Which store is cheaper

Sunday is typically when we do our weekly grocery shopping.  I usually brainstorm meals for the week on Saturday, asking Kyle for input (like if he’s craving something in particular that he wants me to make in the next few days) and then I create a grocery list that includes all the necessary ingredients (plus whatever things have already been added to the list throughout the week).

We usually drag our feet all weekend long, waiting until Sunday evening to go to Whole Foods, because we both loathe shopping (I’m not sure when this developed because I used to LOVE the grocery store…).  Suddenly it’s 4 pm and we realize we better get moving or we are going to end up eating dinner at midnight (I exaggerate, 7-8 pm is actually late for us).

Anyway.  This past weekend, we decided to (attempt to) deviate from our plan.  Not talking about the timing – we still went at 4 pm on Sunday.  Guess where we went shopping?  Vons.  We live really really close to one, and in the past I’ve gone for a select few things, like almond milk, Sabra hummus, and pregnancy tests (TMI?).  But never for the entire weekly grocery list.

I suspected the main difference between Vons and where I usually shop (Whole Foods, the Santa Monica Co-op, or Trader Joe’s) was that they’d have cheaper prices and maybe a more limited natural/organic foods selection.  I mean, that’s why people call it “whole paycheck” right?  I kinda ignored these claims because aside from the salad/hot food bar, I’ve always gotten more bang for my buck there.  The bulk bins are cheap.  The organic stuff is completely reasonable.  Basically, they have all the hippie brands I want at competitive prices.  But hey, you never know until you give somewhere else a shot right?  So off to Vons we went…

Guess what?  Whole Foods is actually cheaper.  Want proof?

  • Non-organic tofu at Vons was on sale for 2/$4 but organic tofu at Whole Foods was only $1.39.
  • Non-organic bread at Vons started at $3.99 (and that’s the sale price marked down from the regular $5.35) while Whole Foods organic brand is as low as $2.99 (sometimes cheaper).
  • Organic canned beans at Vons were more expensive than Whole Foods’ organic canned beans
  • Non-organic brown rice at Vons was comparable to the organic brown rice at WF (but the organic prices at Vons were sky high)
  • Organic carrots and kale costs the same at both places (but the rest of the organic produce was WAY higher than Whole Foods and pretty much limited to onions, bananas, apples, and potatoes)

And that’s just what I remember off hand.  I was shocked.  I kept looking for things (there must be something!!) to get for a better price at Vons, but there was literally nothing.

So we left and went to Whole Foods.  And got our entire week’s worth of groceries (plus the other basic pantry stuff we ran out of, like organic vegetable bouillon, organic cocoa, and organic peanuts) for $60.45

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And then I came home and made a really quick (and cheap) dinner.

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Quinoa stir fry is a staple in our household.  It’s basically a warm hippie bowl.  I discussed it here (along with five fast go-to dinners).

Anyway.  I had started quinoa in the rice cooker before we left.  And we still have tons of eggs thanks to Costco.  And we bought frozen veggies at the store (organic frozen veggies are my favorite shortcut during winter and budget cuts).  And that’s really all you need.  Although tamari, sesame oil, and sesame seeds help too.  :)

Pretty simple ingredient list, right?

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Directions:

Sauté the frozen peas/corn/carrot/green bean mix in ~2 tbsp sesame oil.

Add 2+ cups cooked quinoa.

Crack 6 eggs in the pan.

Mix throughout quinoa and veggies.

Add ~3 tbsp tamari.

Sprinkle with ~2 tsp sesame seeds.

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Boom!  Vegetarian dinner for two (with leftovers after we each had second helpings) that costs practically nothing.

In truth, Whole Foods has always had my love, for their prepared foods alone.  But aside from certain things (that I get from Costco), I’ve now officially verified that I can get more bang for my buck at WF.  Yup.

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34 thoughts on “Which store is cheaper

  1. Stephanie

    I have been reading your blog ever since i decided to become vegan, I have to say that I agree with you, I absolutely love WF!!! Where I live we don’t have a Trader Joes, but we have The Fresh Market and other locally owned stores (like 2). So when I go to WF I go nuts and love to shop there, plus they have coupons! It’s really not that expensive if you consider the quality of what you are buying :)

    Reply
  2. Kate

    That is awesome. I used to question if I was just being a smug food snob when I ditched general grocery chains but I have absolutely found that the deals are just as good if not better at Whole Foods and especially Trader Joe’s. As long as you’re fortunate enough to have them accessible, prices are definitely not an issue. Granted – it probably has more to do with the quality of the food you’re looking for. I’m not too surprised that organic/specialty foods have jacked up prices at a generic store, whereas WF or TJs know that’s what the bulk of their customers are shopping for.

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      exactly. it makes sense that WF can be cheaper than conventional stores bc they have consumers who are all looking for items that would be considered “specialty” in the conventional stores.
      and the quality is definitely worth it anyway.

      Reply
  3. Meg

    You have inspired me to brave the (east coast) cold and trek over to whole foods rather than going to our more convenient, yet more expensive organic store nearby.

    Reply
  4. sheila

    looks yum! i’m a loyal WF shopper as well. i couldn’t help but notice whole foods’ ceo who’s been in the news for his political comments lately and i’m feeling conflicted about whether that should affect my patronage. how do you come down on that??

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      i havent read conscious capitalism, so i cant comment on that.
      as for the obama care thing, i dont really care if john mackey is for or against it. im not even sure he hasnt been misquoted on both ends. i dont shop at whole foods because of the ceos political stances, i shop at whole foods because its a fantastic grocery store.
      they have paved the way for green companies. they promote local and organic. they have tons of charities that i think are great. i could go on and on…basically its a corporate giant that hasnt turned greedy and evil (yet).
      plus, as a company, they have millions of employees with a variety of beliefs. who am i to say which opinions are valid and which arent? this isnt like a chik-fil-a type controversy.
      thats my two cents at least.

      Reply
  5. Sarah C

    I just moved to a new town, where food is 50% more expensive than where I last lived. In my former town/state I would do almost all of my shopping at WF, with the occasional stop at the chain grocery (which is what I’m assuming your Vons is) for basics like tp, cereal, and eggs. And I would have heartily agreed with you on WF being basically cheaper for the good stuff than other stores. But here, I’m finding that the organic produce at WF is outrageous. The basics (tofu, bulk items, pasta, etc) are on par with my local coop (whose politics and governance I can more heartily get behind than WF’s) but I’m finding my trips to the regular grocery more frequent (organic lettuce and carrots – I eat salads daily – are 50% cheaper there than at WFs or the coop; eggs and soymilk are amazingly cheap for organics). But the problem with those regular grocery chains and organic non-produce items is that they’re considered “specialty” goods and therefore more expensive. Tofu, fake meats, etc are all way more expensive, even while much of what I buy each week is cheaper. I am no fan of having to go to two (or more, including WF and the Co-op, if I do that) stores each week, but I’m also not a fan of paying more than I should for something. Ah, the perils of budgeting plus consciousness of food safety/health/etc!

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      its so frustrating that different parts of the country have to deal with higher prices for quality foods! when we lived in NYC, i was outraged by the cost of produce, especially in winter. i get it, but it still sucks. even stores in LA differ in what they offer and price by neighborhood.
      youre right about the conventional stores considering organics and meat alternatives “specialty items” though – and until they are bought with way more frequency at non-WF or co-op stores, i dont see why theres any incentive for them to be competitive in their pricing.
      i hate the idea of going to multiple stores for groceries too. its annoying. but until we have unlimited finances, i think thats my best option.

      Reply
      1. Sarah C

        Yeah, I was pretty irritated to find that prices at the same store (WF) were so much more in this town than in my last place (there’s a smaller population here, so I guess that’s the issue?). One more thing that I have noticed that no one can compete with WF on – organic olive oil. The 5.99 liter of o.o.o. is unbelievable, and no grocery chain can even come close to that.

        The point you make about incentive to competitively price brings up an issue I sometimes struggle with – should I buy the (more expensive) tofu etc at my local grocery to show them there’s a demand? Or just keep buying where it’s cheaper and save my budget? (I buy at the cheaper place, btw – I just struggle with feeling like I “should” be showing corporations that more products like this are demanded).

        Reply
        1. Elise Post author

          ive had a similar internal battle w ordering veg-ified fare at restaurants. i feel like its annoying to alter menu items, but if they dont know people want non-dairy, non-meat options, theyll never offer them. you know? not just with sit down dining, but quick eateries and “fast food” places too. im not saying id go there just to make that point, but i often wonder if theres no incentive because people like you or me dont go there and request these things.
          as far as the grocery store thing, i figure the better business WF does, the worse the conventional store does, so in that way, the sales (and profit differences of each store) speak for themselves. maybe i dont make a difference when its just me, but if there are a lot of us choosing WF over von’s (or whatever your local chain store is) then we might cause the chain to rethink what they carry and what they charge for it. maybe?

          Reply
  6. Jeff/Dad

    It seems clear that if price is a major criterion for where to shop (and it might be for many), then one needs to do her/his own local price comparisons for what she/he buys most frequently. Or you can do what Elise’s mother does – at the risk of burning a little more gas – shop at several stores.

    Reply
  7. Irina @ Chocolatea Time

    I’m so glad someone else pointed out the fact that Whole Foods isn’t as bad as everyone makes it out to be. Yes, it can be extraordinarily expensive but it can also be very economical as long as you know what to buy there. I <3 WF and shop there weekly!

    Reply
  8. Lisa @ The Valley Vegan

    I am not shocked AT ALL that you could not find good prices at Vons. For a while, I was shopping at Gelson’s, which can get SUPER expensive, especially since our household is 5 people…

    As I said in previous posts, Fresh & Easy has always been a life saver. They do have *some* organic produce, but apparently, from what I’ve been researching, their produce (and apparently all items in the store) are stocked based on the area in which the store is. Since I shop in Van Nuys, there’s a great array of Mexican items (comes in handy, since my husband is Mexican & comes to me with super specific requests!). There are a few organic items there, but quite frankly the prices aren’t that much better than at Whole Foods, AND now that I’ve been getting shipments of organic/local produce from “Farm Fresh To You” I’m barely buying anything at WF either – except “specialty” veg for my juice (kale, beets in particular). At F&E I can get a bag of carrots for 98¢ and I need at least 6 bags a week for my juice!!

    F&E tracks your store card and through that app I mentioned, will give you coupons based on your weekly spending. This afternoon, I saved $10 on my grocery bill with all the coupons I used! That put me at $93… Yep. Can’t beat it! LOL!

    The funny thing is the check-out helper-lady saw me scanning all those coupons from my phone and was curious, so I showed her the app and the coupons & she had no idea! Currently, I have a $10 bonus on my card which I haven’t redeemed yet, but saving for a rainy day! Last time I saved up enough to make it to $28! Now THAT Puts a dent in the old weekly food bill!!

    OK! Enough out of me. :) Hope you’re feeling well & have a great weekend!

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      it makes sense that they’d stock food that way. its so weird how the different WF around me carry different things.
      annoyingly, the F&E near me doesnt have a coupon booklet (or at least one that i can access online/on the app). im still considering going but when i browsed online the organic options werent very abundant. if im going to travel such a long way for grocery shopping, it had better be a DAMN good deal and have everything i want. right now, its impossible to beat the prices and proximity of WF and the co-op (both are under 10 blocks away).
      im sure it would be different if we didnt live next to 3 whole foods stores and instead were really close to a F&E, but in LA, im prioritizing a short commute :)

      Reply
        1. The Valley Vegan

          Yeah – the organic selection isn’t good… That’s the only downfall. But I do still make trips to WF for that and still spend around $30/week there. That’s not too bad I know!

          The app has a thing called “made for me” coupons and “bonus point coupons” at the bottom of the “friends” menu. It took a while for the made for me coupons to start showing up on mine – maybe about 4 weeks of shopping w/the app so it could track my spending. It’s freaky!! LOL!

          With so many of us in this house, I have to go to at least 3 stores runs just to satisfy all the budget and taste needs of this house! In all, I probably spend $100 (F&E) + $30 (WF) twice. Sucks, but our checkbook has thanked me!!

          Reply
          1. Elise Post author

            thats really good actually!
            btw, does your F&E carry canned jackfruit? i cant find it ANYWHERE nearby in santa monica. grrr…gotta find the little markets.

          2. The Valley Vegan

            Jackfruit eh? Never looked for it but I will give you a full report on my shopping trip next Friday!

          3. Elise Post author

            thanks! its often at mexican stores so i figured maybe since youre store caters to that population youd be likely to find it. although ill be pretty jealous if you do!

  9. Lea @ Greens and Coffee Beans

    I’m jealous of those tofu prices! Maybe it’s because I’m an eastcoast-er but it’s almost impossible to find tofu for under $2 around me, except for Trader Joe’s.
    I totally agree with this post people get on me for shopping at Earth Fare (basically just like WF) but they have some amazing deals on stuff, especially their store brand and bulk bins. I usually split my grocery shopping between there and a typical grocery store which tends to have better prices on some produce and packaged items.

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      it does seem unfair that different parts of the country get different prices. i remember (when we lived in nyc) thinking certain produce was SUCH a rip off.
      those natural stores can be so much more economically friendly if you know how to do it. sounds like youve got it down :)

      Reply
  10. Jill in Chicago

    Thank you for doing the research and justifying my Whole Foods addiction :)

    But in all seriousness, I have also found that almond milk is cheaper at WF than at Jewel (what I assume is like Von’s.) We’re very lucky to have a great produce market here in Chicago that lets me afford mostly organic (though not local) produce that I can load up on. Then I hit up WF for pantry stuff. And when I do eat poultry or seafood, it’s definitely worth it to me to pay extra kowing it’s cage-free/sustainable.

    Reply
    1. Elise Post author

      100% agree. thats why i dont buy the nonorganic produce at costco, even though its super inexpensive. its tempting, but i value the quality of my food more. same as you for poultry & seafood.

      Reply
  11. ethel

    this is quite shocking! i bet Ralph’s is just as expensivo when it comes to organic stuff like Von’s. boooooo! that’s unfortunate.

    p.s. quinoa and rice go well with eggs, frozen veggies and tamari any day. ;)

    Reply

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