Fifteen years ago, then-Pres. Bill Clinton did the very same thing. And both men got a bit sentimental about the experience.
"This is the first time I've been in a grocery store in a while," Mr. Obama said.
"They don't let me do my own shopping," he lamented at a Kroger in Bristol, Va. He said he misses it.
The visit to a Pathmark in New York in 1994 triggered boyhood memories for Pres. Clinton.
"The first job I ever had was working in a grocery store," he recalled. He said he was 13 years old at the time and wasn't sure if he violated any labor laws. He said every time he comes into a food store, he's "so happy."
Both men were waging intense battles for enactment of plans to expand health care coverage to all Americans. And both presidents spoke of the political obstacles they faced.
"Now, back in Washington, there's been a lot of talk recently about the politics of health care," said Mr. Obama to an audience of about 150 Kroger employees. Standing in the produce section between the bakery and the deli counter, he quoted opponents of his plan as saying, "Well, Obama's got to get this done for his political survival."
One and a half decades earlier, Pres. Clinton spoke of the "raging political struggle" in Washington. "Everybody in the wide world says, 'Oh, I believe every American ought to have access to health care, but we can't figure out how to do it.'"
Then as now, time was of the essence.
"If we don't now seize this opportunity to give health care security to all of our people, more and more people will start to lose insurance." said Pres. Clinton in 1994.
"If we do nothing," said Pres. Obama today, "then I can guarantee you your premiums will double, more and more people will lose coverage."
Without question, Pres. Obama hopes the similarities end in the rhetoric. Pres. Clinton failed to get his health care program approved by Congress. That's a fate Pres. Obama is determined to avoid.