The Whole Foods Experiment

When John and I got home from New Jersey after Christmas we were out of groceries and didn’t feel like cooking, but wanted something healthy and green for dinner after a week of eating heavy holiday meals. We did what we always do in this situation – paid a visit to the Whole Foods prepared foods bar.

As we sat and ate I looked around and pondered Whole Foods. We go to Whole Foods on occasion for yummy cheeses, good chocolate, or high quality meats but have never done a full grocery shop for the week there. John and I prefer a combination of Stop & Shop, Trader Joe’s, and our local Italian grocer, Bob’s. As I pondered, I said to John: “Some week when we have a little extra cash, we should do a full food shop here and see if it really is that much more expensive.” He agreed and, since the next day was payday, we decided to increase the grocery budget for the next week to try it that weekend.

Our grocery budget for one week is $120 with each of us contributing $60. I don’t know if that seems high or low – $60/week is what I’ve been budgeting for at least 10 years. Sometimes we make a special trip or expense when we need to stock up on staple items but on average we spent $120/week on the nose. The other thing to note about our budget is that we make all of our own meals during the week – 10 work week breakfasts, 10 work week lunches, and 10 work week dinners. We don’t eat out at all during the week, it’s just kind of become a rule in our house (unless it’s a special occasion, of course).

So The Whole Foods Experiment was underway! We made a regular meal plan for the week, not skimping or picking a less expensive menu, wrote the grocery list, and budgeted $160 for the trip ($40 more than usual).

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As most folks do, I assumed the following about Whole Foods: it’s prohibitively expensive, it’s full of ponytailed hippies and yuppies in yoga pants, it’s just as good as the regular grocery store, it’s elitist, and it’s all gloss for not enough quality. Our experiment helped me challenge these beliefs; as I shopped I purposefully put those thoughts out of my head. What I actually experienced, bias free, was pretty great.

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The instant I walked into the produce section the smell of sweet apples and fresh herbs hit my nose. Wow, they actually have a real smell! And it’s lovely! The meat counter was very clean and the prices were (surprisingly) exactly what we pay at Stop & Shop and our local butcher. I was decidedly more scrutinizing in the freezer section (a section I stay away from in any grocery store), looking for flashy labels and preservative loaded items. I was pleasantly surprised though that there were no freezer burned blocks of tater tots and items seemed to have explicit use-by dates.

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By the time we had finished shopping I was really excited to see what our total was.

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All told, we spent $130.35! Only $10 over our normal allotted weekly grocery budget. Again, this was a normal shopping trip for all of our meals for the week. We even picked up some extra things that we couldn’t resist. I couldn’t believe it!

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Because I am a numbers person, here is the breakdown of our trip.

On this trip we bought 34 items: 19 were fruits/vegetables (56%), 5 were bread/grains (15%), 5 were beverages (bubbly water) (15%), 3 were meat/protein (9%), and 2 were dairy (5%). On this trip we spent $130.35, the breakdown per category (without tax) is as follows: $61 was on fruits/vegetables, $42 was on meat/protein, $12 was on bread/grains, $10 was on dairy, and $5 was on beverages.

Also, I definitely wanted to mention the two items I think we got the best deals on. The first was the boneless, skinless chicken breast. We bought just over 5 lbs. at $6.99/lb. but when you buy over 3 lbs. you save $0.50/lb. So we ended up spending $37.47 which I thought was a fantastic price. The other great deal I think we got was the flat leaf parsley pictured below. It was $1.69 for an enormous bunch and yielded 3 cups after I trimmed it and chopped it up. Usually I only get a handful of fresh herbs from the $3 stalks at Stop & Shop. This was a great purchase.

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John and I decided that we are definitely going to start working in full grocery trips to Whole Foods. For starters, the quality really is a great value for the price. The selection of organic items, specifically produce, is important to us and Whole Foods has a stellar selection. Also, it felt good to challenge what I thought I knew and prove to myself that those beliefs weren’t evidence-based.

It should go without saying but I will be explicit – this is not a sponsored post; this was a good-natured experiment that I was hoping would go well enough to share with you (and I think it did). I hope you enjoyed it!

Author: Domestocrat

I'm a lady who enjoys photography, football, cooking, long drives with the windows down, This American Life, kettlecorn, hot yoga, pop punk, my nephews, my cat Reggie, and my home: Boston.

25 thoughts

  1. I admit that I was very surprised by this post. In grad school, we joked about the nearby “Whole Paycheck” but I might have to give it a second look. One just opened here in Des Moines so perhaps I’ll stop by. A very interesting little experiment!

  2. If you buy mostly fresh veggies and grains like you did it can be really affordable. We go there because it’s close to our house and the organic produce lasts a long time compared to Shaw’s or Stop and Shop. The processed foods and specialty stuff is where the prices are really high. (Like 8 dollar mustard, WTF?) I’ve used the bulk bins as well, though last time I bought a whole bunch of cashews the price per pound on the bulk bins was the same as the price per pound on the same cashews bagged. Weird!

    1. That’s a really good call. I didn’t realize that the processed stuff has a huge pricetag because we don’t buy a lot of that kind of thing. We bought a huge bag of brown rice from the bulk bins and it was under $2 – the pre-packaged equivalent was like $5-6!

  3. Glad you tried it! The price difference between WF and say a Market Basket or Trader Joe’s is pretty big, but as you saw, the difference with Stop & Shop isn’t that big.

    Our weekly shopping is now Trader Joe’s for whatever we find there on our list, and Whole Foods for everything else. Fresh Pond makes it easy(ish) to go to both. I think a lot of people do that, because I see the same customers in both stores quite often.

    And then we pick up something special once a week at M.F. Dulock, but that’s pretty much all the meat we eat, so it fits into our budget.

    1. Definitely! See, I’m super picky about produce so I think that’s why Whole Foods is a good choice for us. I find the produce at Trader Joe’s to be awful but the pantry items are the best, whereas I love Stop & Shop’s produce but feel the pantry items are just ok.
      I agree about Fresh Pond, plus Iggy’s is right there and we love their bread.

  4. Great post Kim! I’d love to hear more about how you plan your meals and some of the things you make ahead for your breakfasts, lunches and dinners. I’m always looking for good ideas!

    1. I’ve been thinking about that a lot actually! I think I want to focus on more actual meals and less on baking/desserts for the blog in 2013. A lot of what I make is kinda slapdash though so I worry that those types of blogs wouldn’t be that interesting/exact. But I’m going to try!!

    2. Yes for more make ahead lunches and dinners! Even if they are slapdash – those are often the best! Sometimes I just need to be reminded about different combos I can make out of what I have in my pantry/leftover vegetables. But I also love the baking posts. :)

  5. I think WF just gets a bad rep. I’d love I shop there more, but like you shop at a myriad of places: a co-op down the street from me where I’m a member, a larger chain and a few boutiques for special items.

    My favorite WF item is their scented bath salts you can buy in bulk… So yummy :)

    Glad you were pleasantly surprised by the prices, and you’re right, it does smell delicious there!

    1. I think so too, it’s an easy target. We belonged to a co-op for a while but the quality of the produce and meats has declined a lot over the years. I’ll check out those salts :)

      Thanks for commenting!

  6. I go to WF for EVERYTHING. The lean meat and produce section are the best, so for someone mainly paleo who lives in a lean meat limited grain vitamix kinda world I am obsessed. Also LOVE the medford location. Low key and never crazy crowded like fresh pond. BTW we go every 12-14 days and spend about 100 a person. But that is getting pasta sauces, frozen veggies, and pantry stuff too.

    1. Thanks for commenting! The Medford one is actually closer to our house than Fresh Pond, but since it is smaller I worried about how stocked up they are. We’ll definitely check that out though!

      1. Fresh Pond is much better stocked on produce, and they have actual fish and butcher counters. I always found Medford’s humanless cases to be frustrating. But it is VERY busy. I only go at 8am. Any other time, we go to Medford.

  7. This post is great! Something I’ve thought for quite a while but hadn’t tested. From when I lived in DC, I guessed that the pantry staple items by the Whole Foods brand were about the same as a normal grocery store. In DC, produce seemed more expensive but better quality so I paid it. Unfortunately, our Whole Foods in Cincinnati is subpar – the produce is actually WORSE than Kroger (I’m not even sure how that’s possible given how atrocious even the in-season produce can be there). I’ve started doing a mix of shopping to balance out needs and cost – Sam’s club for bulk items, Trader Joe’s for pantry and day to day things, Kroger for meats and other day to day, and Fresh Market (do they have that in the Boston area?) for produce or fish.

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