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