Help me get the most bang for my cake buck
March 16, 2012 11:01 AM   Subscribe

Why is a sheet cake at Whole Foods so expensive? Can I do better (in Chicago?) It doesn't need to be decorated, just tasty.

I'm decorating a cake for a baby shower. I'm good with decorating but suck at baking so I figured I'd get a grocery store cake and decorate that. I'd heard cakes from Whole Foods are tasty, and I did some googling and found comments from people saying it was good and relatively cheap, so I thought I'd go check it out.

I went in today and ordered a quarter sheet cake, I thought the girl said it was 24.99 but when I looked at the WF website later it said it was 39.99 which is . . . well, it seems kinda ridiculous for such a small, plain cake. Is that supposed to be the price for all of them, or only if they decorate it? I'm having second thoughts, so I was hoping those of you who are experienced in buying cakes can help me out. (I never buy them, I always make them from mixes- I know- but thought I'd go for something fancier for the occasion.)

So my questions are- is this the going rate for cakes these days? Is the one from Whole Foods gonna be delicious enough to make it worth it? If so, then I don't mind paying it, really. But I'm having a hard time believing I couldn't do better somewhere else. Where else in Chicago can I get a tasty quarter or half sheet cake, frosted but without decoration, on short notice? (Also if any of you happen to know from experience whether the 24.99 or 39.99 price is the right one, I'd be interested to know. I know I could just call them but I'd feel like a dick calling about my order a bunch of times only to cancel later. I already called them once to talk about frosting.)

posted by GastrocNemesis to Food & Drink (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Why is a sheet cake at Whole Foods so expensive?

Whole Foods is a luxury store that charges luxury prices. That's why. If you want to pay normal prices for groceries, go to a regular, non-luxury grocery store. Honestly, it almost seems like a stunt post to ask whether it's possible to get a better price than Whole Foods on basically anything.

So my questions are- is this the going rate for cakes these days?

No. Nor is any other price at Whole Foods the going rate for the same product elsewhere.

Where else in Chicago can I get a tasty quarter or half sheet cake, frosted but without decoration, on short notice?

I'm not in Chicago, but in Los Angeles, you would go to Ralph's or Vons, probably. So whatever the big chain grocery store owned by the Kroger corporation is near you is probably a good place to start. Where do people usually go for groceries in Chicago? Go there. Maybe try Costco - they usually have that sort of thing for great prices and way, way cheaper than Whole Foods.
posted by The World Famous at 11:10 AM on March 16, 2012 [11 favorites]

Can you get to a Costco? They have great sheet cakes.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:10 AM on March 16, 2012 [5 favorites]

Do you have access to a normal supermarket? I'm in CT but I just checked online and a custom-decorated quarter sheet cake is $19 at my local normal market. If you have Costco access, that was always where we went when I worked in an office.
posted by cobaltnine at 11:12 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

You realize, of course, that most places just make sheet cakes of cake mix, right? Even fancy wedding cake places. The costs are entirely associated with doing the decorating of the cake.

Given that, trundle down to aisle to the bake-mix section and grab a bunch of boxes. Are your baking skills up to the demands of Duncan Hines and Betty Crocker?
posted by LN at 11:14 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Sorry. I should clarify that yes, I realize stuff at Whole Foods is expensive. My question was more "why" as in "is the quality really better compared to a cake from another place to make it worth that much extra"? Because if it really is, then that's fine. I want it to be good more than I want it to be cheap.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:15 AM on March 16, 2012

I've had perfectly decent-tasting cakes at work birthdays and the like from Costco.

Whole Foods will charge more because they can. For what it's worth, though, it is perfectly possible to buy things there that don't cost any more than at a Safeway. An item like a cake is not among them, though. /used to work at WF.
posted by rtha at 11:17 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Also I've heard Costco is good but I thought you needed a membership to shop there, which I don't have, and I don't think I know anyone else that does either.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:18 AM on March 16, 2012

In my experience, both Costco and Ralph's cakes are far superior to Whole Foods.
posted by The World Famous at 11:19 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

In this situation I'd recommend just buying nicer cake mix. It's not all Betty Crocker- you can get fancy organic cake mix with real cocoa or whatever, and it'll still be cheaper than buying a pre-made cake.
posted by showbiz_liz at 11:19 AM on March 16, 2012 [3 favorites]

I can't speak for Whole Foods, as I've never shopped there, but I have worked at both grocery stores that did this sort of thing, and for a clown/birthday company that provided cakes as part of the package deal. In both cases, the cake was simply regarded as a conveyance mechanism for the icing. I therefore doubt you'd get a spectacular cake at Whole Foods, that would be worth your while paying extra for.
posted by LN at 11:20 AM on March 16, 2012

Former baker here: LN has your answer. If you want the ultimate cake, you want cake that's made fresh, preferably from scratch. A lot of bakeries will say their stuff is "fresh baked," which is different from scratch.

The other question you want to ask is how they make their frosting. Don't expect or ask for the recipe. What you want to know is if they're using real butter, chocolate, etc as opposed to the stuff out of the tubs that is just shortening and sugar. Honestly, the latter is what most people associate with "frosting." If that'll work there's no need to run all over the city.
posted by Atom12 at 11:21 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't know anything about Whole Foods cakes, but I do know that the relatively expensive cakes from my local co-op are delicious while the cheap cakes from Hy-Vee are completely wretch. The problem for me is mainly in the godawful frosting, though.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:21 AM on March 16, 2012

It's all about the frosting. The store-brand cakes at Stop & Shop are slathered with some sort of not-butter product and they're really gross and chemically-tasting. WF may be made of more "real" ingredients. But I agree, buy a fancier mix and just make it yourself; it's not hard. Just make the frosting from scratch, as that's what people taste the most.
posted by chowflap at 11:25 AM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: FWIW, the reason I don't want to make it myself is because I'm doing fondant on top of it. I've done that before (cake I baked myself + fondant) and making sure the cake is perfectly flat, and that the base layer of frosting is smooth and flat enough for the fondant to look good, takes a long time and can be really frustrating. I just don't have the tools to do it efficiently like a bakery does. So that's why I'm buying it instead of making it.
posted by GastrocNemesis at 11:33 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Costco cake is good and reasonable. Whole foods is overpriced on just about everything. For most of what they carry try Trader Joe's. I don't think they do cakes though.

Find someone with a Costco membership to take you there, and give them the money for the cake you order. Really, their bakery stuff is great, but huge. For a big cake, it is the ideal place.
posted by mermayd at 11:33 AM on March 16, 2012

How short notice? There are tons of great neighborhood bakeries here in Chicago. Dinkel's was the first that came to mind.
posted by anotheraccount at 11:39 AM on March 16, 2012 [7 favorites]

If the Whole Food has a bakery, there will be several reasons that their cakes that are more expensive then Jewels or Dominicks. The ingredients are things you would recognize as food (which spoil faster) and are much fresher. They are going to charge more because they are throwing/donating the old cakes out much sooner than other stores. The extra ingredients cost is only a small part of the over all cost of preparing, cooking and paying someone to decorate it, and then eating the cost of pitching it if it doesn't sell.

Whole Foods cakes are very tasty, and to find something comparable you will need to go with cakes made at bakeries, which will often also be pricey. Costco cakes are good, they have a variety of icings including a nice mouse filled and butter chocolate that is good. Jewel and Dominicks are only a small step above a cake from wallmart, which are so awfull I skip them at parties.

TJ's doesn't do sheet cake in Chicago-land because the corporate bakery sucks at cakes/desserts.

My vote is for webers bakery.
posted by zenon at 11:45 AM on March 16, 2012 [4 favorites]

Agreed--I'd go with a small neighborhood baker, myself.
posted by the young rope-rider at 11:45 AM on March 16, 2012 [2 favorites]

Edit: mousse not mouse
posted by zenon at 11:50 AM on March 16, 2012 [8 favorites]

Whole Foods cakes are significantly better than Jewel's sheet cakes, in my opinion.

But I'd call up Dinkel's or House of Fine Chocolates (773-525-5700) or Ferrara (312 666-2200) for an unfrosted half-sheet on short notice.
posted by crush-onastick at 11:55 AM on March 16, 2012

I got my wedding cake from a neighborhood bakery, and while the decorator had some pretty shakey hands (I could have done better myself) the cake sure was delicious.
I was living in Pilsen at the time, and my method was to go to a couple of convenient streets of storefronts, look up and down the street, and locate 2-3 places that had decorated cakes in the window (yes, there were that many bakeries within walking distance of hte apartment). Picked the most promising-looking, went in and bought a couple of little pastries at the counter, which I sampled for deliciousness as I admired their window display. Often someone would volunteer information, or sometimes I asked a simple question like "how long in andvace would I have to place a cake order?" and they would say "let me go get $cakelady" who would then answer my questions. I chatted with people at about 4 different shops, and they all seemed fine. I bet you could find a lot of options. Especially with bakeries, and especially since you'll be doing your own decorating, must remember fancier storefront does not mean "better".
posted by aimedwander at 11:56 AM on March 16, 2012

I think WF cakes taste much better than other supermarket cakes. Here's what they have to say: "Other selections from our Bakeries include cornbread, foccacia, bagels, croissants, pies, and cakes of all kinds, each one made with love and skill from the finest ingredients.

We never allow artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners, preservatives or trans fats in any of the products we sell, so the next time the perfume of fresh baked-bread lures you to one of our bakeries, rest assured that whatever you buy for you and your family will be the very best available."
posted by semacd at 12:03 PM on March 16, 2012

WF uses butter, not margarine, in its cakes. Or at least it did when I still ate cake that had wheat in it. For this reason alone, they tasted much better than the Jewel or the Stop and Shop or the Von's or {insert local chain here}. So that is part of why people will pay their outrageous prices, yeah.

Seconding the recommendation of going to Pilsen and getting an unfrosted cake from a small bakery there.
posted by Sidhedevil at 12:10 PM on March 16, 2012

I recently went to a child's birthday party where a small heavily decorated sheet cake was served. The Mum bragged to me that she got it at Whole Foods for only $25. It was terrible. I've had better from Shaw's.
posted by Dragonness at 12:46 PM on March 16, 2012

The sheet cakes are not baked in store. They are baked at a regional facility and brought in. Mostly, the frosting is made in house, and made from whole ingredients. Some frosting is indeed from those tubs, again brought from the regional facility. There used to be a bakehouse facility at Belmont and Western, but that closed several years ago.

The cakes are more expensive simply because the ingredients are more expensive. Prices are set according to margin; it costs more for the department to put them together, in terms of (partly) ingredients, but mostly labor. What you're really paying for is a production team member to spend a quantity of time off both the sales floor and the production line.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 12:49 PM on March 16, 2012

And to answer your question about the price, if the counter worker said that the price is 24.99, then that is the price. The stores have very little to do with the website(s), and frequently have zero idea what the regional people are doing with it.

If it rings up for any other price, just take the cake to the Customer Service desk; they're supposed to fix it, and they shouldn't give you any problem about it.
posted by esmerelda_jenkins at 1:06 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

I bought an un-iced, fresh sheet cake from Artemio's Panaderia at 3919 N. Sheridan a few years back. I spoke with the baker and was offered a few different flavors, including pineapple and guava. It cost me $11, as I recall. And it was made from scratch.

PS- Spanish skills recommended if you're going to talk with the bakers.
posted by yellowcandy at 1:09 PM on March 16, 2012

Try an ethnic bakery...Artemio's is definitely good. also, Oak Mill Bakery, a Polish bakery, has several locations throughout the city and suburbs and their prices and quality are good. You don't need to speak Polish there, though.
posted by dovesandstones at 1:29 PM on March 16, 2012

In my experience, Whole Foods has superior baked goods, much better than what is typically found in a regular grocery store. I cannot speak for their sheet cakes but certainly their other baked goods are much better in my experience.

Costco's cakes are fine, not great and not poor. No one will complain. I bought a sheet cake recently from my local grocery store for my 3 year-old nephew's party. It was perfectly fine, too, and unremarkable in every way.

In my experience, Whole Foods has better bakers and uses better ingredients. I don't know if this is true everywhere. The products sold at my Safeway in San Francisco for pecan pie and German chocolate cake were barely recognizable as such.

Most places sell cake by the slice if it isn't bought whole. Buy a piece and do a taste test.
posted by shoesietart at 1:34 PM on March 16, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, the cake isn't just "plain", it's completely unfrosted? In that case, the price you heard might be correct. Call them to confirm, or just be firm, when you go pick up the cake, that you were quoted what you were quoted.
posted by amtho at 2:13 PM on March 16, 2012

WF has both amazing and not-so-good cakes. The small slice of the first type is $3, second type - $2. The first type (which has a few varieties) has a much richer, creamier texture.
posted by rainy at 2:18 PM on March 16, 2012

My SO got a cupcake from whole foods for like 5 bucks and it was simply awful, horrendous, the worst cupcake I've ever tasted. Then I looked at the ingredients list and it was full of suspiciously long chemical names. I don't trust anything they sell to be "whole" or even "food." Get the cake somewhere else.
posted by scose at 6:46 PM on March 16, 2012

« Older FruityLoops->Abelton?   |   Handing out apps under the table Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.