Whole Foods is the largest chain of stores in the United States that sells foods without artificial preservatives, colors, or flavors. It’s pretty much easy to find keto-friendly food at a Whole Foods store. And yet, my favorite way to shop for groceries is still Whole Foods.
Let me count the ways: by far the biggest cost difference for me is in vegetables. My average purchase at the grocery store is $6.31 for local and non-difficult to ship vegetables.
I honestly think I spend $300 a month on vegetables, but if you buy the organic stuff at Trader Joe’s and Safeway, you’ll save ~$225 on those same trips.
There is no other place I’d rather shop for vegetables (I don’t count the places that already sell imported or organic produce, which are less expensive).
Since I buy local vegetables (see here for an extensive list of the varieties I prefer), I don’t mind my typical grocery bill. To compare costs, I compare who delivers to whom at my apartment complex. My equivalent of Whole Foods sells groceries to my building for about $6 per day.
The below histogram shows the change in grocery bills for the last three months compared to the same three months at other Whole Foods:
To put that in perspective: $14/month for a single resident food bill!
Canned beans in jars at Costco cost around $2.55. So if I want to cook a bunch of beans, it cost me $13 at Costco.
Costco’s difference in canned beans costs me less than $13 because the bulk bins at Costco are filled at Costco prices. If I want to buy the generic $2.99-a-can varieties whole-grain, I’d have to buy them at my store for ~$5 a can. So, buying generic beans at Costco saved me just over $13.
Costco also just charges me for Shipping. When I made the above chart, my largest $13 expense was $83.96 for Shipping. Since I shop almost exclusively in-store, that additional $83.96 represents $0.00 spent on my grocery bill.
Organic chicken has become widely available at big box stores, like Costco. For ~$3-4/lb, organic chicken has become as cheap as a whole chicken. Fresh berries are available for my Costco account, which costs me ~$9-10/lb. You’ll find me getting mangoes, raspberries, blueberries, peaches, kiwis, and blueberries at Costco.
Flowers are also available at Costco for ~$3/lb and just $3.50 for an extremely tiny package of just one bunch. We spend $6/month on flowers at our current landscaping company and eliminate the $20/month cost of flowers every time we go to Costco.
Depending on your location, you can get products in bulk at large grocery stores in your area for ~$3-4/lb.
On the surface, Whole Foods looks like a premium brand, with a mix of imported goods and US products: many grocery items don’t exist in Peru or Chile as often as they do in the US.
There are deli sections where you can get premium Greek meats such as prosody and feta and some rare imported cheese. There’s a deli section of some sort in almost every Whole Foods: it’s not hard to find a ham or cheese platter for under $3. And there are the signature deli sandwiches: the Trader Joe’s Big Mac, at $1.00, is one of the most recognizable sandwiches in the world; the “farmhouse cheese sandwich” is a French classic, at $3.99, while the New York-style “burgers and fries” costs a high $5.41 (if you buy them last). They carry imported wine and spirits in certain stores. All this, while an “all-American” possible grocery doesn’t cost more than $6.13 at Walmart, Costco, or a local corner store.
There’s a reason why Costco and Walmart are big brands in the US and Canada, which both have business strategies to dominate the grocery market: both are high-volume retail stores that are designed to get you in the door, buy what you need, and leave. There’s no time or money invested in hanging out in their aisles and hoping that you find a deal — they never run out of things to sell. This Process allows Big Box stores to offer amazingly low prices on out-of-direct-sourced products and low-cost membership or memberships. While for non-memberships, you end up paying huge amounts to shop there.
Whole Foods is absent of branded products within its aisles and doesn’t actively promote its products or associate with other brands. They simply sell incredibly cheap goods. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t some benefits to shopping there.
Whole Foods is extremely high volume — some kind of product occupies almost every aisle.
The vegetarian section has different meat cuts such as shin meals, pescatarian meats, Jizz patties, and… who can forget the cheese section? 70% cheese! I’ve never seen a cheese counter anywhere else in North America, so the odds are high that you will see a pack of cheese priced higher than $4.39. For all the barriers to buying cheese or meat in other grocery stores — like in Whole Foods — the prices are still up there in Canada or the US— and usually better than all other grocers.
Whole Foods Market at Stuart Street serves to produce frozen foods, liquor and beer, and meat. It is an annual special called “Better Ingredients Sale” during the holiday season. Every week you can find 20 percent off pretty much anything in their produce section: if you want to produce from multiple stores, just scan the barcode on the side of the box containing the produce.
To see the benefits of Whole Foods and its sale outperforming its traditional counterpart, we have to look at its pricing. When shopping for groceries online, you don’t pay by the weight of the item; instead, weight is a “social construct” to measure how expensive something is based on the basket size. Whole Foods uses this approach and will charge you an absurd amount for produce that is watered down (i.e., non-organic and non-seasonal).
The discount is not only due to the discounted prices but the practices of “conversion pricing”:
When you fill-up your Whole Food account, they score you points for how you shop, what you buy, what types of foods you buy, and even pay for the storage space on your behalf. When you buy in bulk, Simple has the highest promo, meaning “you’re only charged when you order (up to 5 pallets total for free or $20/bag over 1,000 Cubic Feet),” which is advantageous. A customer may order on average 40 pallets, and they will only pay for four.
Whole Foods considers all their points and folds in sale pricing to their price. You get five times more productive for this price than other grocery stores, a 15 percent discount on meat, an eight percent discount on dairy, and six times more categories of produce (peppers, carrots, lettuce, etc.) than any other grocer. And this is why it’s difficult to find keto-friendly produce at a grocery store. There are no low-cost produce options at Whole Foods; all foods carry the full price tag. What grocery stores do is offer low-cost produce, cheap produce, and anything in-between.
Because Whole Foods is based in California, they are dependent on labor. By nature, this means one way of saving money in labor costs is to hire staff who are already overpaid. The highest-paid employee at Trader Joe’s (an American grocery chain) is called a ‘packer’ or a ‘producer’ They earn between $30 an hour and $45 an hour (depending on overtime pay). A customer looking to buy a pound of organic produce will spend $159 at Trader Joe’s (vs. $60 at Walmart).
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