This story is part ofCNET’s collection of practical tips for making the most of your home, inside and out.
Whole Foods has long been considered by many to be a prohibitively expensive supermarket. But times — and the national grocer’s business model — have changed. There’s even an argument that you could.
Does that sound shocking? Hear me out.
It wasn’t long after Whole Foods Market expanded nationally and the moniker “Whole Paycheck” caught on. (Urban Dictionary says it appeared as early as 2006.) Since it was one of the first organic grocery chains, it probably has at least something to do with the sticker shock most Americans experienced from the price hikes from conventional foods to organic. It’s also possible that the attractive layout and wide selection of Whole Foods convinces us to fill our carts with more than we really need. Maybe it’s just the cheery Whole Foods font subliminally speaking to us, saying: Add it to your cart.
But after doing price comparisons between Whole Foods and other organic and conventional grocers for certain items, I’m not sure the Whole Paycheck moniker is appropriate. There are certainly items that can be overpriced due to the overhead of maintaining a store like Whole Foods, as you will find at any retailer, but there are also values to be found. Crunching the numbers, I’ve come up with a few strategies that illustrate how shopping at Whole Foods can actually save you money.
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Editor’s note: The specific prices listed below were obtained online through Whole Foods Market via Amazon in New York, and comparison prices were found using various local grocery stores, including Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Key Foods, and ShopRite via Instacart. Other national retail awards such as Target were obtained through their website.
Get an Amazon Prime discount
, setting up an online ordering system for in-store pickup and even offering delivery in certain areas. In addition to the convenience of buying groceries online, Amazon has passed along some savings to its Prime members. By downloading the file and you can get an additional 10% off sale prices at Whole Foods by connecting your Amazon Prime account. This doesn’t just apply when shopping online – the Amazon Prime barcode is available to scan at the in-store checkout. In addition, there are special weekly deals just for Prime members and even deeper discounts on groceries available at Whole Foods during Prime Days with savings of up to 50% on select items. (Prime Day discounts for Whole Foods ran from July 6 to July 12 this year). If you don’t already have an Amazon Prime account, you can .
Some math: At the time of this writing, a prime example of the in-store sale available at Whole Foods is grass-fed bone-in New York strip steak for $14 per pound—with the Amazon Prime discount, it’s $12.60 per pound. Compared to up to $24 a pound for the same quality steak elsewhere, that’s a potentially huge savings on your summer cookout. Looking for sale items is a good strategy to start with; it’s even better with the Prime discount.
Whole Foods also sells conventional foods, but it’s a good place to buy organic. You can even get organic foods under the 365 by Whole Foods Market brand. While organic foods are generally more expensive than their conventional counterparts—whether at Whole Foods or anywhere else—you’ll generally pay less for organic foods at Whole Foods than you would for the same organic products at conventional markets. If you’re only or primarily interested in eating organic, you may already be shopping at Whole Foods, but let this reassure you that you’re making sound mathematical choices.
Some math: Organic grapes currently sell for $3 per pound at Whole Foods ($2.70 with Amazon Prime discount) in my area (see editor’s note above), compared to $5 per pound at Stop & Shop, Lincoln Markets and other grocery stores. I also compared the price of organic broccoli at Whole Foods and the competition. Whole Foods came in at $3.49, which is cheaper than a pound of organic broccoli at Aldi ($3.65), Brooklyn Harvest ($8.09), Stop and Shop ($5) or any of the other options that appeared on Instacart.
Get the milk
At $3.69 per half gallon, 365 from Whole Foods Organic Milk can be worth a trip to Whole Foods by itself. (Depending on how close you live to a Whole Foods, of course..) One of the countless advantages of organic milk over conventional milk is that organic milk stays fresher for longer due to its natural preservative properties that have not been compromised by fertilizers or other chemicals.
Next time you’re in any grocery store, look at the expiration dates between conventional and organic milk brands. Case closed. If you’re someone who keeps milk on hand for coffee or the occasional bowl of cereal, but struggles to use it all up before it turns sour, this might be an effective strategy for you. Not only will you save money on Whole Foods organic milk over other organic brands, but you’ll potentially save money on milk, period, because you’ll never have to pour any down the drain. Am I speaking from personal experience here? I am I don’t always worry about organic products, but milk is a definite exception. And while you’re in the dairy section at Whole Foods, you can also check out the great prices on organic eggs.
Some math: 365 by Whole Foods Organic Milk is $3.69 per half gallon, even though it’s not on sale. Try to find a lower price; I’ll wait. In comparison, other popular organic brands like Organic Valley, Horizon and Stonyfield Organic tend to sell for $3 to $4 more per half gallon. Even proprietary or generic brands like Full Circle, Wholesome Pantry, or even Good & Gather start at $4 a half gallon and up.
Meet 365’s top performing brands
365 by Whole Foods Market is to Whole Foods like generic brands to brick-and-mortar grocery stores, and they’ll always be the best savings wherever you shop. Items marked 365 from Whole Foods will be cheaper than the same items with any other brand name. That’s always a good place to start when shopping at Whole Foods with a frugal mindset, even if some specific 365 brand items are necessarily cheaper than the same generic products at other stores. (As mentioned above, milk is a notable exception.)
They’re known, however, they “over-deliver” for their price and are worth the extra few cents for their favorable reviews and the customer loyalty they inspire. No matter which list you choose to look at, a simple Google search for “top 365 branded products” will reveal several repeat contenders for the top few spots, notably organic almond and peanut butter, extra virgin olive oil, and rice cauliflower.
Some math: At $8 for 33.8 ounces of Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $11.79 for 16 ounces of Creamy Organic Almond Butter, and $2.39 for 12 ounces of Organic Rice Cauliflower, these are all great values for excellent versions of these products.
Whole Foods has considerable buying power when it comes to artisanal cheese, but unlike many other large retailers, it has a cheese expert, Cathy Strange, at the helm of the program. Different Whole Foods tend to have different cheeses available depending on the stores’ relationships with local dairies. Thanks to the company’s buying power, it can offer prices on artisanal and other gourmet products that smaller specialty stores often can’t match. While “gourmet shopping” isn’t necessarily a money-saving strategy when it comes to entertaining or your next cheese plate needs, it’s good to know where to get good cheese for a little less.
Whole Foods not only has a great selection, but some of the best prices. And because it’s never too late to start planning your winter holidays, especially with inflation at its current level, watch this space for information on Whole Foods’ annual eventsale in December with discounts of up to 50% on 12 different cheeses for the season.
Some math: For example, Parmigiano Reggiano is a cheese that has strict DOP regulations, which means that the quality of the cheese that bears this name is guaranteed. At $21 a pound at Whole Foods, it’s also a steal compared to $24 and up at other retailers. Other world-class cheeses available at Whole Foods typically average $2 to $3 less per pound than what’s available at specialty cheese markets or even online gourmet retailers.