On What Planet Is Whole Foods the Cheaper Option?

Friday, September 05, 2014

A new report from Bloomberg Intelligence found that a basket of groceries at a Manhattan Whole Foods was cheaper than at least four other Manhattan grocery chains. Leslie Patton, Bloomberg News reporter, explains why the notoriously pricey store is dropping its prices, and how it's trying to distance itself from its old "Whole Paycheck" nickname.


Leslie Patton

Comments [30]

Susan from Sea Cliff

A couple of comments I'd like to make.

First and foremost, totally absent from today's on-air conversation, and from the Bloomberg piece, is broader consideration of the true cost of cheap pricing. Poisoning the planet and poisoning the consumer are sad traditions masked behind a lot of gimmick marketing, junk mail, window dressing, and cheap imports propping up unmitigated profit motive in many retail sectors. I believe it is possible (should be, must be!) to balance profit and other virtues in a vibrant business model.

Whole Foods has demonstrated leadership, and commitment to fair trade, local producers, and other philanthropy in building and exercising the power of the brand. They’ve thrown the gauntlet, and other large scale retailers are following the challenge, to one degree or another. Many Whole Foods shoppers appreciate that they are participating in an new direction economic mission while enjoying a great selection of superior quality products and enhanced customer experience.

I find the volume and selection of products on offer at Whole Foods is exceptional. With very few major "corporate American" food brands on the shelves, there is almost nothing I cannot find. If a familiar brand is not there, I now tend to consider why that might be. I enjoy exploring new produce and grocery items, confident that a vetting process is in place, and that it goes up the chain of production to rate, for example, how stock is farmed for fish, poultry, and other meats. Labeling identifies non-GMO, organic, gluten-free, allergen-free, etc. so choices abound. Even if not all produce is organic all the time, that is often because sourcing precludes US certification. (For example, apples may be sourced from New Zealand during our summer season, but as an island nation, farming overall is subject to significantly different standards there.)

On a very limited budget, I maintain the importance of saving, selecting on true value, and "voting" with my dollars. All forty of them.

Sep. 06 2014 12:11 PM
Olivia from brooklyn

Try the Co Op in Park Slope, Peeps!

Sep. 06 2014 01:57 AM
Amy Farges from Manhattan

I stopped shopping at Whole Foods because I feel it embraces an ethical agenda that deceives shoppers. Look around - the "local" products available are significantly fewer than the bold signage would have you believe. The thing I missed when I gave up on Whole Foods was cured meat like chorizo and sopressata. At Gourmet Garage, I found their doppelgangers - exactly the same taste and coloring - for $3 less. No-brainer.

Sep. 05 2014 05:41 PM
Kei from NYC

I've noticed the price drop but their apples are more expensive and they don't sell as many organic apples anymore.

Sep. 05 2014 05:08 PM
Tish from NYC

I missed hearing this segment live as I was out grocery shopping at my weekly neighborhood Greenmarket and also Whole Foods. I make dinner every night and do my grocery shopping strategically, just as others here have said, buying different things at different places, although I haven't stepped into my hood's Food Emporium or Gristede's in years, they're so grim and expensive.

While I love my Greenmarket and buy treasures like height-of-summer tomatoes and DiPalo's turkey thighs, the fact is that it's mostly a very expensive place to shop.

On the other hand, I've found that Whole Foods' prices have really gotten better and their weekly, daily, and "surprise" sales can be amazing; one this summer had cherries for 1.99/pound where the street fruit stand guys, who usually have the lowest produce prices, were selling them for $3.99. I also appreciate that they have deep sales on normal, not exotic things. Like cans of tuna, or chicken pieces. Plus there's the superb quality -- WF's seafood is rated for sustainability, about half the meats in my WF come from local producers, and the 365 and WF brands are excellent, such as their outstanding California unfiltered olive oil for $12.95 a liter. And there's nothing "hoity toity" about the place at all, unless that means being clean and friendly.

I tried Fresh Direct a couple of times but had errors with every order so whatever the initial time savings got taken back by having to fix the order and adjust my menu plan since I was missing ingredients. The quality was fine; nothing special.

As for Trader Joe's, while there are values there, a large amount of what they sell is frankly junk food. Frozen, canned, and packaged junk food.

I also shop at a neighborhood butcher shop and a fish store, plus my more costly neighborhood Associated and West Side Market but only when I'm either pressed for time because they're closer to me than WF. Or when I want Hellman's Mayonnaise or Heinz chili sauce, neither of which WF sells.

Sep. 05 2014 02:20 PM
Eric from Albany CA

I live in the S.F. Bay area and I've also noticed that Whole Foods has more affordable products IF you shop very selectively. For example, their frozen pizzas are priced competitively with the junk that Safeway and other major chains offer, but the Whole Foods pizzas have much better ingredients and the taste is 10 times better.

Sep. 05 2014 01:52 PM
Randi from Chelsea

Great show, and I researched more and learned that there is actually a boycott of Fresh Direct , see for more information. Bloomberg and Cuomo were trying to give them $200 million or so in cash and tax breaks and free land to bring all their diesel trucks to the asthma impacted south bronx, not cool!

Sep. 05 2014 01:06 PM
Sheldon from Brooklyn

The facts are: If you buy the basics: bread, butter, milk, eggs. Whole Foods' "365" brand is definitely cheaper than you typical chain grocer, even the ones in blue collar nabes.

Staples like sugar and flour, are about the same or higher. W. Foods was selling a 5lb bag of King Arthur's flour for $9. My Assoc sells it for $5-6.

Organic fruit and veg, imported coffee and cheese, fish and meat are obviously going to cost more than the mediocre versions you get at a typical 'hood grocer.

Sep. 05 2014 12:28 PM

I agree with Nick and DC: very poorly designed study.

I do most of my shopping at Trader Joe's: reasonable prices for high quality. In addition, the staff and fellow customers are the friendliest and most helpful of any place I've shopped--definitely a better experience than at Whole Foods ("hoity-toity"). Bulk grains and beans at Westerly Market and Fairway. Some fresh produce at Union Square Farmer's Market--costs more but I like to support them.

Sep. 05 2014 11:26 AM
Brother from Another Planet

THank you for presenting this information

Sep. 05 2014 11:23 AM
Amy from Manhattan

I agree w/the caller who mentioned tactics like comparison shopping w/store circulars & not shopping on an empty stomach. I'm finding more of the smaller health food stores offering twofers on some items, which are a great deal. Unfortunately, 5 or more years ago, 2 health food distributors merged, & now nearly all the stores have the same items at nearly the same price for the same month.

Several supermarkets have started putting health food sections in their sales circulars, & I've found some good deals there. On the other hand, a lot of times the products on sale aren't available.

Greenmarket prices have gone way up. They used to be cheaper than stores because of their lower overhead, but not anymore. When greens are priced by the half or even quarter pound, you better do the multiplication.

Sep. 05 2014 11:12 AM
steve from queens

A man mentioned that his friend, a senior employee at one of the chains, explained to him that the chain's prices were premised on creating a good shopping experience. that got me thinking, good shopping experience must also include mannered employees providing good customer service - a smile, a "hello", and "good day" - all signs of happy employees which I often find lacking in many local stores. To create that kind of atmosphere, the employer has to pay a bit more.

Maybe we as consumers should demand more in the way of pleasant service and be willing to pay more to guarantee that the employees are provided for in a way that ensures to longevity on their part and allows the employer to ask them to be pleasant to the customers.

Sep. 05 2014 11:00 AM
Carol from Washington Heights

When we moved to Washington Heights and gave up our car, I experimented with Fresh Direct to get food into the apartment. I;ve been impressed with the quality as well as the convenience and have become an FD regular. And so what popped out at me was that this delivered food was right there with Whole Food in cost. Some people pay for the experience of Whole Food. I don't mind paying an equivalent amount for the convenience of ordering from home.

Sep. 05 2014 10:59 AM
matt from manhattan

Please have your guests use a phone line that is clear. It was painful listening to your guest with that horrible connection. Very unprofessional.

Sep. 05 2014 10:39 AM
LKS from Philly

Not sure about the purpose of this segment.Too little info, poorly designed study, not much news.

Sep. 05 2014 10:37 AM
Gina from manhattan

I have also found Whole Foods and Fairway to have the best quality and the best prices.

When I don't have time to visit either store, the nearby Westside Market and D'Agostinos will always be more expensive, and will not always be as high the quality, for the items we buy such as fresh fruit and vegetables, olive oil, frozen yogurt and household items like aluminum foil, plastic wrap and paper towels.

Sep. 05 2014 10:36 AM
Adrienne from NYC

I shop all around town based on price, selection and experience and here are two surprising examples of where Whole Foods is cheaper than C-Town: So Delicious 8 oz. plain coconut yogurt is $3.99 at Whole Foods and $4.99 at C-Town. A 16 oz (1 lb) of Olivia or Earthbound Organic Mixed Greens is $6.99. At my local C-Town, they no longer offer the 16 oz package. Instead they sell an 11 oz. package for the same price as the pound: $6.99. That's a big difference.

Sep. 05 2014 10:35 AM
mauritz from Chelsea

I don't shop at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's as they are based in Texas and California respectively. As is widely reported, the founder does NOT support a progressive agenda - so I do not support Whole Foods. I buy as much as possible from the Union Square farmer's market.

Sep. 05 2014 10:35 AM

Trader Joes are great. I don't ever shop at old NYC supermarkets like D'agostino's, Gristede's or Food Emporium. Problem with Associated, Key Food, Ctown, etc is that their produce and meats aren't always as good. Caller is right in saying that at Whole Foods you're also paying for a more "luxurious experience" in both the food and the decor.

Sep. 05 2014 10:34 AM
DaB from UWS

I have been shopping at the Fairway on the UWS since the mid 1980's. While I still shop there almost on a daily basis, I find that their prices have dramatically increased. Now... I realize that prices all around have increased, but I think as Fairway has expanded (the huge number of new stores, the "Fairway" branded products, etc) their prices are now on the high end among gourmet grocery stores.

They used to be a cheap option, compared to other grocery stores -- now they are the expensive option.

And... yes, Trader Joe's has great, cheap prices -- but their selection is limited.

Sep. 05 2014 10:31 AM
Nick from UWS

Of course, the usual question must be asked "Who paid for this study?" The fact that they didn't include Trader Joe's is highly suspicious, and the caller's question of why they didn't include all the rest of the grocery chains in NYC is absolutely valid. So I say to this purported "study", FEH. Go peddle it somewhere else.

Sep. 05 2014 10:31 AM
DC from Brooklyn

This does look like a rather lazy study. Only five, when NYC is ridiculously diverse with your Associated, your Mets, Pathmark, Walgreen's, Key Town, and what have you? This article is aimed toward the upper crust of Manhattan who would regularly read Bloomberg, than those who just read the site once in a while.

Sep. 05 2014 10:31 AM
Queens Shopper from Queens

Hi Brian, this is such a Manhattan-centric piece. You know we do shop for gourmet food in the other boroughs.
Trader Joe's is another good store.
Pea Pod (Stop & Shop delivery service)

Sep. 05 2014 10:30 AM
Truth & Beauty from Brooklyn

Good shoppers shop around. I go through online circulars every weekend so I know which stores have the best deals on what I need each week.

I do shop at Whole Foods in Manhattan even though I live in Brooklyn because they sell some items I like more cheaply than locally in Brooklyn, but I only do it because I work near a Whole Foods, because I have to factor in time spent traveling and transportation costs. I try to shop at places that are on my way home, so I never have to pay extra for the transportation because that would offset my savings.

That said, Whole Foods does carry certain brands that I can't get in other places, so I shop there especially for those items. Things I can get cheaper in Brooklyn I buy in Brooklyn.

Sep. 05 2014 10:30 AM
antonio ortiz from baySide

Well the 'Whole Foods' (Manhasset) is more expensive then is relatively close neighbor 'Fairway' in Douglaston.

But I guess that makes sense, what do you expect of 'WF' in Manhasset!

Sep. 05 2014 10:27 AM
Scott from Brooklyn

Fairway is overall the best pricing, best quality, great selection and customer service. And it is nice to shop in a store where the workers are represented by a strong union, have good pay and benefits. Good to know my shopping dollars are supporting solid middle class jobs.

Sep. 05 2014 10:27 AM
DC from Brooklyn

Makes me glad I don't live in Manhattan. Though if I did, I'd have to make regular trips into Chinatown if I can't get to a Fairway.

Sep. 05 2014 10:23 AM

Wish Trader Joe's and even local farmer's markets were included.

Sep. 05 2014 10:23 AM
pliny from soho

Peaches in August at the Union Square Greenmarket
were $5.00 a pound! ouch

Sep. 05 2014 10:15 AM
Shopper from Manhattan

Definitely a lot less for some things, especially if you buy their 365 brands. Excellent quality. Forget about Food Emporium (What? They're still around? Why?) which is an overblown Korean Deli, remember those? Awful quality. Fairway also has excellent produce, not always cheaper but good quality and selection. Groceries a bit inflated. Trader Joe's is also very good quality for the price, especially cheeses, antipasto, frozen foods, desserts. Produce could be better but still inexpensive. Unfortunately the selection is thin and they often run out of things or don't carry them any longer. Superb customer service. Avoid the 14th St. Store by all means!

Sep. 05 2014 10:12 AM

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