Since the retailer's humble beginnings as a health-food store in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods prices have developed a reputation for unaffordability. Is the store critics have dubbed "Whole Paycheck" essentially off-limits to frugal consumers? Or is it possible that, hidden amid the sustainable seafood and fair-trade coffee, there are bargains to be had? Cheapism priced out more than 200 commonly purchased products at a Seattle-area Whole Foods Market and compared the cost of equivalent products at a neighborhood Safeway. In the end we came up with a long enough list of deals to justify an occasional trip to this specialty grocer.
25 Items That Are Cheaper at Whole Foods
Whole Foods frequently offers low prices on organic items in its 365 Everyday Value line, beating out name brands and other private labels such as Safeway's O Organics. There is also no question that Whole Foods, which helped expand awareness of organic and alternative foods, offers a superior selection of such items. If a traditional grocery store does carry a specialty product, shoppers will likely have a choice of one or two pricey, name-brand items, whereas Whole Foods frequently offers a store-brand version for less money.
Organics isn't the only category where Whole Foods manages to be competitive, however. If you look closely, you'll find conventional products and even brand-name goods that cost less at Whole Foods. Two of the products with the most dramatic price differences are olive oil (a $4 savings) and whole nuts such as almonds (a full pound for the price of 9 ounces at Safeway). Other good buys with narrower price gaps include organic frozen vegetables ($1.79 or $1.99 vs. $2.79) and organic balsamic vinegar (a $2.60 difference). In some cases, the price difference isn't worth a special trip. While you can save a few cents on elbow macaroni (99 cents vs. $1.29 for a 16-ounce bag), the bendy noodles are a deal only if you're already planning a Whole Foods excursion. And, of course, there are still plenty of products that are more expensive at Whole Foods than at Safeway.
Meg Major, chief content editor at Progressive Grocer, a leading publication for the retail food industry, explains why consumers might see reduced pricing on targeted products at Whole Foods. "Each retailer does have some signature values in most departments that can best their competitors, because something's a popular seller and they do lots of volume with that product," she said. "Either that or it's a loss leader." In the latter case, Major said, "if you lose a little money, you're still able to attract customers to other higher-priced products." With that in mind, try not to stray too far from the following list if you venture into a Whole Foods Market. In our price survey, these 25 items turned up cheaper at the specialty retailer:
Organic milk.Shoppers who prefer organic milk can put a smaller dent in their grocery budgets with Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value brand. At $4.99 a gallon, it's pricey compared with conventional milk but represents a 30-cent savings over Safeway's O Organics brand, which sells for $5.29 a gallon.
Non-dairy milk.Consumers exploring alternate types of milk because of allergy or preference will find more and cheaper options on Whole Foods shelves. We saw Califia Farms Almondmilk priced at $4.39 at Whole Foods and $4.99 for the same size bottle at Safeway. Whole Foods offers 365 Everyday Value rice milk at $1.69 for a 32-ounce carton, while Safeway carried no generic version -- only the Rice Dream brand at $2.59 for 32 ounces.
Shredded mozzarella.Most cheeses at Whole Foods are more expensive than their counterparts at Safeway, but one glaring exception is shredded mozzarella. We found a 16-ounce bag of this mild dairy goodness for $3.99 at Whole Foods (365 Everyday Value brand, of course). At Safeway, the same size bag of Lucerne mozzarella was $4.49.
Organic popcorn.Movie lovers will appreciate the cost savings we located in the snack aisle. Whole Foods sells a 6-ounce bag of 365 Everyday Value organic pre-popped popcorn for $1.99. Safeway's O Organics brand gives buyers 1 ounce less for 70 cents more: A 5-ounce bag costs $2.69. It may not seem like much, but that extra change goes a fair way toward the purchase of some Red Vines.
Energy bars.If you practically live in your car, spend your lunch hour at the gym, or have to squeeze in sustenance between meetings, you may turn to energy bars as a quick snack. The same Larabars that sell for $1.50 each at Safeway are only $1.29 apiece at Whole Foods. Similarly, Kind bars, which are three for $5 ($1.67 each) at Safeway, cost $1.49 each at Whole Foods.
Pretzels.This staple snack comes in as another win for Whole Foods. Consumers can purchase a 16-ounce bag of 365 Everyday Value brand pretzels at Whole Foods for $1.89, yet must fork over $2.49 for a 13-ounce bag of Safeway's Snack Artist brand twists.
Organic frozen vegetables.Whole Foods can't compete on price when it comes to conventional frozen vegetables, but organics are a different story. A 16-ounce bag of 365 Everyday Value frozen green peas costs $1.99 and yellow corn is $1.79. Over at Safeway, the same size bag of O Organics frozen corn or peas is $2.79. Even with a Club Card discount, a perk for Safeway shoppers with a free membership, the price is still $2.49.
Organic quinoa.Whole Foods, which offers organic quinoa both in bulk and in pre-packaged quantities, beats Safeway's pricing for a 16-ounce store-brand bag. Expect to spend $4.49 for the Whole Foods version and $5.19 for Safeway's O Organics brand. (Safeway didn't offer organic quinoa in bulk, so we couldn't compare bulk prices between stores.)
Organic chicken broth.365 Everyday Value organic chicken broth sells for $1.99 at Whole Foods, a respectable savings over Safeway's O Organics chicken broth, which is $2.59. Both cartons measure the same 32 fluid ounces. If you're married to the Pacific brand, however, you may want to skip Whole Foods. A 32-ounce carton of Pacific Organic Free-Range Chicken Broth costs $3.29 at Safeway, 40 cents cheaper than the Whole Foods price of $3.69.
Organic russet potatoes.Conventionally grown potatoes rank among the infamous "Dirty Dozen" foods that retain the highest levels of pesticides. Consumers following the advice to buy these items organic, take note: While russet potatoes cost $2 a pound at Safeway under the O Organics brand ($5.99 for a 3-pound bag), they are available for $1.49 a pound at Whole Foods.
Organic pasta sauce.No clear winner emerges when you put Safeway and Whole Foods Market head-to-head on conventional pasta sauce. In the organic realm, however, Whole Foods comes out on top: 365 Everyday Value pasta sauce is $2.29 for a 25-ounce jar. Safeway's O Organics version, also 25 ounces, is $2.79 a jar.
Elbow macaroni.Pasta sells at such a low price point that you won't find a significant difference from store to store. If you're already picking up sauce at Whole Foods, though, you can save a few cents by grabbing elbow pasta as well. Safeway sells a 12-ounce package under its budget brand, Pantry Essentials, for 89 cents (7.4 per ounce) or a 16-ounce bag of Safeway Kitchens macaroni for $1.29 (8 cents per ounce). At Whole Foods, a 16-ounce bag of 365 Everyday Value elbow pasta is 99 cents, a thrifty 6.1 cents per ounce.
This is another pricey product that many consider a pantry must-have. Both organic and conventional extra virgin olive oil offered staggering savings at our local Whole Foods Market. A jar of non-organic 365 Everyday Value was $7.99 for 33.8 ounces, while the same size jar of Safeway Select was $11.99. Safeway Club Card members get a significant discount on this price but still pay $8.99, a full dollar more than Whole Foods' regular price. A 33.8-ounce jar of organic 365 Everyday Value extra virgin olive oil costs $12.99 at Whole Foods, while the O Organics version retails for $16.99 at Safeway.
Organic balsamic vinegar.Olive oil's darker-hued counterpart was likewise cheaper at Whole Foods. Shoppers pay $3.69 for a 16.9-ounce bottle of 365 Everyday Value organic balsamic vinegar but almost double that at Safeway, shelling out $6.29 for the same amount of O Organics balsamic.
Organic sweeteners.If you buy organic and have a sweet tooth, head to Whole Foods for your baking or coffee-doctoring needs. You can buy 24-ounce bags of 365 Everyday Value light brown sugar and organic powdered sugar for $3.49 and $3.99, respectively, compared with the same size bags of O Organics for $4.29. A bottle of 365 Everyday Value organic raw agave nectar is 20 cents more than Safeway's version but about twice the size. The Whole Foods price of $3.69 for 23.5 ounces comes out to 15.7 cents per ounce, whereas an 11.75-ounce bottle of O Organics runs $3.49, or a heftier 30 cents per ounce.
Organic coconut oil.Coconut oil has gained popularity as shoppers use it for everything from baking to moisturizing. If you buy the organic variety of this trendy product, Whole Foods offers a generic, 365 Everyday Value-brand jar at $5.99 for 14 ounces. Safeway charges $8.39 for Spectrum-brand organic coconut oil in the same 14-ounce size and does not produce a generic version.
Organic condiments.With barbecue season fast approaching, stock up on toppings for backyard burgers and brats. Consumers who simply must buy organic should consider Whole Foods for their condiments. A 14-ounce bottle of 365 Everyday Value organic yellow mustard costs $2.50 (about 18 cents per ounce) vs. $1.79 for an 8-ounce bottle of Safeway's O Organics (22 cents per ounce). Organic tomato ketchup costs $2 for 24 ounces at Whole Foods or $2.29 for 20 ounces at Safeway.
EnviroKidz cereals.Do your children (or do you) like to start the day with a bowl of Gorilla Munch or Panda Puffs cereal? Both popular varieties of EnviroKidz cereal are $2.99 per box at the specialty market but ring up at $3.79 a box on Safeway registers.
Peanut butter.A 20-cent difference isn't reason enough for a special trip, but if you're going to hit Whole Foods anyway, put peanut butter on your shopping list. An 18-ounce jar of 365 Everyday Value is $2.79, while 18 ounces of Safeway Kitchens peanut butter is $2.99.
Cereal bars.Cereal bars are a convenient on-the-go breakfast option, but they can quickly add up on your grocery receipt. A 365 Everyday Value box of six 1.31-ounce bars is $1.99 at Whole Foods. Safeway charges $2.99 for eight 1.3-ounce bars under its Eating Right label. Whole Foods has the edge with a price of 33 cents per bar vs. 37 cents.
Paper towels.Consumers can shave 50 cents off their total bill and get 44.52 more square feet of paper towels by purchasing the Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value brand. An eight-pack sells for $6.99, compared with $7.49 for the Safeway Home version.
Dog biscuits.Whole Foods carries its own brand of pet foods and products, called Whole Paws, which includes a 20-ounce box of biscuits for $3.99. The cheapest canine treats we found at Safeway, which doesn't offer a store brand, were Milkbone biscuits, at $4.99 for a 24-ounce box of regular biscuits or an 18-ounce box of the "healthy" version.
Roasted whole nuts.High-protein snackers and Paleo Diet enthusiasts swear by nuts as a source of healthy fat and quick energy. Although most types are expensive to buy, our money went nearly twice as far at Whole Foods as it did at Safeway. Both stores charge the same $5.99 for whole roasted almonds, but that amount secures 9 ounces of Snack Artist-brand almonds at Safeway and a full 16 ounces of 365 Everyday Value almonds at Whole Foods. Similarly, $7.69 buys 16 ounces of roasted, salted 365 Everyday Value cashews at Whole Foods, whereas an 8.5-ounce package of Snack Artist cashews costs $7.99 at Safeway.
Cream cheese.Anyone who schmears bagels or regularly prepares dip, pay heed. You can buy cream or Neufchatel cheese for 10 cents less at Whole Foods. An 8-ounce package of 365 Everyday Value spread is $1.69, while Safeway's 8-ounce generic sells for $1.79.
Meatless frozen foods.Vegetarians who like to bite into faux burgers or chicken nuggets pay a little less at Whole Foods. The store's 365 Everyday Value meatless soy burgers go for $4.49 per 12-ounce box of four, compared with $4.99 for four 3-ounce Boca burgers at Safeway. The Chickenless nuggets are $4.49 for a 10-ounce bag of the 365 Everyday Value brand but $4.99 for 9 ounces of Gardein meatless nuggets. Safeway has no generic versions of these items. The store does offer a 6-ounce box of Safeway Select spinach and cheese spanakopita for $4.29, but Whole Foods sells its own 12-ounce version for $3.99. Both boxes contain 12 individual spanakopita, making the Whole Foods pastries 33 cents each and the Safeway hors d'oeuvres 36 cents apiece. If you compare cost per ounce, Whole Foods leaps even farther ahead, with a price of 33 cents to Safeway's 72 cents.
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