Shopping at Costco saves money, even after paying the $55 membership fee, but comes at the price of buying in bulk and limited selection.
Cheap Whole Foods Products
Since the retailer's humble beginnings as a health-food store in Austin, Texas, Whole Foods prices have developed a reputation for unaffordability. Is the store critics have dubbed "Whole Paycheck" essentially off-limits to frugal consumers? Or is it possible that, hidden amid the sustainable seafood and fair-trade coffee, there are bargains to be had? Cheapism priced out more than 200 commonly purchased products at a Seattle-area Whole Foods Market and compared the cost of equivalent products at a neighborhood Safeway. In the end we came up with a long enough list of deals to justify an occasional trip to this specialty grocer.
365 Everyday Value Organic Frozen Vegetables
If you're trying to introduce more organic veggies into your diet, throw some of these 16-ounce bags into your freezer. Perfect for weeknight meals or adding to soups and stews, they ring up as much as $1 less than the organic frozen vegetables in the freezer case at Safeway.
25 Items That Are Cheaper at Whole Foods
Whole Foods frequently offers low prices on organic items in its 365 Everyday Value line, beating out name brands and other private labels such as Safeway's O Organics. There is also no question that Whole Foods, which helped expand awareness of organic and alternative foods, offers a superior selection of such items.
Organics isn't the only category where Whole Foods manages to be competitive, however. If you look closely, you'll find conventional products and even brand-name goods that cost less at Whole Foods. Two of the products with the most dramatic price differences are olive oil (a $4 savings) and whole nuts such as almonds (a full pound for the price of 9 ounces at Safeway). Other good buys with narrower price gaps include organic frozen vegetables ($1.79 or $1.99 vs. $2.79) and organic balsamic vinegar (a $2.60 difference). In some cases, the price difference isn't worth a special trip. While you can save a few cents on elbow macaroni (99 cents vs. $1.29 for a 16-ounce bag), the bendy noodles are a deal only if you're already planning a Whole Foods excursion. And, of course, there are still plenty of products that are more expensive at Whole Foods than at Safeway.
Meg Major, chief content editor at Progressive Grocer, a leading publication for the retail food industry, explains why consumers might see reduced pricing on targeted products at Whole Foods. "Each retailer does have some signature values in most departments that can best their competitors, because something's a popular seller and they do lots of volume with that product," she said. "Either that or it's a loss leader." In the latter case, Major said, "if you lose a little money, you're still able to attract customers to other higher-priced products." With that in mind, try not to stray too far from the following list if you venture into a Whole Foods Market. In our price survey, these 25 items turned up cheaper at the specialty retailer:
1. Organic milk.Shoppers who prefer organic milk can put a smaller dent in their grocery budgets with Whole Foods' 365 Everyday Value brand. At $4.99 a gallon, it's pricey compared with conventional milk but represents a 30-cent savings over Safeway's O Organics brand, which sells for $5.29 a gallon.
2. Non-dairy milk.Consumers exploring alternate types of milk because of allergy or preference will find more and cheaper options on Whole Foods shelves. We saw Califia Farms Almondmilk priced at $4.39 at Whole Foods and $4.99 for the same size bottle at Safeway. Whole Foods offers 365 Everyday Value rice milk at $1.69 for a 32-ounce carton, while Safeway carried no generic version -- only the Rice Dream brand at $2.59 for 32 ounces.
3. Shredded mozzarella.Most cheeses at Whole Foods are more expensive than their counterparts at Safeway, but one glaring exception is shredded mozzarella. We found a 16-ounce bag of this mild dairy goodness for $3.99 at Whole Foods (365 Everyday Value brand, of course). At Safeway, the same size bag of Lucerne mozzarella was $4.49.
4. Organic popcorn.Movie lovers will appreciate the cost savings we located in the snack aisle. Whole Foods sells a 6-ounce bag of 365 Everyday Value organic pre-popped popcorn for $1.99. Safeway's O Organics brand gives buyers 1 ounce less for 70 cents more: A 5-ounce bag costs $2.69. It may not seem like much, but that extra change goes a fair way toward the purchase of some Red Vines.
5. Energy bars.If you practically live in your car, spend your lunch hour at the gym, or have to squeeze in sustenance between meetings, you may turn to energy bars as a quick snack. The same Larabars that sell for $1.50 each at Safeway are only $1.29 apiece at Whole Foods. Similarly, Kind bars, which are three for $5 ($1.67 each) at Safeway, cost $1.49 each at Whole Foods.
6. Pretzels.This staple snack comes in as another win for Whole Foods. Consumers can purchase a 16-ounce bag of 365 Everyday Value brand pretzels at Whole Foods for $1.89, yet must fork over $2.49 for a 13-ounce bag of Safeway's Snack Artist brand twists.
7. Organic frozen vegetables.Whole Foods can't compete on price when it comes to conventional frozen vegetables, but organics are a different story. A 16-ounce bag of 365 Everyday Value frozen green peas costs $1.99 and yellow corn is $1.79. Over at Safeway, the same size bag of O Organics frozen corn or peas is $2.79. Even with a Club Card discount, a perk for Safeway shoppers with a free membership, the price is still $2.49.
8. Organic quinoa.Whole Foods, which offers organic quinoa both in bulk and in pre-packaged quantities, beats Safeway's pricing for a 16-ounce store-brand bag. Expect to spend $4.49 for the Whole Foods version and $5.19 for Safeway's O Organics brand. (Safeway didn't offer organic quinoa in bulk, so we couldn't compare bulk prices between stores.)
9. Organic chicken broth.365 Everyday Value organic chicken broth sells for $1.99 at Whole Foods, a respectable savings over Safeway's O Organics chicken broth, which is $2.59. Both cartons measure the same 32 fluid ounces. If you're married to the Pacific brand, however, you may want to skip Whole Foods. A 32-ounce carton of Pacific Organic Free-Range Chicken Broth costs $3.29 at Safeway, 40 cents cheaper than the Whole Foods price of $3.69.
10. Organic russet potatoes.Conventionally grown potatoes rank among the infamous "Dirty Dozen" foods that retain the highest levels of pesticides. Consumers following the advice to buy these items organic, take note: While russet potatoes cost $2 a pound at Safeway under the O Organics brand ($5.99 for a 3-pound bag), they are available for $1.49 a pound at Whole Foods.
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