This story is part ofCNET’s collection of practical tips for making the most of your home, inside and out.
Whole Foods has a reputation for being a prohibitively expensive grocery store for many people. But times, and the business model of the national supermarket, have changed. It can even be argued that you could.
Sound shocking? Listen to me.
It wasn’t long after Whole Foods Market expanded nationally that the “Whole Paycheck” moniker took hold. (Urban Dictionary reports that it appeared as early as 2006.) As it was one of the first organic supermarket chains, this likely has something to do with the shock most Americans experienced from rising prices from conventional to organic groceries. It’s also possible that Whole Foods’ attractive design and wide selection can convince us to fill our carts with more than we really need. Maybe it’s just the cheery font from Whole Foods that subliminally speaks to us and says: put it in your cart.
But after doing a price comparison between Whole Foods and other organic and conventional grocers for certain items, I’m no longer so sure the Whole Paycheck moniker is appropriate. Certainly, there are items that can be overpriced due to the overhead of running a store like Whole Foods, as you’ll find with any retailer, but there are also values to be found. Crunching the numbers, I came up with several strategies that illustrate how shopping at Whole Foods can actually save you money.
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Publisher’s note: The specific prices described below were obtained online through Whole Foods Market through Amazon in New York City, and comparative prices were found using several local grocers, including Wegmans, Stop & Shop, Key Foods and ShopRite through Instacart. Other national retail prices, such as Target, were obtained through their websites.
Use the Amazon Prime discount
, establishing an online ordering system for store pickup, and even offering delivery in certain areas. Along with the convenience of shopping for groceries online, Amazon passed along some savings to its Prime members. When downloading the and by connecting your Amazon Prime account, you can get an extra 10% off retail prices at Whole Foods. That doesn’t just apply when you shop online: an Amazon Prime barcode is available to scan at checkout in store. Plus, there are special weekly deals just for Prime members and even bigger grocery discounts available at Whole Foods during Prime Days, with savings of up to 50% on select items. (The Prime Day discounts for Whole Foods ran from July 6-12 of this year.) If you don’t have an Amazon Prime account yet, you can .
some math: At the time of this writing, a prime example of an in-store sale available at Whole Foods is the grass-fed boneless New York strip steak for $14 a pound; with the Amazon Prime discount, that’s $12.60 per pound. Compared to up to $24 a pound for the same quality steak elsewhere, that’s a potentially massive savings on your summer cookout. Looking for items on sale is a good strategy to start with; with a Prime discount it’s even better.
Whole Foods also sells conventional groceries, but it’s a good place to buy organic. You can even get organic groceries under their store brand, 365 by Whole Foods Market. While organic groceries are generally more expensive than their conventional counterparts, whether at Whole Foods or elsewhere, you’ll generally pay less for organic groceries at Whole Foods than you would in conventional markets for the same organic products. If you’re interested in eating only or mostly organic food, you may already be shopping at Whole Foods anyway, but let this reassure you that you’re making good math decisions.
some math: Organic grapes currently retail at Whole Foods for $3 per pound ($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 area grocery stores. I also compared the cost of organic broccoli at Whole Foods and the competition. Whole Foods clocked in at $3.49, cheaper than a pound of organic broccoli at Aldi ($3.65), Brooklyn Harvest ($8.09), Stop and Shop ($5), or any other option that popped up on Instacart.
At $3.69 a half gallon, 365 Whole Foods Organic Milk alone may be worth the trip to Whole Foods. (Depending, of course, on how close you live to Whole Foods..) One of the myriad benefits of organic versus conventional milk is that organic milk stays fresh longer, due to its natural preserving qualities that haven’t been compromised by fertilizers or other chemicals.
The next time you’re at any grocery store, look at the expiration dates between conventional and organic milk brands. Case closed. If you’re someone who has milk on hand for the occasional coffee or bowl of cereal, but has a hard time using it before it turns sour, this may be an effective strategy for you. Not only do you save money on Whole Foods organic milk compared to other organic brands, but you potentially save money on milk, period, by not having to pour any of it down the drain. Am I speaking from personal experience here? Am. I don’t always bother with organic, but milk is a firm exception. And while you’re already in the dairy section of Whole Foods, you can also see great prices for organic eggs.
some math:365 of Whole Foods Organic Milk is $3.69 a half gallon, even when it’s not on sale. Try to find a lower price; I will wait. For comparison, other popular organic brands like Organic Valley, Horizon and Stonyfield Organic tend to retail 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 for a half gallon and up.
Meet the best employees of the 365 brand
Whole Foods Market 365 is to Whole Foods what generic brands are to conventional grocers, and these will always be the best savings wherever you shop. Items labeled 365 by Whole Foods will be cheaper than those same items with any other brand attached. That’s always a good place to start when shopping at Whole Foods with a money-saving mindset, whether or not particular 365-brand items are necessarily cheaper than the same generic products at other stores. (As already mentioned above, milk is a notable exception.)
there are acquaintances, however, that they “over-deliver” for their price and are worth a few extra cents for their rave reviews and the customer loyalty they inspire. Whichever list you want to check for this, a simple Google search for “best 365 brand products” will reveal several repeat contenders for the top spots, most notably organic almond and peanut butter, extra virgin olive oil, and cauliflower rice. .
some math: At $8 for 33.8 fluid ounces of extra virgin olive oil, $11.79 for 16 ounces of creamy organic almond butter, and $2.39 for 12 ounces of organic curly cauliflower, these are great values for great versions of these products.
Whole Foods has a lot of buying power when it comes to artisan cheese, but unlike many other major retailers, it has a real cheese expert, Cathy Strange, at the helm of the show. Different Whole Foods tend to have different cheeses available based on the stores’ relationships with local dairies. Thanks to the company’s purchasing power, it is able to offer prices on artisan and other gourmet products that smaller specialty stores often can’t match. While “gourmet shopping” doesn’t necessarily equate to a money-saving strategy, when it comes to entertainment or your other cheese plate needs, it’s good to know where to get great cheese for a little less.
Whole Foods not only has a great selection, but also some of the best prices. And since it’s never too late to start planning for the winter holidays, especially with inflation at its current level, watch this space for information on Whole Foods’ annual events.promotion in December, with discounts of up to 50% on 12 different cheeses per season.
some math: Parmigiano Reggiano, for example, is a cheese that has a strict DOP regulation, which means that the quality of the cheese that bears that name is assured. At $21 a pound at Whole Foods, it’s also a bargain compared to $24 and up at other retailers. Other world-class cheeses available at Whole Foods are typically $2 to $3 per pound less on average than what’s available at specialty cheese markets, or even online gourmet retailers.