Monday, April 20, 2009

Whole Foods . . . Whole Fools

Every time I go to Whole Foods, I wonder why I did so. Today, I've concluded that only fools and those who don't know the value of money shop there. (And yes, I'll admit I sometimes do foolish things.)
Please tell me why I want to spend 20-100% more for the same items I can get in the neighborhood grocery store or at the world's best food purveyor, Trader Joe's. Coffee, beer, produce, cheese, you name it, it's all ridiculously priced. Whole Foods claims they're competitive if you shop carefully. That may be true, if you shop in their dumpster. Otherwise, I just don't see it.


  1. Arnold,

    Did you Photoshop that picture yourself? Gave me a good laugh. A Whole Foods recently opened near here, with great hoopla, but every person I talked to said the prices were totally ridiculous and they would keep shopping at the smaller health food store they've always used. So, Whole Foods ends up making the expensive health food stores look like a bargain! That's a bad way to do business if you ask me.

  2. For me, it's like going to a museum. Or a feild trip to find out what rich people are buying. I look just as much in other people's grocery carts as I do at the merchandise. No one is buying much (organic produce, mostly) and I often wonder how the heck all the employees make a profit.

    Last time I went, in March, I bought french green petite lentils in the bulk foods section--I've always heard of them and have never seen them. I bought about a dollar's worth. They were tasty in a lentil soup I made in my crockpot.

    The time before that was last September and I bought the store's cookbook. I've discovered that most of the food that Whole Foods sells in their food court is in that cookbook, ingredient for ingredient, and I can make it at home for much cheaper. I've made several dishes and although complicated, they've turned out well. It was a funny to make the tuna salad-I made three pounds of it from a big can of albacore from Sam's Club and then find out in March that it costs $8 a pound for the chefs at Whole Foods to make it for me, roughly four times as much, pound for pound. They probably get their tuna in big cans from Sam's, too.

    Next week, I'm making their tuna noodle casserole from ingredients I pretty much keep on hand anyway.

    Their guacamole recipe, regrettably, is not in the cookbook, but I stood by the free sample table and tried it enough times to crack the code.

    A friend who came with me bought a small bottle--4 oz-- of a bread dipping sauce called "Kenzoil" for nearly eight bucks. She served it at dinner a few nights ago and I pretty much figured out Ken's recipe in a matter of minutes.

    I do like the in house coffee roaster in the Ann Arbor store. It is possible to purchase Sumatra the same day it was roasted.

    Trader Joe's is still expensive, in comparison how I usually shop, but alas, they haven't been stupid enough to publish a cookbook or give out a lot of free samples.

    Our weekly grocery bill averages out to 40 dollars a week, including costs of hospitality.

  3. Althea,

    You should write a "how to beat Whole Foods" book, I think it would sell!

  4. I will have to do lots of research, maybe save some funds for legal fees.

  5. I don’t shop there often but many seem too and their business model has turned a nice profit. The acquisition of another chain hasn’t gone super well but though our experiences may seem global somehow they are pulling it off. I have some ideas about this.

    1. Quality- it is excellent across the board. TJ- where I shop weekly has some pretty crappy brands and items

    2. cleanliness/look- very nice and a luxury experience

    3. Placement of stores. They are in areas where people will pay more, and like the shopping experience

    4. There are only so many Barneys, Neiman Marcus’s, Bloomingdales etc.

  6. Thanks for your comments, Derek, Thea, and Bob.

    I've occasionally had problems with subpar produce at Trader Joe's, but I've never found anyone else to have such a range of interesting food at such good prices. I think of TJ's as "Whole Foods for the Value Shopper." You won't find cheaper GOOD coffee anywhere. The ethnic foods are particularly good, especially the stuff made in India, which tastes like it was made there and not in some American kitchen.

    With the increase in food costs and the onset of the recession, I wonder whether WF's business model will be sustainable, or whether they'll have to buckle and revamp their pricing scheme. We'll see.

  7. I should have paid more attention to my agricultural economics professors.

    I don't go to WF on weekends, but during my weekday off. I am still astonished at a couple of things, mostly that there are so many employees during low peak hours. And that the employees do not seem like they are happy to be there nor are they offering me any suggestions on what to buy (maybe I should wear designer clothing or organic hemp duds and see if there is any difference). The aisles with the most customers are the produce department (which looks wonderful) and the health and beauty or nutritional supplement aisles. But still, the overall feeling in the Ann Arbor store is like a funeral parlor. You get more attention at Target or even at a Wal Mart.

  8. I do remember that the goat milk at WF was a great deal cheaper than at TJ's or anywhere else. I am thinking about making my own goat cheese.

    Got to run, my pizza dough that I've been waiting to rise is ready to be rolled out.