Whole Foods is coming, should I care?

debrak2008May 7, 2014

Just announced that Whole Foods is coming to my town. It will be a while as they are going to demo a building and rebuild.

Should I care? I was very disappointed with Trader Joes.

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It all depends on what you eat and how you cook. We have *everything* where I live, and Whole Foods dried up and blew away. There was an established/loved organic market in place, and they could not dislodge it.

What was my TJ's haul yesterday? Tortillas, eggs, cinnamon bread, brie, peanut butter, lemonade popsicles, beer. That's me in a nutshell.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 4:43PM
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Is Whole Foods all organic? I checked their website but it doesn't seem clear. Around here organic is hit or miss. In fact a local grocery store where my son works said that they over estimated the demand for organic foods. This is the land of pizza and chicken wings.

For me to go some where else besides Wegmans it has to offer lower prices with same or better quality, better quality, or items I need/want but they don't have. I do go to two family owned butcher shops when ever I can as I think the meats are better than Wegmans.

I would love to eat more organic or less chemical laden foods but the price and quality have to be right. I don't mind paying more for some items but it has to be reasonable.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Whole Foods.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 4:50PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

I've only been to a Whole Foods a couple of times, but when I was there I noticed they had a huge organic produce dept. and the prices were actually less than the prices at the regular chain store I frequent. I was impressed.

Generally though, they seemed expensive with everything else - meats were very high priced compared to what I normally buy, but the looked to be of excellent quality.

Whole Foods can be a good place to pick up things you might have a hard time finding other places. Example: my regular grocery store only sold sesame seeds in little 3 oz jars for close to $3. I bought a whole bag of sesame seeds at Whole Foods in their bulk section for $5+ per pound.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:01PM
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I think that's the way they work it, their business model. Half health food, half high value items. When people call it "Whole Paycheck" it's because they are going for the luxury goods (perhaps healthy-luxury).

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:06PM
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It depends on where you currently shop, what you want to buy, how open to new products you are, and how price sensitive you are.

They call it Whole Paycheck for a reason.

Our small local top tier chain has changed direction. We used to pay a couple of pennies more to shop there because the quality and selection was greatly superior to other chains. There are one or two single stores that are competitive in this category. The small local chain did a great job of competing with Whole Foods for awhile, but then turned their eyes to short term profits and let go of their reputation for amazing meats and produce, and unparalleled variety elsewhere. Whole Foods has stepped in to fill that gap. They're not perfect, but better than what the former best has declined to be.

In a nutshell: Whole Foods strives for quality, sustainable produce, meats, fish, etc. They offer as many organic, humane, and good stewardship products as they can find, and round out the selections with "conventional" products. Those might actually be working toward certification as organic or what-have-you, but it takes 3-7 years of good practices to get that. Whole Foods also tries to serve the upscale/gourmet sector, so has a large variety of wines and cheeses, interesting vegetables that you might otherwise have to find an ethnic market to get, etc. There are also bulk grains and legumes, nuts and candy.

They have more and more house brand items on the shelf, I'm sure in a bid to stay afloat financially, since they had some problems a couple of years back. Their house labels are good quality in my experience, but they've pushed out some of my favorites in doing so. You won't see many national brands. There are some items from makers who comply with the Whole Foods ideology, but they tend to support smaller startups. And I sometimes end up buying those products online after they've had their day in the sun at Whole Foods and been pushed aside. :)

I always read labels, but I don't have to do as much contemplative interpretation at Whole Foods because they're philosophy jibes pretty well with mine, and the kinds of products they have are most likely to be ones I'd care to use.

There's also a decent bakery and onsite prepared foods kitchen, and they bring in baked goods and prepared foods from local enterprises. You can get a good lunch there, too.

They have basic papergoods, mostly of the recycled variety, so if you need something now, there's something, but you'd do better to buy bulk elsewhere. Or, if they carry your brand, you can order by the case from them. There is a discount for cases, even if they're picked off the shelves, like eight or twelve of an item (you can ask the grocery manager what the number in a case is), sometimes even mixed flavors or something, gets you a discount. Tell your checker, though, because they don't always notice.

The cleaning products are all "alternative". Many are equivalent to what you could make. They have Method, Meyer's, Seventh Generation, Earth Friendly, Naturally It's Clean, house and some others. No Tide or Clorox.

They also have a pretty good vitamins/supplements and cosmetics section. Few major brands, but they do carry Solgar, Nature's Way, Tom's, and others that you'll find in other stores. I'm not so well sold on the cosmetics, but they're no animal testing. I do have a hand lotion I like from there, and shampoos and soaps.

Trader Joe's isn't a supermarket. It isn't meant to be. Think of it more like a corner store where you can pick up eggs, milk, bread, onions, tomatoes, with lots of other interesting, often unique things, inexpensive wines, and ready to eat foods. It was started as a place for educated and well travelled people on teachers' salaries to be able to get a variety of interesting foods from far flung places. A very large percentage of the items are house label, though we have a game where we go through and try to identify the maker. They contract with a lot of companies to either package their products for TJ's or make a custom product for TJ's that's similar, though not quite the same, as their own. Think Kenmore. :)

I find the products to be good quality. Additionally, I like their packaged breads better than any other. The produce is good, often organic, but limited (no rutabagas or turnips here!), but some great bagged blends of greens, and fresh peas more often than anyone else. While they have some basic baking supplies they run more toward mixes. They're not really into staples like that. They do have a lot of ready to eat foods. Their meats are packaged (no onsite butcher), and only fair quality. I will buy the hermetically sealed ground beef or free range chicken tenders, but I'd rather go to one of the better local butchers or Whole Foods for anything "real".

Trader Joe's has the best nuts and dried fruit of any market in my area.

I am constantly amazed at how much I get at Trader Joe's for how little. The staff are always upbeat and helpful and the cashiers empty the carts for you. I think they sometimes leave things on the shelves too long--a couple times a year I find something that's before its use-by date but stale--but they're very good about taking them back if they're not right. I figure the bother is part of what one pays for the low price.

Trader Joe's is known for crazy parking lots. Whole foods is known for this video (not by them, of course).

So, there you have it. Whole Paycheck vs. low price, both with organic apples. Should you care? Depends on what you want to buy.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:25PM
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One more thing re the prices at Whole Foods. People keep complimenting me on my big roast turkeys. I don't do anything! This last one I decided to forego stuffing, and put a broken up stalk of tarragon in the cavity, sprinkled all over with garlic pepper blend and put 3/4 of a bottle of Sauvingon Blanc in the bottom of the roaster, turkey on a rack. Covered with a loose piece of heavy duty foil. Put in oven. Took out of oven five hours later. The real trick is I get the very best free range bird available from Whole Foods and don't even look at the price. (The wine, however, was Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe's.)

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:33PM
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I would go there for things I can't find elsewhere but it wouldn't be my regular grocery store. They carry both organic and conventional fruits and veggies, both kind of expensive compared with what I can get at my local grocery store which has a pretty good selection of organic foods. The meats are expensive, but since my DH is trying to follow a grain-free diet I'm interested in sources of grass-fed beef for him. The WF grass-fed beef was excellent. Unfortunately the nearest WF is what I consider a long drive from here, so not worth increasing my carbon footprint unless I'm in the area for something else.

WF just released their financial earnings, which were not good. They attributed their problems to increased competition in the organic market and said they are working to reduce prices to stay more competitive. So maybe by the time the store near you opens their prices will be more attractive.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:33PM
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They must be doing something right because they are successful.

There are two WFs less than 20 minutes from me. I don't shop there.

Leg of lamb is $2.99 a lb at Shoprite now. I wonder what WF's price is.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 5:46PM
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Thank you all for such detailed responses. I have a much better idea now of what Whole Foods will offer. I guess when its finally open I will have to do a detailed price/quality comparison. It will be built near the University of Buffalo which has a huge out of state/out of country very diverse enrollment. My guess it that is their target. I can't see the average lifelong WNYer going crazy for a place like that but maybe some will. Costco is supposedly coming soon too. I can't imagine all these new stores and our local stores being able to all survive. This is a stable but not thriving economy.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:01PM
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We have two in town, but neither is close by so I don't go often, but I like what I get there. Ours are VERY SMALL. The big ones are much better.

I, too, am disappointed by Trader Joe's.

The bakery, prepared foods and the catering at Whole Foods is wonderful, I've used them for some big parties and some small dinners and I've never been disappointed.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:08PM
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aachenelf z5 Mpls

"Trader Joe's has the best nuts and dried fruit of any market in my area."

It's interesting you mentioned that. I noticed that exact same thing on my first visit to TJ. In fact, I went back to that store over the weekend just for the nuts. There's something about their sunflower seeds that just hits me right. Some of the best I've had and at very good prices.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:17PM
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All this talk of nuts.....my DH loves nuts. In fact making a mid week grocery run tonight and on the list is 5 lb of salted shelled peanuts. Hmmmm.... do I want to drive to TJs for nuts???

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:21PM
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I like Whole Foods, and can shop at one when I'm either 2.5 hours north, or 3 hours south ;) Seriously, I do enjoy shopping there when visiting my brother, our choices are pretty limited locally. I do have a Trader Joe's I get to 55 miles away about every 4-6 weeks. Cooler in the car whenever leaving town is just a given.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:27PM
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"---There's something about their sunflower seeds that just hits me right. Some of the best I've had and at very good prices."

Same here! Haha!

Weekends, I go to TJ's, to get a bag of salted and a bag of un-salted roasted sunflower seeds. Go to get a cup of their free coffee, and use their free machine to grind a lb of my own roasted green coffee beans from home.


    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 7:29PM
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WF is the only place that consistently carries Nana's Cocina yellow corn tortilla chips. They are "made in Virginia" by the Abuelita company, and used to be marketed under that name. Costco used to carry them, but no more. Now, Abuelita makes white corn strips for Kirkland. They are good, too, but the yellow ones were my first love. They're especially good if you warm them for a bit in the oven. Whenever I go to WF, I buy about 6 bags, and they are the only thing that gets me to drive to WF.

Here is a link that might be useful: Abuelita Mexican Foods

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 8:04PM
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Debra, it depends on how far Trader Joe's is to know if it's worth going just for nuts. I do, but I'm walking distance to two of them. :) If you stock up, they'll do better if you vacuum seal them. They have individually wrapped packets of almonds (in a big bag that looks like the rest, so you have to pay attention), which are great for throwing in a travel bag or purse for when you don't know if there will be meals. My absolute favorite is Simply the Best Trek Mix (cashews, almonds, pineapple, cranberries and tart cherries). One great thing about the nuts and seeds is that you can get them raw or unsalted roasted. They also have unsulphered apricots. I think I had to get sour cherries at Whole Foods though. Those were put up in boxes by the grocery department, not in packets or bulk.

Whole Foods does target their offerings to the neighborhood. The one in my neighborhood is geared toward upper middle class families. There's one I don't like in an upscale apartments neighborhood that's geared toward overworked yuppies and dinks. Many more prepared things, less actual food. There's one near a university with a lot more vegan ready to eat, sweets, and a more reliable supply of mildew fighter. :)

With both places, if you're not familiar with the products and packaging, and the mindset of the merchandise managers, it takes awhile to acclimatize. You also have to be prepared to have certain personal favorites disappear from lack of sell through. TJ's no longer has dried sweetened hibiscus flowers, and I can't find another good source, so I bought a big bag of plain dried. So far I've made agua de jamaica, but haven't gotten around to trying to soak them in simple syrup and see if I can approximate my old fave. I can't seem to get my Whole Foods to reliably keep tomato puree on the shelves, though they have plenty of room and many types of whole, diced and crushed. I can't get D'Oni Bold As Love honey habañero mustard or OooWee barbecue sauce at WF anymore, and I don't want to bother with making my own when these are so good, so I order them from the makers, and I get my favorite cleanser that was from Whole Foods, from Amazon.

Still, I forgot to buy lentils the other day, so stopped into Whole Foods today and got organic green lentils, organic green split peas and organic hard red wheat berries from the bulk section. I also got some tomatillos and nopales to barbecue, and almost bought some eight ball squash, but remembered I had yellow squash at home that needed using. They also have tamarind pods, whole turmeric, lemongrass, cherimoya, and stuff like that, most days. And they had lovely, early cherries today. There might be different demand near you, but if you express interest, they might get it.

You do have to read the signs and labels. There are always both organic and conventional bananas at both stores, and usually the same is true for peppers, berries, tomatoes, aspargus, etc., though sometimes it's one or the other.

Will Whole Foods lure you away from Wegman's? From what I've heard about the Wegman's, probably not. Might it be an interesting place to shop now and then, or to look for what Wegman's doesn't have? Possibly.

    Bookmark   May 7, 2014 at 9:47PM
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The flagship Whole Foods is near here and there is a new one in Austin as well. The new one has a beer tasting center, and I've heard of several other WFs that have this, too. So, if craft beer is your thing, it may be worth going. I had some of the best chicken that I have ever tasted from there--I used it in a Thai soup and it did make a great difference. However, at $7 or $8 per pound, I'm not sure how regularly I'd do that. (We raise our chickens, but, so far, have only used the eggs, which are wonderful!) I purchased their turkeys for Thanksgiving for a few years and, while one of my guests was impressed with the flavor, I did not care for it as much as I do for the usual turkeys I purchase. I am not a huge fan of turkeys, however, even though I have had more than one guest say that mine are the best they've ever tasted, including the non-organic, non-free range turkeys. I dislike the WF bulk foods department because another Austin market has a more extensive bulk foods section and the access is better, as are the container choices. At the WFs here, the aisles are always crowded and it is always a bit of a zoo. The organic produce selection is artfully arranged and the flowers available are often fresher than what is available elsewhere. In general, in my state, flowers are a bit of a disappointment compared to what is available in California, and certainly in Hawaii, though. If you are pretty good about knowing prices, you can discern what is of value at WF and what is not. I tend to forget what the recent price of this or that is, so I do not excel in that regard. However, there have been times WF had something specific that no one else had--say, a certain kind of honey--so I do fall in there occasionally. I have never been to a Wegman's, so I cannot compare. I want to add that recently I have noticed "temporarily out of stock" signs at all of the markets that I frequent, and I am wondering if this is a trend everywhere. The only place where I have not noticed these is my local HEB, but that never did have the selection of the big city stores.

This post was edited by kitchendetective on Thu, May 8, 14 at 12:38

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 12:33PM
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Kinda of like grocery shopping is getting more complicated. I remember growing up where you went once a week to the local supermarket. There was only one choice. We had a corner store near our house that we used to get milk or things we forgot.

Not that long ago I compared Wegmans, to Tops, BJs, and local butcher shops. Determined to shop mostly at Wegmans, Tops only when they have really really good deals (and only buy those items), the local butcher shops whenever I can get there and have the $, and not renew our BJs membership. I really don't want to shop at so many places. In the future I'll have to do a new comparison with the new players. Sounds like to get the best value you need to shop different places for different items.

My son saw a news clip about Whole Foods coming here and said he thought the store where he works would close. I'm not sure of that but as I said before, how many stores can be competing for the same amount of $?

    Bookmark   May 8, 2014 at 2:10PM
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Being that I am gluten intolerant, WF is my go to place. I'd be lost without it. They have an amazing selection of products that are shelf tagged for easy identification.

Prices can be a bit high on certain items. I have found that some of their wines are actually cheaper than bev mo and most supermarkets. I pay $5 less at WF for my favorite Reisling (Loosen).

TJ's is my place for nuts and dried fruits.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 12:30AM
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Enjoy it, embrace it. If you like cooking you will find good quality produce and a better selection of fresh grains and a nice selection of cheeses and meats. Most WF stores have mostly bin displays instead of packages. Just purchasing a few of many different varieties of veggies for a mixed grill or roasted. Adding a bit of variety to a standard home menu.

Not all surrounding groceries will suffer. It often makes them grow a backbone to clean up and offer better quality as well as better prices. Not everyone will shift over and turn backs on what they are familiar with.
My mother would never shop at a WholeFoods. She is a price shopper way above quality. WholeFoods just 'looks' expensive to her. : ) I say that with an adorable grin. She is so frugal in her elder 80's and buys no-name brands but does not wear her glasses or care about ingredients, just price. (assuming a cheaper looking store IS cheaper)

We shop at our local Fairway more often as it is closer than WholeFoods, but similar selection. Having a better selection, we can try new cheeses in small 1/4 lb portions and cured meats sliced paper thin to order and find we have smaller meals sometimes but better quality. A few select bits of fresh fruit and good homemade bread is a quick easy meal.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 9:08AM
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beachlily z9a

Here in Central FL, Publix is king. They have gotten pretty pricy in the last 4 years, so I welcomed BJ's when it opened. Love that store! It is kept clean and has more organics, better cheese, good wine prices. However, now that Total Wines has opened, I've seen Publix lowering their prices. BJ didn't have to--they are still a good buy.

The biggest surprise to me this week was at the Farmer's Market. I was looking for a specific vendor who wasn't there, but it made me walk through the whole thing. Found a bakery and tried their walnut pastry and some cheese rolls. Major yummmm! Their store is convenient since it is located in a popular shopping center. Four young people (in their 30's) from Hungry and their pastries are to die for!!!! What an asset to our community. I've already told everyone I know about their place that opened in January. It means I don't have to bake everything we want to eat!

To stay on topic, there are two WF in the area--one in Orlando (60 mi) and one in Jacksonville (90 mi). They really aren't an option for daily meal planning.

This post was edited by beachlily on Mon, May 12, 14 at 11:47

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 10:23AM
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Within one mile, we have a Publix, Wall Mart, Whole Foods, Fresh Foods, T. Joes, Winn Dixie, a large locally owned health food store and a few Latin markets. We don't buy much from Whole Foods, but always buy their house brand safflower oil. We used to buy their California olive oil, but T. J. has some at a good price. Joe's has very good prices on frozen wild-caught fish, and their fresh veggies are reasonably priced. Winn Dixie just bought out our favorite supermarket - Sweet Bay. For what you get, their prices are ridiculous! Example, oat bran pita just went from $1.49. to $2.99. We find we mostly go to T.J.'s now, and buy most meats at a restaurant supply. At Wall Mart, about the only thing we buy is vegetarian raised chicken.

    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 12:56PM
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beachlily, I nearly always like the Farmer's Markets better than anywhere else. As long as I could have eggs, I could be a vegetarian 99% of the time and be relatively happy. I just want a steak that 1% of the time, and some fish regularly. I could give up pork, chicken, turkey, venison, etc. easily and not even blink, but vegetables are very important to me, and I like good vegetables, preferably fresh and not shipped thousands of miles. I don't really care about fruit one way or the other, either, but your walnut pastries would certainly suck me in, I think.


    Bookmark   May 12, 2014 at 8:50PM
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After shopping at BJ's and Wegmans for a few years I found that Wegmans started offering the same/similar items at the same or lower prices. Didn't renew my membership.

As for looking expensive, Wegmans seemed to have that image here for a while. I have shopped there since I was 21 and had one close by. People would always assume Wegmans was expensive even though they had never shopped there! Finally people are getting the message and the stores are packed.

    Bookmark   May 13, 2014 at 2:58PM
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