Hacking Whole Foods?
January 6, 2011 1:45 PM   Subscribe

Hacking Whole Foods: Give me your best suggestions and tips for finding LOW-priced options at Whole Foods that are not available in typical, mainstream chain grocery stores.

Was at Whole Foods, picking up gluten-free items for my son. I noticed that there was an oatmeal option for myself that seemed to be better quality and lower price than what I was used to getting at Safeway. Everything at Whole Foods seemed so expensive...

Then it hit me: Is there a way to hack Whole Foods?

I mean, I'm coming to Whole Foods anyway for my son's specialty item. It's not like I would be making a special trip here.

Are there things that Whole Foods carries that Safeway, Kroger, Food Lion, etc., doesn't that also happen to be lower price than similar items? Is there, like, some wacky organic oatmeal brand that happens to be cheaper than Quaker, but can't get shelf space at the big chains?
posted by Cool Papa Bell to Food & Drink (56 answers total) 70 users marked this as a favorite
Does your whole foods have a bulk section? Bulk foods (grains, flours, tea, spices) tend to be cheaper than the packaged options. It's particularly nice to buy spices from the bulk section, because small amounts are very cheap, and then you can always buy in small quantities and have fresh spices.
posted by insectosaurus at 1:47 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The way that I "hack" Whole Foods is by avoiding it entirely and shopping at Trader Joe's. Apparently (according to that famous article that went around a few months ago) a lot of the Trader Joe's-brand foods are sold at places like Whole Foods under the brand's name at a higher markup. (Trader Joe's also has a ton of gluten-free foods.) So if you have one in your area, I'd definitely poke around there.
posted by phunniemee at 1:50 PM on January 6, 2011 [9 favorites]

There's going to be a lot of stuff at Whole Foods that's cheaper than the major chains. The major chains don't offer very good prices unless you follow the specials and do some couponing.

Anyway, Agonstino Recca anchovies in oil. I think they charge $3.60 for a tin of what are some really high-quality anchovies. They've got a real meaty, rich flavor to them, not like the astringent overwhelming saltyness you find in other cheap brands.

The 365 store brand is generally pretty well priced, and is often cheaper than the major chains for canned food (beans, tomatoes, etc.).
posted by mr_roboto at 1:51 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

This might not be the case where you live, but in Seattle, organic produce seems to be way cheaper at Whole Foods than at the regular grocery store (Safeway, QFC/Kroger) because Whole Foods is selling from the local farms at the same price that those farms charge at the farmers market. The regular grocery store sells organic produce from out-of-state farms and marks it up significantly, presumably because it is treated as a luxury item.

The other advantage I've found to getting produce at Whole Foods is that since it's local it tends to be picked more recently and thus lasts longer. On the rare occasion I buy produce at the regular store it seems to wilt before I use it all up and then have to go buy more. Wasteful.

Also, the stuff in the bulk bins seems cheaper to me, especially grains and spices.

Occasionally they have fantastic sales on meat or seafood, but this might still be more than what you'd pay at a regular store if you don't normally buy wild seafood or free-range meat.
posted by joan_holloway at 1:52 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I live in close proximity to a Whole Foods, a Safeway, and a King Soopers (the Kroger outpost here in Denver), and shop frequently at all three. The Whole Foods in my neighborhood is really not all that much more expensive than the two "standard" grocery stores (excepting vegetables and meat). Many things that I buy are actually cheaper, or the same price, as they are at KS and Safeway, such as:

-hummus (cheaper by like a dollar or more, and a far wider selection, at Whole Foods)
-Greek yogurt (same price, better selection at WF)
-organic dairy (same price, better selection at WF)
-frozen kale, collards and other "hearty" greens (not available at KS or Safeway, or more expensive when they are)
-bulk items (as mentioned above)
-local honey
-big organic/natural brands such as Cascadian Farm, Kashi, etc. tend to be a bit cheaper at Whole Foods, along with wider selections of their products

Also, Whole Foods has its own coupon books (that come with recipes) for things that the store specializes in (almond milk, granola, etc.). The coupons are often for $1 or more off -- that usually makes picking one of them up worth your while.
posted by heurtebise at 1:57 PM on January 6, 2011

The 365 brand spices/herbs.
posted by John Cohen at 1:57 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

This obviously wouldn't be helpful with the whole gluten-free thing, but I go to Whole Foods specifically for their knock-off Triscuit-type crackers that are cheaper than actual Triscuits. They also sell Kashi cereals for under $4, which is cheaper than a lot of your average grocery store cereals (as well as cheaper than most other places sell Kashi cereals).
posted by wondermouse at 1:58 PM on January 6, 2011

Tim Harford addresses this in his book The Logic of Life. One of the things that has been found empirically is that Whole Foods offers things that its typical customers consider "staples" at a lower cost than a regular grocery store, where they might be considered premium items. So, generic organic milk, organic produce, etc. may well be cheaper at WF than at Safeway. Go to your regular grocery store and find the expensive, organic items, and then compare the prices to WF.
posted by proj at 2:01 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

I used to work in the health food industry (Ok, I was a grocery/bulk foods manager) and I will say that bulk foods, and especially spices, are the way to go if you're looking for something less expensive.

Sure, it's not as cool as a particular brand of oatmeal that came from free-range organic oats, but the fact if I need a single bay leaf for a recipe I can go buy a single bay leaf for a penny or so. Yes, a penny.

2080 = Rough number of Bay Leaves in pound

Organic from Frontier Co-Op, which is where most health food stores buy their spices & teas in bulk. Benefit of this? It's organic and you only buy what you need at any given time. Need one bay leaf? Buy just the one.

$18 =Price Per Pound
$1.12 = Price per Oz
$0.008 = Price for each Bay Leaf

Compare to McCormick, which is one of the most well known spice companies in your traditional grocery store and is not organic. The benefit of this? It comes in a nifty plastic bottle you will throw away:

$2.85 = .1 oz bottle of Bay Leaves (That's POINT 1 oz)
$456.00 = Price per lb
$28.50 = Price per oz.
$0.22 = Pricer per bay leaf.

So basically, you can buy 25 or so Certified Organic Bay leaves from Frontier for the price of a single Bay Leaf from McCormick.
posted by aristan at 2:08 PM on January 6, 2011 [8 favorites]

365 brand extra virgin olive oil.
posted by mollweide at 2:10 PM on January 6, 2011

The 365 brand was specifically introduced with this aim in mind.
posted by jocelmeow at 2:11 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Be careful with the items in the bulk zone; they're not always a better deal at Whole Foods, there are many that are a good deal, but dried beans, and pretty often rice is much more expensive than their large-bagged counterparts.

That said, buying in bulk can save you some coin at WF. Sometimes, depending on your Whole Foods location, they'll offer bulk discounts if you buy a case of something (they advertise this for 1/2 and full cases of wine, which can be a great place to save some cash). This obviously only works well with pantry items that have a longer shelf life, or if you're making applesauce for your neighborhood.

Also, not really a Whole Foods hack, but in the spirit of saving money for special items: If it's at all applicable to your area, you should check out any co-ops or wholesale clubs in your area...they can often get you specialty items you need at a drastically reduced price if you're a member, even if they don't carry it on their shelves.
posted by furnace.heart at 2:13 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

In my experience, most of the protein bars (Power bars, Clif, etc) are cheaper at Whole Foods than at the regular supermarket. The store brand (365) of many 'specialty' items like almond milk is cheaper than the name brand would be at the regular store. Some of the veggie burger and other soy burger products are cheaper too, as is the low-mercury tongol tuna. Lots of stuff, come to think of it!
posted by tetralix at 2:13 PM on January 6, 2011

I don't know if this is a hack, but I buy my free range, grass eating meat at Whole Foods. It's the only place that sells it around me. Once you know how animals are raised and slaughtered everywhere else, there's no choice. For EVERYTHING else, I shop at ethnic markets, which are generally much cheaper, because they have no marketing costs.
posted by xammerboy at 2:14 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

The containers of house-made guacamole are cheaper at my Whole Foods than one avocado at the regular grocery store.
posted by something something at 2:15 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

And as an aside about the 365 brand: Buy it. I worked for a competitor but I know that Whole Foods 365 brand is the same as the leading organic/natural brands. I often would get boxes from my supplier that would have one of the big brands on the outside, but 365 labels on the package inside.

This is because a lot of your organic brands are owned and manufactured by a small group and are relabeled as needed. Same way they do in regular supermarkets. Whole Foods just agrees to not tell anyone that their 365 organic ketchup is the exact same as Woodstock Farms organic ketchup, just like Kroger swears they'll never tell that their brand ketchup is actually Hunts or Heinz with a different label.
posted by aristan at 2:16 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

The cheese section probably has a little bowl somewhere in the display area of under $3 or $4 cut pieces. These are great for a little snack. Still expensive for the amount, but nice if you just want a few bites. Sometimes you can find bits of parm in there, which is perfect because you rarely need more than an ounce or two of parm for any recipe. I'm sure Seattle has many great cheesemongers apart from Whole Foods, but as long as you're there anyway...
posted by CheeseLouise at 2:16 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Definitely most bulk things. Nuts are good priced, and for some reason the store-branded, pre-packaged bags of nuts are cheaper per pound than the bulk nuts in the bins. Almond/cashew prices are comparable per pound to Trader Joe's (and, honestly, not much more than Aldi's).

Some dairy, like non-homogenized, organic milk/cream is pretty impossible to find anywhere else, and the prices aren't insane. Before Trader Joe's I used to buy tofu and tempeh at Whole Foods (when the Asian store was too inconvenient) and the prices are still fairly competitive.

Sometimes you can get coffee decently priced, there's usually at least one blend on sale.

And there's almost always at least one cheese on super sale, like $10/pound instead of $20.

Also I go there for vinegar (Balsamic, Bragg's, anything else that looks good -- they have a larger selection than anywhere else).

365 brand coconut oil.

I have pretty elaborate shopping habits, hitting up different stores for different staples depending on price. Whole Foods is definitely part of the rotation, even if a fairly rare one.
posted by ruby.aftermath at 2:18 PM on January 6, 2011

Bulk foods (grains, flours, tea, spices) tend to be cheaper

I've found this isn't the case with dried fruits and nuts at Whole Foods. These things are in at least three different places in the store, and I have to check all three and do the math to find the best by-the-lb. price on a given trip. Usually they're cheapest in the smaller bags, rather than bulk or the larger plastic containers, oddly enough.
posted by monkeymadness at 2:20 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh man, I have to second the suggestion of 365 organic extra virgin olive oil. I think it's like $8.99 for a pretty big bottle and it is THE BEST. It's flavorful enough that you can dip fancy bread but not so much that you don't want to cook with it. It always seems to get called out as a best buy in articles that talk about what brands of olive oil are good, reasonably priced and non-scammy.
posted by joan_holloway at 2:21 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Guys there's a reason that bulk flour and spices are cheaper than bulk nuts and fruit: People tend not to eat bulk flour to "test" it. Bulk items that are already edible rather than an ingredient tend to have a little padding to cover for grazing from some of our consumers.

(Seriously, I'd often joke that I was going to buy one of those buffet plate mechanisms for my bulk section. It'd make it far easier to clean up after people.)
posted by aristan at 2:25 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Whole Foods sells 365 brand no-salt added canned beans and no-salt added, organic canned tomatoes. The tomatoes are cheaper than any other organic tomatoes I have been able to find and the beans basically cost the same as regular grocery store beans. (Unfortunately the organic beans have salt). As a mostly-vegetarian who eats very little processed food, I found that I was getting a ridiculous quantity of sodium from these canned staples and really appreciate the cheap no-salt version.

If you care about BPA, Whole Foods also sells Pomi brand tomatoes that come in the vacuum sealed cartons instead of cans for the same price that other grocery stores seem to charge. These also have no sodium added but they are not organic.

I also like the 365 brand organic whole wheat pasta products. Nutrition Action did a whole wheat pasta taste test a few years ago and the 365 spaghetti from Whole Foods won. It's also very cheap.

None of these items are going to be cheaper than the most basic version you could get in a grocery store, but if you care about some of the same health issues that I care about you might also like them.
posted by horses, of courses at 2:32 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

For gluten free stuff, the Blue Diamond nut thins are generally cheaper when on sale at Whole Foods than in other stores. Also, Muir Glen canned tomatoes.

I will say, as someone who eats gluten free, almost everything packaged I get there I can buy cheaper in bulk on amazon. I buy something to try it at WF and then get it shipped.
posted by sugarfish at 2:35 PM on January 6, 2011

Check your local store page on the Whole Foods site. They frequently have tours to show you how to shop WF on "a budget". Mine had a tour (given by the First Team Leader Manager Assistant or something) that focussed on four things: shop the perimeter (fresh, not pre-prepared), look through the sale flyer (a good idea, I had never actually bothered before), watch for sale tags (duh), and the one that was most helpful to me was to watch for items tagged with the little red/orange "great buy!" signage, because those are price-matched with other local supermarkets (meaning the same item cannot be bought locally for less).
posted by quarterframer at 2:41 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

From Ms. Vegetable:

- Luna bars are $1 at our WF and at least $1.50 everywhere else.
- Quality whole bean coffee is a decent price.
- Organic cow milk.
- Sometimes the non-cow milks.
- Local apples.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 2:41 PM on January 6, 2011

There are items at Whole Foods that I simply can not get elsewhere. I was surprised though the other day to find bottles of mineral water at a cost no more than Trader J's and less than most supermarkets. There shrimp is so far superior than any other store's that I won't buy it from any place by WF. Their meats better than most places. Their fish too. Though I go to TJs twice a week a lot of things are better in quality and variety at WFs, so though I dislike paying the price, I do it. Coffee: much greater variety at WF than TJs but more expensive per pound.
I don't need or bother with organic so that makes it also easier at both places. I have been using whole wheat pasta and now find that though it may be healther it simply does not do it for me the way "real" pasta does. In passing: mineral water, with fancy names (ex.Pelligrino), I was told by a manager is bottled here with bottles shipped from country that supposedly bottles the water itself. He even named locations for bottling in the US for each brand of foreign waters.
Their cat litter is wanting, in my TJs, and clumping much better value. Soaps and tissues etc
no big bargain at either store and for goods of that sort, I use supermarket.
posted by Postroad at 2:52 PM on January 6, 2011

nthing the bulk foods section. If it were financially viable, I would avoid WF altogether, but the price of some of their bulk goods is ridiculously low. Oatmeal is $.99/lb, which is much less expensive than anywhere else nearby. I also eat lots of quinoa and hulled barley, and their bulk prices just can't be beat. Also, the WF brand no-sugar-added soymilk* is much cheaper than anywhere else near me.

*The americanized soymilk. I can make my own soymilk for pennies, but it will taste like tofu, which is all fine and good because I love tofu, just not for drinking.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 2:53 PM on January 6, 2011

Whole Foods bacon hack using the hot food bar
posted by twoporedomain at 2:59 PM on January 6, 2011 [4 favorites]

+1 to bulk foods.

Especially TVP (Textured Vegetable Protein). The Whole Foods near (20 miles away) me is the only place I can find it (other than super expensive on the internet). $1.99 per lb. One pound of TVP equals something ridiculous like four pounds of lean meat after you've reconstituted it. And it keeps forever.

Lots of people use it for extenders for meat as well as replacement for ground beef. I use it as a replacement for meat in chili and spaghetti sauce and its really great.
posted by debaser42 at 3:03 PM on January 6, 2011

Over Xmas, a local Whole Foods here had King Arthur Flour on sale, which seemed remarkable enough that the cashier made a comment about it as I was checking out. (I've seen it on sale other places since, though.)

But otherwise:

There are items at Whole Foods that I simply can not get elsewhere.

My rationale as well. I have few reasons to drive across town to a WF, but they do carry spelt flour fairly reliably, so I'll go there for that once or twice a year. Price competition on anything I buy hasn't stood out for me, most of the time.
posted by gimonca at 3:11 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 365 line is consistently good. I'm especially impressed with their frozen fruit, vegetables and fish. Also, look for sales on good quality meat, poultry, cheese, etc.

Their produce tends to be very overpriced in my area, but good quality. Sometimes I'm just desperate for a good apple, for example, and know I can get one there.
posted by odeon at 3:17 PM on January 6, 2011

A friend of mine swears by the dumpsters at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's. While I haven't taken a dive into one of them myself, he's served a number of meals that were indistinguishable from those that included so-called "fresh" ingredients.
posted by The White Hat at 3:22 PM on January 6, 2011

I've gotten the impression you live in the Seattle area.

A couple of years ago (last time I looked) Whole Foods was far more expensive for basic items than Puget Consumer's Co-op (PCC) is, and PCC was doing a far better job with gluten-free stuff to boot.

You don't have to be a member to shop there, and in fact, members get such insignificant price advantages (a 5% discount two days a month and one 10% discount pass through a register each month) that I haven't bothered to get a second card since my partner snatched mine away several years ago because she's better with the 10% discount than I am.

The Edmonds store is very nice, as is the Fremont, and the Greenlake store (77th[?] and Aurora) is the "flagship".
posted by jamjam at 3:23 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also, Whole Foods has its own coupon books (that come with recipes) for things that the store specializes in (almond milk, granola, etc.). The coupons are often for $1 or more off -- that usually makes picking one of them up worth your while.

Whole Foods allows you to "stack" their "Whole Foods" coupons with any Manufacturer's coupons you may have. So, for example, I had some $1 off 1 Muir Glen organic tomato coupons that were Whole Foods specific coupons, and I was able to combine them with a WF sale and a .75 cents off 2 Muir Glen coupon to get 2 cans of organic tomatoes for $1.23 (just under .75 per can).

The coupon site A Full Cup has a pretty active Whole Foods Forum. You're likely to find deals of this type and other "hacks" there.
posted by anastasiav at 3:35 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

The 365 Tonic Water, which comes in a 6-pack of cans, is my preferred tonic for mixers. It's generally less expensive than Schweppes and it tastes a hell of a lot better. I like drinking it with Rogue Brewery's Pink Gin over some stones.
posted by bhamrick at 3:39 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

The stuff that seems to me to be the highest price and the worst value is all the seemingly "healthy" processed snack foods they sell. If you ignore those aisles and look for food items that are ingredients, you will get a lot more bang for your buck. Because there's no real difference between a $5 bag of Hippy & Dippy's Kettle-Fried Potato Crisps and a $2 bag of Lays or Utz except for the packaging.

Of course, a $12 wedge of imported cheese is still expensive, even if it's worth the price. So your next Whole Foods hack is just to remember that specialty items are specialties. Some things are good to have on hand because a little goes a long way (I tend to splurge on real Parmigiano Reggiano, balsamic vinegar, and good quality olive oil). But if you can't afford something, you can't afford it. If something has a price tag that is beyond your means, get a more economical equivalent or just ignore it. Example: I make my pesto sauce with walnuts instead of pine nuts, because pine nuts are un-frakking-REAL expensive. And yet you really can't taste the difference in your dinner when you use walnuts (or pecans, if you live in the south).

With the overpriced junk and the fairly priced but still expensive specialty items out of the way, you are left with the real food. A lot of which is honestly a pretty good deal. I tend to gravitate to the produce section (because raw vegetables and fruit in season are still cheap, and Whole Foods tends to have quality far beyond my neighborhood supermarket). And make sure to get the whole, unprocessed stuff - you pay a premium for pre-chopped things wrapped in plastic. Another good buy is 365 brand items (though, again, you want ingredients, not junk food).
posted by Sara C. at 3:46 PM on January 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

Until recently, 365 EVOO was my favorite best-of-both-worlds quality for value, but something happened recently and it isn't as cheap as it used to be. It was way cheaper in unit terms than anything at my Kroger or even the Greek market. Bizarrely, buying it in bulk was more pricey per unit than in the smaller bottles too, so it was also convenient. I almost never visit WF but the occasional times I'd go it was for that and, for a while, Callebaut baking chocolate.

Ditto bulk lentils etc. (though you still need to carefully price check). My memory is 365 tomato paste and anchovy paste in tubes was a worthwhile convenience product too relative to the canned Kroger-level stuff too--you waste less of it because I find I can never get through 6 ounces (size of the can) before it goes bad.
posted by ifjuly at 4:06 PM on January 6, 2011

Seconding Sara C. on 2 points: (1) Buy isolated ingredients, not ready-to-eat meals. (2) Realize that Whole Foods has some items that are eye-poppingly expensive, but those aren't the whole store. They're not even most of the store.

As someone who generally follows those 2 points, I can't relate to people who are like, "I can't shop at Whole Foods, it's so expensive!" If you're looking for the right stuff (which isn't hard to find — I'm talking about maybe half their total inventory), it can seem like a supermarket with fairly average or even budget prices.
posted by John Cohen at 4:28 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

The 365 peanut butter at Whole Foods is cheap and excellent.
posted by Wordwoman at 5:05 PM on January 6, 2011

If you're one for fancy chocolates and cookies, wait until the day after a major, chocolate holiday, like Halloween or Christmas. The leftover stock will usually be marked down to 50%, sometimes even more, to get rid of the stuff.
posted by spinifex23 at 5:19 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

If you really want to hack Whole Foods (or any grocery store) you have to compare prices and read circulars. Any given store, including Whole Foods, has sales. Any given store, including Whole Foods, has store brands (I like a lot of the 365 things, too).

We have this elaborate shopping ritual where we get some things at Market Basket (local small chain that is both cheap and has great and varied produce, thanks to a clientele that has a lot of new emigrants from Brazil, Central and South America, and the Caribbean), some things at Trader Joe's, and some things at Whole Foods. If you can generate a list of your usual purchases and make the time for "dry run" price checks at each of the possible stores over a few weeks, you can get this down to a science.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:37 PM on January 6, 2011

Oh, and then there are the things we get at the food co-op (bulk prices there are usually even better than Whole Foods, though not always).
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:38 PM on January 6, 2011

I used to shop at Whole Foods but now I avoid them entirely by shopping at a grocery co-op. We stock local organic foods at good prices and lots of specialty hippy products. I wonder if you could find a co-op in your area that stocks your specialty item. After shopping there for a while I now find major grocery stores to be alienating and wouldn't ever want to go back.
posted by vegetable100% at 5:53 PM on January 6, 2011

Whatever's on sale that I want, I buy multiples. I ignore the rest. Often I see a product that looks interesting but almost inevitably, it goes on sale at some point in the future, and then I buy one to try and go back for multiples if I like it. There's always new stuff to try. Also, Amazon grocery carries some of the same products (crackers, teas), often for cheaper prices if you buy by the case.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 6:00 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Honestly, depending on where you live, hit up your local Asian supermarket for gluten-free foods...it's DRASTICALLY cheaper.

With that said, buy Whole Food's Mixed salad greens in bulk (e.g. put in bag in the produce section). You can buy a giant bag of greens for $2 versus the $3.99-$5 plastic box of them which contains less.

Buy bulk nuts and grains as others said.

I actually ended up researching a few of their cheese spreads that they make in the store - they are super cheap (and fun!) to make yourself and you'd never know the difference.
posted by floweredfish at 6:01 PM on January 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Find something that is mispriced, then buy two of them. When you point this out, they give you one for free.

I say this slightly facetiously, but in my limited experience of shopping at Wholefoods it has happened to me 3 times. I only go there for a few products and I am aware of the prices of these items on the shelves. Of course, it could be pure chance, but I suspect that they are either sloppy or realize people don't care how much things cost.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 6:02 PM on January 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

nthing the recommendation to check out the bulk bins. In addition to being cheaper, you're also skipping the packaging, which is much better for the environment on a ton of levels.
posted by teriyaki_tornado at 6:23 PM on January 6, 2011

Strangely we've found nuts to be a good deal at WF. Buying a pound of pecans or walnuts at our local mainstream grocery store (Shaw's near Boston) nearly requires taking out a second mortgage. The WF store brand walnuts or pecans run about $7 a pound. I think they're a bit cheaper yet at Costco but we don't get out there that often.

We eat a lot of nuts these days 'cause we're doing the low-carb thing, and here's a place where we were surprised and happy to find WF giving a much better deal.
posted by Sublimity at 6:41 PM on January 6, 2011

It's been a long time since I shopped at Whole Foods regularly, but I think that they still have relatively good prices on real maple syrup compared to typical grocery stories. Maybe slightly more expensive than Trader Joe's, but maybe not.

They also used to have good refried beans that were almost always cheaper than whatever Safeway had unless Safeway had a really killer sale on.
posted by mandanza at 7:02 PM on January 6, 2011

STEP 1: get a friend
STEP 2: order two tacos at the taco bar.
STEP 3: everytime the taco assembly representative asks you "anything else", specify another ingredient, until the tacos weigh about a pound each.
STEP 4: pay the "two for $5" price.
STEP 5: split the tacos with your chum
STEP 6: eat a pound of yummy taco for $2.50.
posted by popechunk at 6:37 AM on January 7, 2011 [1 favorite]

The protein bars are far cheaper at Trader Joe's.

Canned beans often go on sale at Whole Foods, for far, far cheaper than the local supermarket has them. Bulk foods are often cheaper, because, well, they're in bulk, but the local hippie/independent store is often cheaper still on those items.
posted by talldean at 8:21 AM on January 7, 2011

Delete if this is a derail, but just as a warning since so many folks (me included!) have praised the bulk section: the one and only time I have ever had a pantry moth infestation it was directly from the bulk section's grains at WF. This is fairly well documented online if you Google around. If you start making it your practice to get your grains there, either keep them in the freezer or be super vigilant watching for them because once they've hatched and start breeding you are so very screwed and pretty much have to raze your entire pantry and spend months with moth sex traps to get rid of them. They will drive you nuts. They've even been mentioned on AskMe before.
posted by ifjuly at 8:35 AM on January 7, 2011

I have found the 365 frozen pizzas to be as cheap or cheaper than the mid-range frozen brands at the local Krogers/Hy-Vee/etc. (Not the dollar cardboard pizzas, of course, but comparable to decent mid-range Tombstone/Red Baron/etc pizzas.)

Also, their "bulk" fresh crushed peanut butter (where you can grind it yourself, in the bulk aisle) is cheap and delish. I tried the Trader Joe's PB to compare and thought WF's was much less oily.
posted by ninjakins at 8:41 AM on January 7, 2011

Delete if this is a derail, but just as a warning since so many folks (me included!) have praised the bulk section: the one and only time I have ever had a pantry moth infestation it was directly from the bulk section's grains at WF.

Bulk food does increase your chances, but it can happen in regular packaged food as well. You know how your local supermarket will suddenly be out of rice in the middle of April or June? Pantry Moths.

Surprisingly, the way these moths get into people's houses or the grocery store most often are Dog Food! We were having a very bad outbreak of Pantry Moths where I worked and discovered that several brands of dog food came in swarming with the things. Got rid of those and were shortly moth free.

If you want to keep them out of certain areas, Peppermint oil can help.... but don't get it into your food... it can have a laxative effect!
posted by aristan at 9:53 AM on January 7, 2011

Sign up for the newsletter or follow your local Whole Foods on Facebook - about 2-3 times a month, they have a "one-day sale". They are usually great deals, I remember getting organic cherries for $1 a pound last summer.

Definitely try to match up coupons with in-store sales, and try to match up manufacturers coupons with WF coupons. You should see if your WF has newspapers/coupon books pertaining to organic foods, like Mambo Sprouts.

The WF brand hummus is super cheap (like $1.80 compared to $4 for Sabra at a supermarket). So is the soy milk and it tastes pretty much exactly like Silk.
posted by shoreline at 5:19 PM on January 7, 2011

This is another total aside, but reading this:
I had some $1 off 1 Muir Glen organic tomato coupons that were Whole Foods specific coupons, and I was able to combine them with a WF sale and a .75 cents off 2 Muir Glen coupon to get 2 cans of organic tomatoes for $1.23 (just under .75 per can).
reminded me of a pretty damn unusual hack: your local "Dollar" store.

Okay, so sometimes the local dollar store has food. We have The Dollar Tree where we live. I've gone there and they have cartons of organic soymilk. For one dollar. But the thing that blew me away: cans of fire-roasted Muir Glen, organic tomatoes: 50 cents each.

I strongly encourage people who avoid dollar stores like the plague to just pop your head in once a month or so. You'll be surprised at the actual high-quality items they have there.

Anyway, Whole Foods: I love the bulk section too but it's crucial to check to make sure it's a better deal. It's definitely the cheapest way to get recipe "building blocks" like vital wheat gluten, TVP as mentioned above, etc. I'll have to check against prices of bagged beans and rice but I've always bought those bulk as well. Nuts are overpriced, but wasabi peas and Asian rice crackers are pretty reasonable (rice crackers are cheaper at TJ's if you buy a huge bag).

I've had a different experience with canned beans than other people, I guess. The 365 variety here is usually at least 80-90¢ vs 60-70¢ elsewhere.

Here's a good cheese hack (although in generally you will only get poor buying cheese at WF, primarily because you'll be tempted to buy a few pounds of it): you can taste pretty much any cheeese they have in stock. So, let's say you've found a cheese that looks it might be good. Find the smallest piece, hand it to them and ask if you can have a taste of it first. They will open it up, slice off a piece and hand it to you, and then rewrap it. If you hate it, you've just saved yourself the cost of that block of cheese. If you love it, you've just saved yourself the cost of the sample size, which for some cheese varieties is around 5-10¢ which is bupkas I know but still a bit pleasurable. They will also cut nearly any piece into a smaller size for you, which is why it doesn't necessarily help, in my opinion, to choose the small cheese pieces from the sample bin. I used to go for them too until I realized they always seem to put the most expensive cheeses in there and you can get similarly sized blocks of any cheese you want, including more reasonably priced items.

If a recipe calls for parmegianno as a flavoring rather than a textural component (for example, in a stew) you can use the rind instead. Most WF stores sell them for $6-7/lb, about half the cost of the real thing. My local WF apparently has a special on Fridays where it's just $10 (not sure if this still happens) but I'm never around for it.
posted by Deathalicious at 7:16 AM on January 11, 2011

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