I stopped cherry picking "facts" about Whole Foods and will now save over $900 a year on groceries!


Timmy's cherry tomatoes are almost ripe for picking! Until then he's still relegated to what's at the markets. Which brings me to a post about how I came to learn how to save almost $1,000 annually. Last post I said $600 but the projected savings have grown!

A little background: I worked at a health food store, The Whole Grocer (now long gone) in the summer of 1989 on Munjoy Hill, a formerly rough but now gentrified Portland, Maine neighborhood. I also worked at the University of Maine Food-Coop in Orono. I've been shopping at two locally owned health food stores in my area for years. I was on board with health food stores!

Except Whole Foods.

I don't know why or how it started. Maybe it was because the few times I attempted to shop there the parking lot was packed. Maybe at some point I decided that it was "too corporate" for me and I needed to support the little guys. The "Whole Paycheck" thing just solidified my belief that it was some uppity overpriced pretentious place to shop.

I gave it some more thought, and had some insights.

There is a popular argument posted online, in both articles and comment sections, that eating healthful foods and maintaining a healthy weight isn't possible if you aren't wealthy. Whole Foods was frequently thrown around, like: "Sure, if you can afford to shop at Whole Foods, but not everyone can!" I would reply that it's 100% possible to buy affordable, healthy basic staples at your "regular" grocery store, like rice, dried beans and bananas, which is true, but I never questioned the argument that Whole Foods was overpriced or unaffordable.

Another reason is that I've had some people say to me, in response to my book, that they don't understand why they aren't losing weight since they shop at Whole Foods, as if food purchased from there somehow lacks calorie content.

All of the above resulted with me rolling my eyes at Whole Foods despite my not having actual evidence that they were guilty of not offering economical options or promoting a magic fairy-trade diet program.

So, there's the honest background.

A couple of months ago I was between yard sales in Portland; one had started at 8:00 a.m., the other at 9:00. I passed Whole Foods and noticed the parking lot wasn't yet packed. Curious, I decided to park and check it out to get in some quality eyeball roll time and feel vindicated.

I surveyed some aisles and it was the first time I ever heard of their 365 Everyday Value line. I couldn't believe that some of the private label natural products I bought weekly at my "working man's" grocer (also a corporate giant which my prior narrative overlooked) actually costs more than the Whole Foods private label. In many cases, a lot more!

Knowing that if I got there early parking wasn't an issue, I returned. I started to look forward to shopping there. I was coming home with a lot of stuff to compare with what I had been buying. I wanted to be scientific about this! That's what we retro domestics do!

What follows are a lot of details that may seem irrelevant to you, or boring. The tl;dr is that you can potentially save a lot of money on groceries if you take the time to routinely reevaluate your assumptions and sources. I found out that Whole Foods is very good for my budget and eating healthily. Maybe it will be for yours, too. The prices here are for my local Whole Foods store in Portland, Maine. I think they vary by location.

Here's what's working for me right now:

By purchasing some basics manufactured by Whole Foods 365 Everyday Value (365 EV for this post) brand when compared to the current private label grocery store "natural" as well as national brands (I'll call them both NB here), I can save almost $1,000 a year. I shop for myself, Wayne and Timmy.

One bag of 365 EV verified non-GMO frozen corn per week @ 1.49 each: 
I have been paying $2.39 per 1 lb bag of organic corn. Generally, certified organic corn is the only way to know it's GMO-free, but 365 EV offers non-organic but verified non-GMO  for $1.49 per 1 lb bag.
$47 annual savings
 
Two jars of 365 EV organic tomato sauce with no added sweeteners, Xanthan gum, etc per week @$2.99 each: 
Ideally I'd make sauce from scratch but that requires loads of fresh tomatoes. Now that I have a garden I may be able to do that later this summer! But as a rule, making a sauce from scratch with organic chopped tomatoes and paste, or buying an organic sauce has cost about $4 more per week than buying 365 EV.
$208 annual savings

One 6-pack of 365 EV organic raisins per week @ $3.29 each:
I had been buying the NB organic boxed raisins for years, averaging about one six-pack a week currently priced at $2.99. Bulk costs less but because of the sticky nature of raisins and the fact that I weigh everything I eat, the snack size is a lot easier to handle and I know how much I've consumed without having to weigh it. The 365 EV 6-pack of raisins costs $3.29, so not a better deal, right? No way since the 365 EV boxes are 1.5 ounces each as opposed to 1 oz!
$42 annual savings

Two 365 EV BPA-free cans of organic beans a week, many varieties! @.99 a can:
I love making old fashioned Maine baked beans in the winter, and I've lived on beans cooked from scratch during some tough times, but soaking and boiling beans on a regular basis gets in the way of my other from-scratch cooking. Beans are a healthful and less expensive alternative to meat, but buying organic in a BPA-free can averages about $2.50 a can.
$157 annual savings

Two bottles of 365 EV fragrance-free body lotion a year @$7.99 a bottle: 
I had been using fragrance-free Cetaphil that costs more than twice as much per ounce (even when purchased online) and contains petroleum products. As much lotion as I use (Maine winters are very dry) I never felt good about rubbing mineral oil into my skin. I had tried other pricey more natural products in the past but they either had a strong odor or didn't work very well. I've been using this for about a month and it's great! It contains argan, jojoba and coconut oils.
$22 annual savings

Whole Foods produce:
I was shocked to see that their non-organic fruit was very competitively priced with my local grocery store, and in some cases cost up to $2.50 less per pound! WF's sale prices so far have been outstanding and often include organic unlike my grocer. I just bought hybrid plums at WF at $1.49 a pound. At my local grocer they are $3.99 a pound! Last week WF had really good firm and super sweet organic cantaloupe at 2 for $4! This week it's 2 for $5 non-organic at my grocer. I would have thought that was a great deal up until now!

Timmy loves their organic Romaine which has more leafy greenery than “bones” (the white middle stems) he normally won't eat when compared to the NB. I've often had to discard half of his lettuce, so even though 365 EV lettuce is $1 more than the NB non-organic it's a better value. Today I bought him organic Tommy tomatoes for $2.99, about the same price as the imported non-organically grown at my grocer!

I do shop at my local farmer's market often and have my little organic vegetable garden, but still buy a lot of produce at the store that we can't get locally. Thanks to WF's pricing we will now have more access to affordable produce year-round with less thrown out. I think I can save at least $5 a week while eating more organic than evah. 
$260 annual savings while eating

5 bottles of 365 EV citrus shampoo and 5 bottles of 365 EV citrus conditioner a year @ $4.99 a bottle:
I have been buying shampoo and conditioner priced at $11 per bottle. 365 EV contains argan oil and I love it! It doesn't leave a residue in my hair, my scalp feels clean and my mid-life salt and pepper hair is moisturized. The scent is very light and doesn't give me a headache. They also make a fragrance-free shampoo and conditioner.
$60 annual savings

For the first time in over a decade I didn't need a trim at eight weeks like I usually do due to split ends. I was able to put it off another full month! I pay, with tip, $80 per haircut.
Bonus annual savings: $160

Certainly not everything is affordable or budget-friendly! I had to pull myself away from buying a small package of cotton candy made from maple sugar that cost almost five bucks. I'm still thinking about it, though, ha! There are loads of colorful, exciting expensive edibles there, in particular at their prepared foods department. I do want to try it at some point as a treat.

I'm still researching random products. Wayne like Alpen No-Sugar Added cereal. It's $4.99 at WF yet $5.29 at the grocer. These things add up!

To my fellow waist-watcher readers, you are savvy and know (or at least your metabolism will) that a fair trade organic sugar-laden highly processed product packaged in cardboard made from recycled paper isn't any different, calorie for calorie, than say, a Twinkie.

An added bonus is that everyone in the store has been very friendly and helpful. I wanted to do a comparison of their organic ground coffee, but the price tag was missing from the shelf. I asked an associate who said she couldn't find it either, so she said it was on the house! (So I can't offer a price comparison yet.) Another time I didn't realize until I got home that I didn't have my receipt which I needed for my research. I called them and within minutes a PDF of my receipt was emailed to me.


The store is clean, bright, and they usually play good music. Plus, Timmy approves.

Comments

  1. Averyl,

    AKKK! This is so interesting- thank you for doing the research. I regularly do most of my shopping at Natural Grocers/ Vitamin Cottage (a wonderful hippy type chain, based out of Colorado, but several states have these stores now- we are in Albuquerque, NM)- I hear people complain about "real" and "healthy" food costing so much more than regular food. I keep to a pretty strict weekly food and household budget and I have no trouble. I also shop at our local Kroger store (Smith's), Trader Joe's to round out the week with less expensive items. I have shopped at W.F. in the past, but seemed to always spend more. But it was an arbitrary "more" because I was buying things on a whim or not comparison shopping. I was just speaking with a friend who lives in Phoenix, AZ this morning and she was singing the praises of W.F. being so much cheaper than she remembered. She also mentioned a sales and coupon app she uses before shopping to see what the loss-leaders are for that week. WOW! I am installing it now. I use a similar app for Smith's and check the Trader Joe's and Natural Grocer's advertisements online before I shop so I know where the deals are. If you aren't aware of the app for W.F., check it out. Isn't it an absolute blast to be thrifty AND healthy?

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    1. It IS a blast! I'm downloading the app right now!! Your hippy grocer sounds great!

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    2. fantastic! there seem to be some good app- only specials!

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  2. Oh, and I was going to ask if you used a particular healthy shampoo/ conditioner for 40's hair with some silver and you were way ahead of me in this post. I'll try the 365 next week! I have found that expensive S & C isn't necessarily better, it just comes with a bigger price tag and a smell that gives me a headache :) Less frequent haircuts and less expensive products would be another great way to save- I hadn't thought of that, as 7-8 weeks was always just what I did... You've really got my budget wheels turning now. Thanks, again, for the inspiration!

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    1. You're welcome! It's so easy to get into budgeting/hair/skincare ruts. I've been reevaluating most everything since skin and hair changes a lot at this age, as do budgets and options. Please let me know how it works out after you've had a chance to try it. :)

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    2. I'll report back. My (facial) skin needs are changing, too. I am still prone to breakouts, but now I have smile lines and eye crinkles, ha! haven't found anything in that area that I like... you?

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    3. I DO have some facial creams that I have been using for almost ten years that still work well for me. I think I'll do a post on it!

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    4. I will in the next couple of weeks, promise! Taking some mini vaca between now and then that I'll be sharing, too. xo

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    5. Hey! I don't want to keep you waiting and I'm not sure I'll have time for a post on this soon since other things are lining up, so!

      I use Olay Regenerist. Here's my Amazon review:

      https://www.amazon.com/review/R3O487VQ68G8OU/ref=cm_cr_dp_title?ie=UTF8&ASIN=B0000CC64W&channel=detail-glance&nodeID=3760911&store=beauty

      I apply that in the a.m. Every a.m. and p.m. I apply Neutrogena Light Night Cream. I have yet to find anything more natural that is fragrance-free and works as well.

      :)

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  3. Nice article, Averyl! I tend to shop different stores because of price differences. I'm g;ad to learn that WF is becoming a better bargain for people that care about their health.

    I believe I made a salad last night with Timmy's favorite Romaine lettuce :-)

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  4. I have enjoyed reading your blog for some time time now, but I have never commented. This was helpful. They are building a Whole Foods near us. I will have to check it out when it opens.

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    1. Thank you for coming out of lurking to let me know, Sharon. :) I'm happy you'll have a WF near you soon!

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  5. My boyfriend and I roamed Whole Foods yesterday after reading your article. Impressed with produce and meats. Can't wait to cook. Have a great Monday!

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    1. Oh yeah, definitely impressive, especially with their 5 Step Animal Welfare rating system!

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    2. And thank you, you as well! Off to a new adventure!

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  6. This was really interesting, Averyl. Do you have a sense of how WF compares to Trader Joe's? I do realize that WF is more of a full grocery store, but both seem to focus on healthy ingredients.

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    1. Tina, good question. I haven't done any actual field research at TJ's like I did with WFs. I do know that WF's products are Non-GMO Verified whereas TJ's has their own internal process and is still working on getting more Non GMO Verified sources, according to their website. I have been to my local TJ's only once and disliked the layout and "vibe" plus the parking lot is the worst. I would love to hear from anyone reading this if you have compared organic WF's private label to TJ's! I've seen comparison shopping articles but it's never been organic apples to organic apples, so to speak.

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  7. Averyl, I LOVE Whole Foods! And precisely because they are "corporate" is why I like them. They are so varied in their products with lots of variety in almost every category. Their 365 quality brand is very much value priced and competitive. As Whole Foods is based in Texas there are quite a few here and there is one about 12 minutes from me and I've been shopping there for years. Having said that, I still shop at a regular grocery store in addition because my husband and stepson aren't quite on board with all things natural.

    I have that app, too, btw!!

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    1. Oh yes, that's right! You are in their hometown! I hope they'll open more stores in Maine, particularly in the greater Portland area. There is just the one and even shopping early it's getting harder to avoid crowds. I think more people are catching on!

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