September 11, 2008

Price Check

Recent newspaper articles have referred to Whole Foods beginning to earn a bit of a bad reputation as an elitist supermarket, thereby earning the monicker "Whole Paycheck."

Hogwash! I wholeheartedly challenge that simplistic label -- and I come prepared with proof.

Yesterday afternoon I stopped by a local (New York City) Whole Foods to purchase a few dinner ingredients.

Upon scanning my receipt, I was actually surprised at the good deals I got -- on items that weren't even on sale!

Let's start with a 16 oz (1 lb.) bag of Whole Foods' 365 brand whole wheat fusilli.

Name brands sell their 16 oz. boxes for anywhere from $2.49 to $3.99, even at conventional supermarkets.

This particular product? $1.49! Certainly one of the most affordable prices for whole wheat fusilli I have come across in MONTHS.

Lara bars, meanwhile, are a delicious staple of mine that can be rather costly if you buy them at the wrong store.

I have been charged as much as $2.49 for one of these bars in the past (upon learning of that price, my thoughts screamed out "Hell to the no!" and I promptly returned the bar to its display case) .

Whole Foods sells each one for $1.29.

That's actually forty cents cheaper than what Lara herself charges on her website (where a 16-bar box retails for $27.00, thereby making each bar worth $1.67)!

One of my other favorite snack bars is Gnu Food's Flavor & Fiber bars, which the manufacturer -- and most other stores -- sells for $1.99.

Well, today at Whole Foods I bought several 5-count at $6.99 per box.

Some simple division reveals that, thereby, each individual bar cost me $1.40.

I also bought fresh broccoli that was available for $1.99/pound.

Conventional supermarkets in New York City are selling that same amount of the flowery vegetable for $2.99.

If anything, my trip to Whole Foods proved to be a money saver.

Of course, there are some items at Whole Foods -- mainly cuts of meat -- that are certainly pricier than at other grocery stores, but this notion that they do not provide any affordable choices is ludicrous.

For more "nutriconomic" information, I highly recommend you take a look at this link, which shows how prices have changed for a variety of common foods -- and fuel! -- between July 2007 and July 2008 (NOTE: The left-hand column displays U.S. city averages, while the right-hand column particularly focuses on the Midwest region of the country.)

Some of the standouts:

White flour increased 54.1%
Long-grain white rice increased 45.3%
Eggs have shot up 33.9%
Sweet peppers rose 34.6%

If these increases don't make sense to you, scroll down to the very bottom and look at what has happened to fuel costs in the past 12 months.


Anto said...


I think you've "discovered" something that Tim Harford elucidates on his very entertaining book "The Undercover Economist." You should read Chapter 2, "What Supermarkets Don't Want You To Know."

You may find that it's not the chain, but rather the supermarket itself! Prices are dictated by location, he argues in part, and items are priced widely differently by different chains. You'll find that it's more "hogwash" than what you think.

I highly HIGHLY recommend it!

Andy Bellatti said...

Oooh! I always enjoy getting book recommendations. Will be sure to check it out.


Daphne said...

I think anto must have a point, because it's definitely not that way for me in Boston. While there are absolutely certain items that I prefer to buy at Whole Foods because they are cheaper than at my "regular" supermarket (most of these are products that would be more popular with WF buyers anyway, such as Greek yogurt, Kashi products, etc), there are lots of things that are way more expensive. I can't touch broccoli for under $2.49 at my WF, whereas it's $1.79 at the supermarket (and $2 even at the farmer's market, which is where I get it when it's open!); bananas $.74/lb when they're $.54/lb at the supermarket, etc. Of course, a lot of the produce, especially fruit, is much BETTER at WF, so I'll pay a little more for it - but it does tend to be a bit more expensive there.

Andy Bellatti said...


Thanks for sharing that information.

So interesting, because Whole Foods actually offers some of the lowest Greek yogurt prices in NYC that I have seen!

How does Whole Foods compare to local Boston health food stores?

Mandy said...

Now if only we could get a Whole Foods up here in Winnipeg!

Daphne said...

So interesting, because Whole Foods actually offers some of the lowest Greek yogurt prices in NYC that I have seen!

Oh, I actually meant that I *do* go to Whole Foods for things like Greek yogurt and Kashi products - things that are either more "natural" or "alternative," and probably sell better at WF, are cheaper there.

How does Whole Foods compare to local Boston health food stores?

You know, in truth, there aren't that many local health food stores in Boston, which is why I shop at WF as much as I do. There is a natural foods co-op that has a couple of locations, but in my opinion their produce isn't as good and their prices are somewhat higher (but more to the point, their staff have never been remotely helpful or polite to me and one actually ribbed me because I came in their carrying a Whole Foods bag from the location a few blocks away). I'm sure there are more local markets, but I don't live or work near any of them, so Whole Foods ends up winning out for a lot of my needs.

However, during the spring and summer months, I do about 75% of my shopping at the farmer's markets! I love those :)

Anonymous said...

Love your blog - so informative! I find deals at Whole Food on "niche" items like the Larabars you mentioned and my favorite Kashi GoLean Rolls. Maybe this is because they purchase these items in larger quantities than your average grocery store or gas station when they cost a lot more? A lot of other items can be had for cheaper elsewhere. I purchased some Better N' Peanut Butter for $5 and returned it when I found it for $3 at Trader Joe's.

Kristin said...

I think it IS more expensive to shop at Whole Foods for EVERYTHING you buy, but only because limiting yourself to one grocery store doesn't allow you to shop around for the best deals. There are some good deals at Whole Foods, mostly on produce and specialty items, and there are also some things that are sooo much more expensive. For example, I've seen canned Hatch green chile sauce at our Whole Foods in Austin, Texas for 3.99. I won't buy it there because at our regular grocery stores you can buy a can for 1.99 or 1.69. That's just one example though. Their bulk stuff is usually a great deal. Bulk spices are dirt cheap and much fresher than what you can buy packaged in a small bottle that might cost 6x as much for the same amount. You just have to choose what you buy and where. I make special trips to Costco for things like milk, spinach, romaine lettuce, fish and chicken because they are a good deal there (and good quality). I think that the key to getting the best products at a good price is to make regular trips to different stores that have the best deals on what you buy.

Anonymous said...

not sure if my comment saved? I'm linking this post in my blog- hope you don't mind!!

ttfn300 said...

I've been saying the same thing to people :) But I am also known to frequent multiple stores to do all my shopping!

ModelBehavior said...

I linked over from glidingcalm's site, and I am pretty suprised by the deals you got! Not only is whole foods insanely overpriced in Nebraska (where I'm from) but I lived in NY for a year in 2005 and I was shocked at the high prices at their whole foods as well, perhaps the prices have gone down since the popularity of the whole foods movement went up or something?
Interesting post though! I'll be back!