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Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck = Whole Fallacy


weinoo
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Over in the New York forum, Fat Guy started a topic about local supermarkets. Of course, for some New Yorkers, their local supermarket may well be Whole Foods. I often shop at the "downtown" Whole Foods, which is about a mile away, walking there and then hopping on the subway to come home; the subway is conveniently located right outside WF's door and it lets me out just down the block from my apartment...so I get some exercise and it costs me $2.25 (for now!) for transportation.

But something really bugs me about Whole Foods; well, not Whole Foods exactly, but the fact that for as long as I care to remember, people like to call it whole paycheck - I guess meaning that it's really expensive to shop there. Or maybe there's another deeper, more insidious meaning.

Guess what? Most expensive it's not.,,not by a longshot. Oh sure, I usually drop a pretty nice chunk of change when I shop there, probably because many things look good, they carry stuff I can't get anywhere else, and my trips there are only semi-regular. But as far as shopping goes here in NYC, it's far from the most expensive. As a matter of fact, for many items, it's the best bargain in town.

And I would also venture a guess that if there's a Whole Foods in/near your hometown, it's far from the most expensive place to shop there either. Don't get me wrong - I'm sure some items are more expensive; exorbitant even, but how many ostrich eggs are you buying today?

So what's the deal? Don't you agree that the term whole paycheck when referring to Whole Foods needs to go bye bye already?

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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What is equally irritating is that Fresh and Easy out here has picked up on the phrase and uses it in their advertising along the line of "not your whole paycheck". I can't stand F & E as all the produce is pre-packaged. I shop WF mostly in the bulk bins and it is competitive. It is in the same shopping center as a Trader Joes and a Nijiya (Japanese market). They all do a brisk business and have their own niches. I frequent all three.

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When I hear "Whole Paycheck," I'm reminded of the reaction that Fairway got when they first opened their Long Island location. A lot of people complained it was expensive, but my parents--my mother is a bargain hunter who goes probably too far to save money--pointed out that a lot of this criticism of grocery receipts adding up to more was because those higher quality, more expensive products were simply easily available in a local supermarket for pretty much the first time, and a lot of it was impulse buys. (For what it's worth, my parents still shop regularly at the LI Fairway but almost never go to Stop and Shop, which I think says something about prices.)

Like any other grocery store, Whole Foods has some things cheaper and some other items more expensive than other stores. It all depends on what kind of items you choose to buy there; if you're only buying brand-name products, your grocery bill will run higher than if you stick with their store brand, just like any store.

Personally, we go to Whole Foods when we want to cook something specific because another store is more convenient. I see no true price difference, at least if you ignore the inevitable impulse buys I make when I'm shopping alone.

"I know it's the bugs, that's what cheese is. Gone off milk with bugs and mould - that's why it tastes so good. Cows and bugs together have a good deal going down."

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Obviously I'm in a different land, but I think there's a tremendous inverse snobbery at play here. Those of us who shop in similar places over here are often viewed as crazy food snobs who have more money than they know what to do with. The truth is an inconvenience to this stereotype.

Again, I can't speak for Whole Foods, but the interesting thing here is that the local equivalent is only really expensive for anything vaguely "ready-made". Raw ingredients are often cheaper, and of much higher quality, than the normal supermarkets. It seems likely that the complainers frequently aren't shopping for raw ingredients.

Edited by Simon_S (log)
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what WF is doing is selling an "experience" as every business does

that the WF experience is somewhat pricy.

they took over Bread and Circus in my area and immediately cut the bulk isle by more than 80 %

B&S had a double sided length of the store bulk now WF has < 1/4 one side same isle.

there premium is that you feel different buying there.

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And I would also venture a guess that if there's a Whole Foods in/near your hometown, it's far from the most expensive place to shop there either.

Here in Cambridge we have three of them. Plus two Trader Joe's and two or three regular supermarkets, but I go out to to Russo's in Watertown to buy produce, because it is cheaper and just as good. They have an excellent cheese counter that's much less expensive than Whole Foods. Sure, if I really want to spend a lot for no reason, I could go to Cardullo's in Harvard Square, but I never buy anything there. There are a few things I will go to Whole Foods for, but at least in this area, they may not be the most expensive, but they are not a bargain by any means.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I go out to to Russo's in Watertown to buy produce, because it is cheaper and just as good. They have an excellent cheese counter that's much less expensive than Whole Foods.

So you've actually compared all the produce at one store with the prices at other? Same with cheese...I find some damn good cheeses at Whole Foods that are quite competitively priced, and then when I step into the cave at Whole Foods, I find stuff that isn't really available anywhere else.

Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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I think it depends on where you live. Whole foods is considerably more expensive than my local Publix (except for produce which seems about the same). The quality is also better than Publix so you're not really comparing like items though.

If I did all my actual food shopping at Whole Foods, it would probably raise my bill by 20-25%. I shop WF for fish, meats, specialty items and some produce and buy my kitchen staples at Publix.

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Eh, ya know...I've grown up my whole life eating food from Waldbaum's, Keyfood, Shoprite and the like. I've grown up perfectly healthy. My parents never really felt the need to shop at a Whole Foods type place if it existed then. I continue to shop at Shoprite and Keyfood. I use use coupons regularly and (feel like) I save a lot of money that way.

I do not purchase a large amount of "processed" foods. Mostly meats, dairy, vegetables, etc.

WF charges more for the same stuff and it doesn't make me feel any better spending more money for stuff I have to drive further to get to (in Westchester).

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Again, I can't speak for Whole Foods, but the interesting thing here is that the local equivalent is only really expensive for anything vaguely "ready-made". Raw ingredients are often cheaper, and of much higher quality, then the normal supermarkets. It seems likely that the complainers frequently aren't shopping for raw ingredients.

That's mostly my impression, too.

But it's hard to generalize accurately about the place. Some of their ingredients are expensive (medium-quality, stratospherically priced chickens), and some prepared foods are cheap (I satisfy my Clif Bar addiction at WF ... it's the cheapest source in the city).

Notes from the underbelly

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Funny, I was JUST talking about this with my wife the other night. For me, Whole Foods has the POTENTIAL to be “Whole Paycheck”…..but when that happens it is because of impulse buying. And it is HARD sometimes to walk past some good looking matsutake mushrooms or stone crab claws. There is an inordinate amount of luxury “wants” at Whole Foods (and convenience items like their insanely priced mixed fruit containers) vs. what I actually “need”, and self discipline can be an issue. With that said, when I walk in with a list of exactly what I’m looking for....good eggs, yogurt, bulk grains and rice, flat iron steaks, etc., I often walk out spending less than I would at my local grocery store. I’ll generally allow myself one or two “nice” items (they had some gorgeous heirloom tomatoes the other day I couldn’t resist), and always one or two of their salt-topped mini ciabattas.

I guess my question is- are the people calling it “Whole Paycheck” thinking of it in terms of a primary source for all of the weekly groceries? Who here uses it as their “local grocer” vs. what I do- more of a specific staple or specialty item location? I would probably have to do some serious planning and strategic shopping in order to afford making it my main grocery store. For example, we recently began trying to get all of our meat from local sources instead of Tyson, Farmland, etc. from the local Price Chopper. The cost difference has meant modifying our diet to eat less (but a MUCH higher and delicious quality) meat. I guess we could do the same in order to shop somewhere like Whole Foods, but then that brings up a whole other discussion about whether or not Whole Foods is the smartest place to spend your money just because it's Whole Foods....

Joined our first CSA this year, so between what we get there, local markets and our local butcher (Paradise Locker Meats in Trimble, Missouri...total rockstars, btw), we try to depend less and less on grocery stores for our fresh goods.

Jerry

Kansas City, Mo.

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My eG Food Blog- 2011

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So you've actually compared all the produce at one store with the prices at other?

Not all of it, just the things I usually buy. Russo's also has a lot of fresh Asian ingredients that are hard to get elsewhere, like fresh curry leaf. Fruit is definitely cheaper. In fact, I've been told (not sure how reliable this is) that Russo's supplies some of the local WF's with their conventional produce; so it's exactly the same goods. Maybe it is different in New York, but face it, elsewhere you can often do better than WF.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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I guess my question is- are the people calling it “Whole Paycheck” thinking of it in terms of a primary source for all of the weekly groceries? Who here uses it as their “local grocer” vs. what I do- more of a specific staple or specialty item location?

It is just another resource in the long list of stores I frequent depending on the item. It is close by and well stocked so if I am out of phyllo dough for instance, I know they will have it, versus possibly trecking to 2 major chain markets and being disappointed.

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I like Whole Foods a lot, and visit the one in downtown Austin whenever I'm in the area. The place is usually scrupulously clean, staff is helpful and relatively knowledgeable, and there's a ton of higher-quality or unusual ingredients to choose from, as others have pointed out.

That said, it seems... odd to white knight a company's reputation online, particularly when complaints boil down to an unflattering nickname.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Funny, I was JUST talking about this with my wife the other night. For me, Whole Foods has the POTENTIAL to be “Whole Paycheck”…..but when that happens it is because of impulse buying.

Here in the Chicago area, I'd say it's about the same.

My impression is that WF has become less expensive overall in the past 5 or so years. They are still expensive for produce compared with the big produce-oriented markets. Meanwhile their produce has (in my opinion and, again, in my local area) slipped terribly in quality. A lot seems to vary depending on your region and even from store to store in my region.

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Dunno about prices in NYC, but WF is definitely more expensive on many identical products here in the New Orleans market. Individual Fage 0% yogurt w/fruit on the side is $1.99/ea at WF; my local Winn Dixie carries the same thing for $1.79, and WalMart sells it for $1.49/ea. A similar pricing spread exists for Chobani. A can of Amy's Chili is $2.49 at Whole Foods; it sells for at least 30 cents less at Rouses, a local grocery chain--ditto for the plastic clamshells of Organic Girl lettuces. That's just three off the top of my head, familiar because I routinely purchase said items at various stores in my area. Oh, and King Arthur Flour: 75 cents to a dollar more for 5-lb bags.

WF does have a few loss-leader items in this market, namely Clif bars & other food-replacement bars (and a huge selection of them, too). WF's seafood case is so horribly, ridiculously overpriced for this region that I avoid walking next to it on principle. $9.99/lb for "local, wild-caught" Gulf shrimp when I can get them three steps closer to the fisherman for $5/lb less? Pluh-leese.

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The Whole Foods in Las Vegas is the second-most expensive market in the area. (A gourmet food and butcher is #1)

If y'all recall, I tried to kick-start an "area market report" here.

Listing your favorite markets is probably a better idea than kvetching about the prices at Whole Foods.

Who cares how time advances? I am drinking ale today. -- Edgar Allan Poe

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Funny, I was JUST talking about this with my wife the other night. For me, Whole Foods has the POTENTIAL to be “Whole Paycheck”…..but when that happens it is because of impulse buying.

Here in the Chicago area, I'd say it's about the same.

My impression is that WF has become less expensive overall in the past 5 or so years. They are still expensive for produce compared with the big produce-oriented markets. Meanwhile their produce has (in my opinion and, again, in my local area) slipped terribly in quality. A lot seems to vary depending on your region and even from store to store in my region.

The Lincoln Park WF kicks ass. I go out of my way to go there. What other grocery store can you go to and drink a beer while shopping?

That said, I agree with your comment. It really depends where you live. The grocery stores in the burbs are far cheaper, but most of them aren't offering the high end products that WF offers.

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I live in Fairfield County and I understand where weinoo is coming from: here the "regular" grocery stores jack their prices up so much that Whole Foods isn't more expensive.

In Hartford where my mom lives, groceries at the "regular" store are about half the price of what I'd pay, but her Whole Foods is the same price as mine.

I shop at Whole Foods because it's across the street from my apartment and I'm lazy. Sometimes I pay too much for things but they're always at least high quality.

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To give Whole Foods some credit, they are better at stocking local products than the big chain supermarkets. But they do charge a premium for them. And they do have some standard of quality. My neighborhood Shaw's is a terrible place to shop for fresh produce or cheese; low quality and not good prices either. They're more useful for canned goods and nonfood items.

"I think it's a matter of principle that one should always try to avoid eating one's friends."--Doctor Dolittle

blog: The Institute for Impure Science

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while I love Whole Foods, here it's definitely the most expensive. I sometimes walk out with ONE bag that cost me over $100.

Now, this may be related to the fact that I go to Whole Foods for the "good" stuff. Air chilled chicken, nice aged beef, wonderful olive bar (at $9 or 10/lb), fresh water cress, things like that.

I'd never go there for regular groceries, for one, they don't have everything a household needs, and they usually don't have a "normal" option next to the expensive meats or other things. It's definitely upscale here, I don't know of a more expensive store. There are two not too far that tend to the same high end market, at about the same prices. (Lunardi's and Diablo Foods) just not as convenient to reach for me.

We have a new Fresh and Easy, I found it disappointing. No meat counter, everything in those filled with gas boxes, nice fresh (supposedly local) produce, but I get that at the market, the rest of the store just felt too sterile to me, I prefer the somewhat cluttered with millions of things WF or the fake pirate ship Trader Joe's, though the later is now decorated with nice paintings of Mount Diablo and surrounding areas. But even TJ's doesn't have everything, so I find myself at Safeway at least once a week. We have a nice small one very close and two large ones not too far. They even freshly grind meat for me, which is nice.

For fish I usually go to the asian markets, as they are a LOT cheaper than Whole Food ($16 or more per lb of fish gets expensive for a family of 4) and it's always fun to marvel at all the things I've never seen or heard of before.

So, in a way, I can understand the whole paycheck thing. If WF would be the only market within reasonable distance to me, and I'd live in a big town like NY where I'd either not have or at least never move my car, it could get very expensive to only shop at their store. Quickly. But I do love shopping there!

"And don't forget music - music in the kitchen is an essential ingredient!"

- Thomas Keller

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scrupulously clean, staff is helpful and relatively knowledgeable

That is worth something in my opinion.

They do also have a better standard for many items (but not all) and they are conveneient for me. It's not the "best and only" option, but I love having one on my way home, when I need it for certain things (like fish). Sure, overall it is more pricy than your run-of-the-mill store if you buy everything there, but when picking and choosing it fairs very well.

My all time favorite store in Houston though is Central Market, it beats WF by a mile honestly, but it is very much out of the way for me...

E. Nassar
Houston, TX

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Central Market has a good selection, but the one closer to downtown Austin (I think there's at least two there, one of them far south side) is in a repurposed building with a bunch of interior walls and a confusing layout, so it's kind of a pain to shop in, IMHO. Maybe if I went there often enough I'd be able to find stuff more easily and not feel like I went grocery shopping in an IKEA or something.

This is my skillet. There are many like it, but this one is mine. My skillet is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it, as I must master my life. Without me my skillet is useless. Without my skillet, I am useless. I must season my skillet well. I will. Before God I swear this creed. My skillet and myself are the makers of my meal. We are the masters of our kitchen. So be it, until there are no ingredients, but dinner. Amen.

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Way more expensive than other stores, outside of high-end specialty stores, here in Atlanta. I live in the Marietta area, so I'm still somewhat in withdrawal from moving to the suburbs from being more centrally located, but I've adjusted and I can say that I'm extremely familiar with the prices at all of the markets in the Northern metro area, including the large chains. We have a few Kroger locations here that have gone upscale and are now carrying much better products, such as castelvetrano olives, and our local Publix is reasonable for many everyday items. Surprisingly, Wal-Mart has gotten much, much better with their meat and produce selections, but I don't frequent it because it's harder to find many of the quality items to which I'm accustomed.

That said, I still find it worthwhile to visit the Buford Highway Farmers Market, which is essentially on the other side of town in Chamblee. We only go once a week, but the prices on produce, which is also very good quality, are simply that much better. The same for meat, seafood and their house-baked breads. If I bought the same items at Whole Foods, which would be easily 20 minutes closer to my house, my weekly grocery bill would be at least double. I only visit Whole Foods in a "gourmet food emergency," if there is such a thing, and often times I walk out without buying anything because the sticker shock is so extreme.

I can understand how it would be different in New York, so I guess I feel lucky that I have as many options as I do in this area.

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Dunno about prices in NYC, but WF is definitely more expensive on many identical products here in the New Orleans market. Individual Fage 0% yogurt w/fruit on the side is $1.99/ea at WF; my local Winn Dixie carries the same thing for $1.79, and WalMart sells it for $1.49/ea. A similar pricing spread exists for Chobani. A can of Amy's Chili is $2.49 at Whole Foods; it sells for at least 30 cents less at Rouses, a local grocery chain--ditto for the plastic clamshells of Organic Girl lettuces. That's just three off the top of my head, familiar because I routinely purchase said items at various stores in my area. Oh, and King Arthur Flour: 75 cents to a dollar more for 5-lb bags.

WF does have a few loss-leader items in this market, namely Clif bars & other food-replacement bars (and a huge selection of them, too). WF's seafood case is so horribly, ridiculously overpriced for this region that I avoid walking next to it on principle. $9.99/lb for "local, wild-caught" Gulf shrimp when I can get them three steps closer to the fisherman for $5/lb less? Pluh-leese.

This. I think another problem is that often, people compare apples and oranges. It typically does cost many people more to shop at Whole Foods, because it costs more to provide organic, local, blah blah blah. When you compare the cost of a product grown conventionally with the same thing grown organically, the organic thing tends to cost more. People notice that it costs more, not that it's different and shouldn't cost the same. And as Celeste mentioned, (and this might just be in New Orleans) but Whole Foods' packaged products are absolutely more expensive.

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