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Whole Foods = Whole Paycheck = Whole Fallacy


weinoo
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Whole Foods do tend to have that "pleasant, nice, clean" vibe that at least MY local grocers lack. And it's something I'm willing to pay for. Then again, I live in Oklahoma...

It is a nice "perk." Most, if not all of the staff are pleasant and even cheery. They say hello and ask if they can help you find anything.

At my Fine Fare, just getting someone to look up and acknowledge one's presence is a major coup.

And cleanliness? Well, let's just say our Fine Fare is known around the nabe as Swine Fare.

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's safe to say that, in my case at least, I wouldn't be paying any less at my local grocery store; I'd probably be paying more. I also can safely say that a lot of the stuff above won't even be available there.

As a side note, in my experience (Chicago and Philadelphia), "standard" grocery store chains (Jewel, Acme, Superfresh...) are terrible places to shop, especially for produce. I have always been able to find far better prices and quality by going to dedicated produce stores or ethnic markets (Hispanic, Asian etc). As a previous commenter pointed out, the ethnic markets aren't going to have organic produce like Whole Foods but then the major chains don't typically have much of a selection either. I'm guessing it has a lot to do with turnover since I hardly ever see people spending much time in the produce sections of those chains....

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They also have at least one horrible WF; honestly if I'd first stepped into that one, I would be mystified about why people ever went into a WF at all. (The people who work there are perfectly nice; they just have an awful selection.)

That's interesting to me. Are these terrible Whole Foods markets that the company bought which were pre-existing as something else? It's hard to believe that they would build a brand new market and make it terrible.

I really don't know what the deal is with that. As FoodTutor suggests, they may have bought a smaller property, but I don't think that can be all of it. I'm guessing it's like different branches of a Barnes and Noble or similar; some stores seemed to have been assigned different profiles based on demographics and travel patterns and things. The horrible WF is in a strip mall in an area where there are some pretty wealthy suburbs but all spread out. Actually, the more I think about it, I wonder why they have a store there at all.

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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...

I am with you on this - WF is the closest store to my house, but I always go to Central Market (in Dallas). Just significantly better in my opinion (I haven't been to or seen a supermarket that looks better regardless of price, although I haven't been to Eataly).

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I love Whole Foods. I shop there frequently. But I still use the "Whole Paycheck" moniker because I find that it IS expensive compared other places in the area. I think the specific area you live in plays a major role. Maybe in New York City, in Manhattan, it's competitive. But in suburban middle America in fly over states (Dallas, TX for me), it's on the high end. We have regional/national grocery stores. We have lots of Walmart Supercenters. We have Super Targets. There is A LOT of competition and options in this market. This is a good thing if you live here. But WF is certainly at the high end. The CHEAPEST options at WF for things like milk, eggs, butter, are a lot more than the cheapest option at say, Tom Thumb (a regional chain with many, many locations in Dallas). Same thing goes with something like a chicken. Produce? I recently bought some flat leaf parsley at WF for $1.49. Other stores in the area sell it for $.99

Jeff Meeker, aka "jsmeeker"

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Produce? I recently bought some flat leaf parsley at WF for $1.49. Other stores in the area sell it for $.99

But that's my point. How much parsley do you have to buy before your shopping eats up your whole paycheck at Whole Foods vs. Tom Thumb?

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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But that's my point. How much parsley do you have to buy before your shopping eats up your whole paycheck at Whole Foods vs. Tom Thumb?

IMHO, that seems as though it's asking for a bit too much literal truth when 'Whole Paycheck' is usually used tongue-in-cheek.

But a 50% increase in a grocery bill is certainly significant, especially with rising prices overall.

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But that's my point. How much parsley do you have to buy before your shopping eats up your whole paycheck at Whole Foods vs. Tom Thumb?

IMHO, that seems as though it's asking for a bit too much literal truth when 'Whole Paycheck' is usually used tongue-in-cheek.

But a 50% increase in a grocery bill is certainly significant, especially with rising prices overall.

It's used "tongue-in-cheek" to the point where it become conventional wisdom. Which is conventionally wrong.

50% increase in parsley. Not the grocery bill. If you believe the conventional wisdom.

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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It's used "tongue-in-cheek" to the point where it become conventional wisdom. Which is conventionally wrong.

50% increase in parsley. Not the grocery bill. If you believe the conventional wisdom.

More than 50% increase in the total grocery bill, for this consumer, at least.

I can buy a 10 pound bag of Idaho russets at my local Latin market for $1. I also routinely buy onions and garlic at similar prices. Peppers, cilantro and limes are essentially free. My local Asian markets sell seafood for less than 25% of Whole Foods prices -- and the seafood I buy at the Asian market is "live in a tank" fresh.

I get USDA prime ribeyes at Costco for $10/lb. and Rwandan coffee for $4.50/lb. Costco also sells Parmigiano Reggiano for the same price per pound that WF sells the RINDS for. Who pays $10/lb for Parmesan bones? WF's pinenuts, porcini mushrooms, olive oil, pistachios, balsamic vinegar and San Marzano canned tomatoes are shockingly expensive compared to what I pay at International Market.

Finally, I use SysCo for a lot of items, like unsalted butter, bread flour, ducklings, etc.

Now don't get me wrong -- I love Whole Foods, especially the cheese/dairy section and the bulk rice/grain. I go to Whole Foods for the stuff that's unavailable elsewhere. And I don't ever call it Whole Paycheck*.

But my typical WF trip consists of some bulk grains, a pound of Delitia butter, some Devonshire cream, a pound of proscuitto, half a pound of cheese to try out, and some stuff from the olive bar. And nothing else. For most of the things I buy, I can find similar (and sometimes better) quality elsewhere at significantly lower prices.

And it's not like I need to do a lot of running around -- three of the markets I routinely go to are less than a mile from work. Two more are less than a mile from my wife's office. And three are within putting distance of each other in Chinatown.

I think the people most apt to defend WFs prices live in high-dollar areas like San Francisco and New York. The less a person pays for a sack of potatoes, the more outrageous WFs prices will appear.

* But I do call the housewares store chain, "Bed, Bath and Beyond Our Means."

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

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Produce? I recently bought some flat leaf parsley at WF for $1.49. Other stores in the area sell it for $.99

But that's my point. How much parsley do you have to buy before your shopping eats up your whole paycheck at Whole Foods vs. Tom Thumb?

I, for one, buy Italian (flat leaf) parsley pretty much every time I shop, unless its come in the CSA share. Same for cilantro. They're refrigerator staples for me, I use them so much.

On my budget, those $0.50's here and $0.50's there (DAMN that there's no "cents" symbol on a modern keyboard....) add up. Quickly.

Whole Foods, in suburban Southern California, is SIGNIFICANTLY higher on staple products than the chains and OUTRAGEOUSLY higher than Trader Joe's. Unless they are the sole source for something I desperately need, I will not patronize them. I have other alternatives.

But I do see how, in a tight, metro area like NYC, SF, or DC, they could be comparable to other outlets. Just not in my neck of the woods.

--Roberta--

"Let's slip out of these wet clothes, and into a dry Martini" - Robert Benchley

Pierogi's eG Foodblog

My *outside* blog, "A Pound Of Yeast"

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I get USDA prime ribeyes at Costco for $10/lb. and Rwandan coffee for $4.50/lb. Costco also sells Parmigiano Reggiano for the same price per pound that WF sells the RINDS for. Who pays $10/lb for Parmesan bones? WF's pinenuts, porcini mushrooms, olive oil, pistachios, balsamic vinegar and San Marzano canned tomatoes are shockingly expensive compared to what I pay at International Market.

Once again, I need to point out something...I saw Extra Virgin Spanish olive oil at WF for $5 a liter. Parmesan for $12 a pound. Is that shockingly expensive?

The canned San Marzano tomatoes - are they DOP San Marzanos? How much are they? How much is the "balsamic" vinegar? Is it real?

The pine nuts...are they Chinese pine nuts? The fish swimming in the tanks at the Asian markets - where are they from? Sustainable?

I agree that Whole Foods isn't selling prime ribeyes for $10/lb. Or coffee for $4.50, but is Costco roasting their coffee onsite daily? Or does it come in a 2 lb. can, that was most likely roasted 6 months ago? Is it organic? Fair trade?

What I'm trying to point out is that there are a lot of variables to take into account when comparison shopping. And I'm also learning that in urban areas at least, WF isn't any more of a whole paycheck than my local Fine Fare.

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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Once again, I need to point out something...I saw Extra Virgin Spanish olive oil at WF for $5 a liter. Parmesan for $12 a pound. Is that shockingly expensive?

My local Whole Foods usually have Parmesan for $18 a pound. $12 per pound would have to be a special sale price or a loss leader. The best price I can get around here now would be $13-14.

"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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Once again, I need to point out something...I saw Extra Virgin Spanish olive oil at WF for $5 a liter. Parmesan for $12 a pound. Is that shockingly expensive?

WF in Las Vegas sells parmesan RINDS for $9.99/lb. and parmesan for $19.99/lb. That's double what I pay for identical quality.

The canned San Marzano tomatoes - are they DOP San Marzanos? How much are they? How much is the "balsamic" vinegar? Is it real?

The pine nuts...are they Chinese pine nuts? The fish swimming in the tanks at the Asian markets - where are they from? Sustainable?

My, you ask a lot of questions.

The tomatoes are DOP -- I won't buy anything less. The balsamic is real. I know the difference. The olive oil is first cold pressed -- I have literally 100 varieties to choose from, all in 4-liter cans. (Google "International Market" in Las Vegas. It's one of the few things I really love about this place.)

I haven't checked the provenance of the pine nuts, but it makes great pesto. The fish at the asian markets is mostly farm-raised.

I agree that Whole Foods isn't selling prime ribeyes for $10/lb. Or coffee for $4.50, but is Costco roasting their coffee onsite daily? Or does it come in a 2 lb. can, that was most likely roasted 6 months ago? Is it organic? Fair trade?

The coffee isn't roasted daily. It comes in a 3lb bag. And based on turnover, I doubt it's more than a few weeks out of the roaster. I only buy East African coffee because I used to live in that part of the world and like to do my part to help. Doesn't mention fair-trade on the bag, so I'll concede that point.

What I'm trying to point out is that there are a lot of variables to take into account when comparison shopping. And I'm also learning that in urban areas at least, WF isn't any more of a whole paycheck than my local Fine Fare.

And what several people are trying to point out is that WF obviously has different pricing structures for different markets. It might not be "Whole Paycheck" for you, but here where the income is less and the WF prices are higher, it's a more fitting description.

And as mentioned, I shop WF every week, but only for the handful of items where it makes sense for me to shop at WF.

If you ever come to Las Vegas, I will show you the glory that is International Market. Then you'll have a grocery store to rave about.

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

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My, you ask a lot of questions.

Yep, I do. Because that's how I try to ascertain whether my original assertion is correct or not.

Otherwise, we end up with posts stating Whole Foods' prices are SIGNIFICANTLY higher. Without giving a single example. Or that the balsamic is real; I mean even at Costco the real stuff is $55 for 100 mls. Though it's only 12 years old, meaning it's a baby in the balsamico world.

So, you know, just trying to get some answers here.

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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The original assertion was whether or not WF was significantly more expensive than other markets. I think we can say that WF is not a cheap place to shop, but you tend to get what you pay for. A real butcher, high quality foods, lots of bulk items and with some shopping on sales, you can get some great deals. It fills a niche in the market that I find useful.

I don't think it makes sense to compare it to Costco. Costco, also part of my routine, has certain things at great prices and generally also of high quality. Pine nuts, blocks of parm, heavy cream you can get at a vast discount for the quality/quantity. But, you aren't going to find a lot of things at costco that you need to make dinner during a normal week. In this case, costco is a great supplement to your shopping. Yes, they sell wine at Costco and I might pick up a few bottles but I also prefer to go to Esquin, my local wine shop to get their opinions and I think I learn a little bit more about it when I do. I also buy from garagiste, which I get totally stucked into

The Asian market is the same. You're going to find a lot of stuff you won't find at Costco and for Asian staples, my guess is that it will be cheaper. You'll also find weird fish and meat selections that you might not find elsewhere and pork belly at ridiculously cheap prices. The cheap cuts are still cheap, even though they might now be gourmet elsewhere. The tradeoff is that you might trust less about where your stuff comes from and you're unlikely to find the best milk around, etc.

All three of these have their place and I'm happy to make them all part of my routine.

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I have called it Food Hole for many years and will continue to do so..... I don't think their prices are unfair, and some are bargains - but if price is truly your main concern you have to pay attention to the values on the shelves, rather than look for loss leaders as you would at any other grocery megamart.

I like the name Food Hole because I often come out with new things, treats, or just a good bag of grub.

It doesn't hurt that I find John Mackey's personality refreshingly blunt for a CEO of *any* company let alone a "crunchy" one.

"You can't taste the beauty and energy of the Earth in a Twinkie." - Astrid Alauda

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I did a very quick run over to my local a few minutes ago to pick up a chicken. I grabbed a few prices before I left.

Whole Foods Fine Fare

Milk: Store 1 Qt $1.29 1.29

1/2 Gal $1.99 2.29

Gal $3.49 4.19

Organic Valley 1/2 l $4.49

Horizon Organic 1/2 Gal 5.69

Butter

Kates 5.19 Cabot 5.49

Fage 4.39 4.99

Friendship CC lb. 3.39 3.99

Cream Cheese Store 1.69 2.19

Philly 3.39 2.89

Chicken

Bell & Evans Whole 1.99

Empire Kosher 3.49 (price just increased, used to be 2.99)

Okay, so I'm lame with the columns, but the only item more expensive at Whole Foods was the Philadelphia cream cheese. Even bananas are more expensive at Fine Fare.

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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  • 2 years later...

I stumbled into Whole Foods yesterday after a very long work day with the intention of grabbing some chicken necks and backs. Yes I could have driven 25 minutes to the big Chinese market, but gas costs and irritability factors prevailed. I needed to get some chicken stock going to save my sanity. I was pleasantly surprised that the organic necks (out of backs) were $1.99 per pound. The butcher also pointed out that they also had turkey necks and turkey wings for the same price. I got an assortment and also a few chicken feet (non GMO). They were pricey at $2.49 a pound, but I love the gelatin they add to stock. The turkey parts he said were in response to folks wanting to make turkey broth for gravy ahead of the holiday.

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Having moved within a 2 minute walk of the Logan Circle (DC) WF in September, it is not only my local supermarket, but the only one within a MANY block radius, and consequently is where I do most of my urban shopping now (I still hit up the VA suburbs for Super H Mart and random Middle Eastern/South Asian places). In the last couple months I've become intimately familiar with most things on offer there:

The good:

  • Their organic meat is no more expensive than organic meat at specialty butchers or the rare occurrences of organic at Giant/Shitway (yeah, I can't stand Safeway). And ALL their meat is antibiotic & hormone free and vegetarian-fed, not just the certified organic stuff.
  • Milk in plastic/tetra-pak is no more expensive, and I can get a 1/2 gal glass jug of milk from grass-fed, organically raised for $4 or so, which is a great price.
  • The bulk aisle is fantastic. Bulk spices are dirt cheap, and if you only need a few tablespoons of something, they'll give it to you for free. Bulk nuts, dried fruit, and grains, pound for pound, are FAR cheaper than their pre-packaged offerings sold in the same aisle.
  • Eggs are not too bad, I think organic/free range eggs at Safeway cost about the same.
  • The store-made sandwiches and pizzas (whole and by the slice) are quite good and quite fairly priced ($6-7 and $3 or so, respectively)
  • The beer section is pretty damn good and despite the fact that beer in the DC area now costs at least $10 for a six pack, which kills me, it's not much more than that.
  • Their sales are pretty sweet, though often last for one day only. One day they had organic whole chickens 2 for 1, another day they had organic apples at $1.50 a pound (see below).
  • Almost anything with the 365 house brand label is pretty good value even if it's not the tastiest option (such as oils, cereals, cheeses, etc)

The not so good:

  • Produce is not particularly cheap, even for the most part stuff in season. It's apple season, and conventional apples are no cheaper than $1.50 a pound, organic no cheaper than $2.50 a pound, on up to $3.50. The exception is winter squash, right now they're practically giving it away. Most other things I don't care as much about for organic and usually pick up at H Mart. I will say that the produce sold at WF is of excellent quality compared to anywhere else, but once something's cooked, the differences are much more subtle.
  • Cheese. Their cheese selection is great, but Trader Joe's has comparable cheese for much less.
  • Convenience or "luxury" foods are expensive almost across the board:
    • Charcuterie/house-made sausages are VERY expensive.
    • The pre-made food section (salad bar, specifically) is absurdly expensive. $9/lb, and it's VERY easy to get to a pound of their salads. I will grant that they have the best pre-made/salad bar anywhere, but still..
    • Fish is comically expensive. Super H Mart has fish for about 1/3 the price, across the board, even the wild-caught stuff.
    • Chocolate ranges from $3 to $7+ for a standard sized bar of good dark chocolate. Trader Joe's has an 85% for $2 for two bars.
    • Almost anything imported and not sold in bulk. Ortiz bonito del norte in a jar was $14!!! (Though in a can, $7)
    • Most of the cold drinks sold near the ready-made/salad section. $3+ for a bottle of iced tea? At least that for a small container of coconut water (when TJ's sells litres of Zico for $4 or less). Iced coffee at $6 for 16 oz or so? Forget that!

So what's my bottom line? A full shop at WF definitely is a "whole paycheck" experience, but for strategic purchases and selective shopping, it's not so bad and I'm glad I have an option for very high quality food where it matters.

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I'm lucky enough to have large Asian, Mexican, Polish and Italian supermarkets in short driving range, as well as an independent with a good butcher. I would spend five times more at Whole Foods for no more choice and rarely better quality. Yeah, "Whole Paycheck" resonates with me.

That's one way to look at it but once you've driven to those 4 different supermarkets as well as your butcher, I would imagine that the opportunity cost + gasoline gets pretty close to the register receipt at WF.

Bogus argument. It is just as easy to assume that one will hit the other 4 in turn, over time, while driving past them for some other purpose, eh? The "while I am here, I should pick up some XYZ" phenomenon? I do not think that WF has enough markets, nor enough stores per market in the markets it is in, to avail itself of the "we are more expensive, but more convenient one-stop shopping" sales pitch. Also, I know of very few people who would consider using WF for all of their shopping needs, and frankly, those that I know who do have more money than good sense. It is foolish, for instance, to pay WF prices for many staple packaged foods, and surely for non-food items that can be stocked up on at WalMarts, Costcos and the like.

My last head-to-head experience was WF versus a comparable NC-based chain called Fresh Market. (Lamentably, WF also absorbed the long-time local Earth-Shoey, and clearly superior, places in the Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill area, in keeping with its corporate strategy.) I often found organic produce items at FM at HALF the WF price, based upon full retail in both cases. My sense is that the WF business model is driven by the uniquely American paranoia that their food supply is poisoning them, and, historically at least, WF has charged whatever the market will bear, with far fewer meaningful sales than any other chain that I know. In many cases, it is charging what is surely an insane premium over the wholesale cost of organic foods just because there are people who will pay it, and then WF gets bad press lately for diddling the definition of "organic" to suit its corporate purposes. (Frankly, I find it absurd that someone in their 50s or 60s suddenly decides to eat only organic produce after a lifetime of surviving whatever A & P, Kroger, Safeway, seasonal produce stands and their grandparents' gardens were serving up, but I defend their right to do it!) Clean, large stores, beautiful displays, good service, yes, but one pays top dollar for the privilege. Better food is available elsewhere for less money in many markets. I wonder if the locavore trend will ultimately gain enough steam to drive the WFs of the world out of business. It has certainly kept the WFs of the world at bay here in Italy...

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Bill Klapp

bklapp@egullet.com

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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?

It's been a while since I've shopped at WF, but no because of the pricing. Since moving a few years ago, it's no longer very convenient to shop there. However, in my general area, there are at least two supermarkets that are substantially more expensive than WF, so I agree, the "whole paycheck" thing is, at least in my area, inaccurate.

Further, WF does carry some items I can get nowhere else but on line.

I believe that a lot of people shop and look for the lowest price. That ain't me. I look for the best value - sometimes that equates to the lowest price. Some people opt for convenience as a matter of course, regardless of price.

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 ... Shel


 

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