A greengrocer is a specialized shopkeeper who focuses on providing plant products. The term is used generically to refer both to the shopkeeper and the establishment in many countries. Before the advent of centralized grocery stores, most supplies were broken up into numerous shops which included a greengrocer's, a baker's, and butcher's, a dry goods store, and so forth. In some parts of the world, produce is still sold separately at a greengrocer, or a greengrocery may open up to provide specialty produce to customers.
The term “grocer” originates from 1255, and was originally used to indicate someone who bought and sold in gross, or large amounts. It is related to the Latin root grossus, which means “great” or “large.” Grocers began to operate in urban areas, buying products from local producers such as farmers in bulk and selling them in a central location. Before this, consumers purchased goods directly from the producer, at a collective market or from roaming carts. Grocers dramatically changed the way in which people acquired food and goods, and quickly became ubiquitous, because they allowed producers to focus on making a product, leaving the sale of the product to others.
As the term implies, a greengrocer specializes in “greens,” or produce and fresh fruit. Generally a greengrocer relies on several farmers or a central distributor for his or her products. Most regional greengrocers buy directly from local farmers, and generally only offer whatever produce is in season. Since the produce is usually local and delivered fresh, it tends to be of very high quality. In a small town which has an all purpose store and a greengrocer, the all purpose store will generally offer a limited assortment of produce, under the assumption that customers will go to the greengrocer for higher quality products.
In some parts of the world, the traditional division of supplies between multiple stores is maintained. Each store has an owner and staff which specializes in a particular product, such as fish at a fishmonger or pastries at a baker. The groceries purchased at these stores are believed to be of higher quality, since the staff is focused on providing one type of item, rather than a broad assortment. The stores also tend to be smaller, resulting in higher turnover and more fresh goods. This tends to be the case in smaller towns in semi-rural areas, where the population is encouraged to walk about and interact.
Sometimes a produce purveyor will classify itself as a greengrocer. Many restaurants and other facilities which cook meals for large amounts of people take advantage of a greengrocer to supply produce. While some distributors offer general delivery of varied groceries, ordering produce, meat, and dry goods separately is a common practice used to obtain foods of higher quality.