First, we need to address a couple of important issues that we hope will explain our point of view and curb controversy.
• We live in Manhattan. Overall, our groceries cost more than yours do if you live in Tennessee (we're only singling out Tennessee because we're from there, which means we know). We do not have Costco. We do not have Wal-Mart. We are comparing these Whole Foods products to products from Fresh Direct, Fairway, or the local Gristedes.
• We're not talking about fresh produce or meat. Fairway, Fresh Direct, and the farmers' market all have Whole Foods beat (or at least tied) when it comes to these categories. We're mainly talking grocery items (specifically, the in-house 365 brand).
• Organic counts. Sometimes, a product isn't much cheaper or any cheaper than the same thing at Fresh Direct. But many of the 365 brand products are organic, which means you're getting better quality for the same money.
With that, here are our picks:
1. Organic Water Crackers, $1.79. The ever-popular Carr's Water Crackers are $3.69 at Fresh Direct, and we've seen them for $3.99 at other stores. That's more than twice the price of the WF brand.
2. Organic diced tomatoes, $1.19. Del Monte from Fresh Direct are $1.79, as are Muir Glen Organic diced tomatoes.
3. Olive Oil, $7.49 to $8.49 for 1 liter. Whole Foods sells Greek, Italian, Spanish, and blended olive oils under their 365 brand. All are cheaper than the cheapest at Fresh Direct: Bel Aria, which is $9.99 for a liter (Bertolli and De Cecco are both in the $12 to $14 range).
4. Organic pasta, $1.99. Whole Foods 365 dried pasta is a bit more expensive than non-organic brands (like Barilla, which is $1.59 for most shapes at Fresh Direct) but much less than other organic brands ($2.99 for De Cecco organic) and multigrain varieties ($2.39 for Barilla Plus).
5. Organic milk, $3.39 a half-gallon. Horizon Organic is $4.39 and Organic Valley is $4.19 at Fresh Direct.
6. Organic chicken broth, $2.19. Imagine Organic is $2.89 at Fresh Direct. We occasionally see 2 for $5 deals at Fairway, but WF is still cheaper.
7. Nuts. We bought a pound of whole cashews for $6.69. At Fresh Direct, a 14-ounce bag costs $8.49. We can't remember our last nut purchase at Fairway, but we still think WF beats it.
8. Cereal! We don't eat a lot of cereal, but when we do buy a box, we're always blown away by how expensive it is. If you're willing to go with 365 Corn Flakes instead of Kellogg's, though, you can really save money. Most cereals at Whole Foods were $2.49 as opposed to $4 to $5 for brand names at the grocery store.
OK, those are a few of our staples. But there are plenty more... Do you bargain shop at Whole Foods? What are your favorite products?
Related: Survey: Shopping for Bargains at Whole Foods (our past coverage of this issue)
(Images: Elizabeth Passarella)