This post was Sponsored by Sprouts Farmers Market

I’m a grocery store nerd. I can’t be trusted to just “pop” into the market for a carton of milk or pound of potatoes, because too quickly something catches my eye and suddenly I’m filling a cart and planning what’s next on the menu. It’s my happy place, which is why when Sprouts Farmers Market asked me to partner with them last year, I was all in. And when they invited me to hang out at their corporate headquarters for a few days last month, you’d have thought I’d been invited to New York Fashion Week.

The point of the trip was to gather a small group of registered dietitians and bloggers for a behind-the-scenes peek at the company. We had lunch with the Chief Operations Officer, made shabu shabu with the marketing team, collaborated with product developers from top brands, and had more laughs than should be allowed on a business-related venture. I returned with fresh enthusiasm about working with Sprouts, now 275 stores and growing, and thought I’d share some of the standouts:

Sustainability — After a store tour led by the Sprouts’ head of sustainability, it’s clear that they’re ahead of the pack in this regard. Stores have a robust recycling and composting system and donate daily to local food banks to minimize waste. They’re in the process of converting every store to 100 percent LED lights, recycle plastics brought in by customers, and stock the shelves during the day rather than after closing to minimize after-hour energy use. Brilliant!

Sourcing — I was impressed with the level of scrutiny that goes into choosing products, particularly sourcing fresh foods. Meat and chicken is hormone free, with affordable grass fed and organic options in every location. Sprouts even supports outside brands to improve their product lines. Case in point was a local dairy that produces delicious, fresh milk the old-fashioned way… in glass bottles. Problem was, they were still using artificial coloring in their strawberry milk. Sprouts teamed up with the dairy to help convert them to natural ingredients, making it better for the dairy, for the store, and the consumer. Love that.

The Price Point — The fact that Sprouts makes healthy food affordable and sets up shop in neighborhoods often overlooked by higher end markets is my favorite aspect of the company. Good-for-you-food shouldn’t just be for people with big bank accounts. I had the chance to spend time with the company’s culinary director, a super talented guy focused on, among other things, reasonably priced grab-and-go Market Corner Meals that are healthy. I was also impressed with the quality of Sprouts’ private label products, which keep prices down and are held to a high standard with an emphasis on organic, non-GMO, and natural ingredients.

The Foundation — We spent the better part of the day learning about all of the good works Sprouts has going to support the communities around them.  The Sprouts Foundation underwrites health and wellness causes that impact the neighborhoods where the stores are located. They partner with non-profits that specialize in school and urban gardening (move over Alice Waters) with an emphasis on helping families make healthier food choices.

Now that I’ve had been spoiled with an inside peek at Sprouts, I’ve just got to figure out how to get myself invited to New York Fashion Week. Apparently lab coats are going to be all the rage next year.