocery list, pick up something shiny for themselves, or even get holiday gift shopping done while grabbing supplies for the holiday feast.

Related: H-E-B Is Opening New Locations in Texas

A Single-Use Water Bottle Ban

bottled water

New Seasons Market, a west coast grocer, announced a plan to phase out sales of single-use plastic water bottles in early April, Supermarket News reported. "By committing to using reusable bottles, we can remove almost 200,000 single-use plastic, aluminum and glass bottles a year," said Athena Petty, senior sustainability manager at New Seasons Market.

New Seasons, and its sister store New Leaf Community Market, will continue to sell water in plastic bottles bigger than one liter, but the company believes this effort will help customers transition to using reusable bottles.

Supermarket Employee Day


In 2021, the Food Industry Association recognized grocery store workers by declaring Feb. 22 as Supermarket Employee Day. FMI says the day is "a time for the food industry to recognize employees at every level for the work they do feeding families and enriching lives."

It's never been more apparent how essential supermarket employees are to our communities. There are more than 40,000 grocery stores in the US, which means we have a lot of people to thank for keeping the shelves stocked and our families fed!

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Hayley Starshak
Hayley is a graduate journalism student at Northwestern University, where she specializes in investigative reporting. Read more about Hayley