How Expensive Is Whole Foods Now?

published Oct 25, 2023
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Woman holding Whole Foods bag filled with groceries while walking down the street
Credit: Joe Lingeman

In a time where, one could compellingly argue, many grocery stores are pretty darn expensive, it makes you think: Has Whole Foods Market finally shaken off its “Whole Paycheck” nickname? I’d bargain to say yes — a shaky yes, because nicknames are hard to outgrow and are often earned for a reason. Still, I can’t deny that Whole Foods is steadily gaining some bargain-powered PR.

What’s Been Happening Since Amazon Acquired Whole Foods?

You might have noticed, Amazon, which announced plans to buy Whole Foods in 2017, is a major part of how Whole Foods has become more affordable. Upon purchasing the grocer, Amazon set out to make organic groceries more accessible by lowering prices and expanding Whole Foods’ in-house 365-label products. On top of that, you can use your Amazon Prime member discount at Whole Foods and cash in on Prime member deals featured in-store, not to mention the Prime Days discounts that can often be up to 50% for Whole Foods shoppers.

Grocery stores are already operating on razor-thin margins, so a force like Amazon, which sells many other goods with higher profit margins, allows for more leverage with pricing across the board. Think of it this way: Amazon’s common business practice often involves greatly lowering prices to stay competitive, knowing that they’ll recoup the loss many times over in the sale of goods with a higher profit margin (like TVs, watches, or private-label items like the 365 brand). Cheaper organic groceries are compelling, but it’s useful to note that this practice often puts local grocers at risk of closing because they can’t recoup losses quite like a company the size of Amazon can. 

Credit: Elena Pominova / Shutterstock

That being said, it is noticeably easier to stroll the aisles of Whole Foods today without imagining your checking account going into the red. Pre-2017, I’d often arrive at the check-out counter, hands full of a hot bar lunch, only to realize I’d loaded a compostable container with what looks like a $19 organic Garbage Plate. But now? Whole Foods just might have shirked its Most Expensive title at long last.

Credit: Joe Lingeman

How Expensive Is Whole Foods?

So if you’ve noticed that lately you can more breezily stop in to Whole Foods for some peanut butter without wondering why you somehow have $8 less in your checking account, that’s no coincidence. According to Investopedia, Whole Foods’ prices are on par with retailers such as Kroger and Sprouts, showing signs that the playing field is way more level than it ever has. A report conducted by Morgan Stanley also noted that Kroger is now only around one-quarter cheaper, on average, than Whole Foods, versus a historical 40% to 50% discount. Perhaps most shockingly, one Vancouver-area reporter recently found that Whole Foods actually ranked cheaper when it came to organic produce, as compared to other area grocers.

That being said, Whole Foods might still seem expensive to some, which warrants a discussion on how we use “expensive” as a description for something as personal as groceries. The concept of expensive is, as you might expect, something that will mean a lot of things to as many different people, depending on the value you ascribe to a product (say, a special-to-you box of $6 artisanal quality pasta) as well as someone’s financial situation. When you value said pasta, maybe you’re scrimping somewhere else in your budget to compensate, because you value the product you’re getting (whereas you might think $3 Other Retailer’s pasta is overpriced because it doesn’t taste as good; or you don’t really care about pasta that much, in which case $3 box is a “steal”). 

With that logic in mind, there are plenty of affordable items that are well worth stocking up on during your next shop at Whole Foods.

5 Whole Foods Groceries Worth Adding to Your Cart

Credit: Meleyna Nomura

1. 365-Branded Products

The store brand is anything but generic, offering cleaning products, frozen fruits and vegetables, and pantry staples that are often a major steal. For instance, you can find bags of riced cauliflower stir-fries for $3.19, organic spaghetti for $1.59, and frozen organic french fries for $2.99, which are priced comparably to retailers like Target and Trader Joe’s.

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2. Organic Produce

It’s the store’s calling card for a reason, and it’s well worth the Prime Membership alone when you can snag organic Bartlett pears for $1.79 per pound, bags of organic baby carrots for $1.40, and bunches of organic collard greens for $2 a pop.

Credit: Mackenzie Filson

3. Cheese

If you’ve yet to discover the bounty that is hiding in the Whole Foods cheese section, now is the time. Even if you’re not stocking up on fancy, bloomy Bries or wheels of Parmigiano Reggiano, the Whole Foods “nubbins” bin, which features smaller, harder-to-sell cuts of larger cheeses, will save you tons of money on your next cheese board.

Credit: Samantha Ladwig

4. Some Bulk Items

While bulk nuts are still on the pricey side in Whole Foods’ bulk section, plenty of other items (dried fruits, oatmeal, rice, and dried beans) are all worth stocking up on and largely come well under their packaged counterparts at other retailers.

Credit: Justine Lee

5. Cakes from the Bakery

This is where the value vs. quality question really comes into play, because a Whole Foods’ cake, while not cheaper than other stores technically, will get you a Star Baker-level cake for way less than the same one at a standalone bakery. One such Redditor (who used to work for Whole Foods) states that, unlike other grocers, Whole Foods uses actual buttercream on its cakes, whereas other grocers use something called, well, “Bettercreme.” Just that knowledge alone makes me want to fork over the extra couple of bucks for a much better cake, as anything that helps me avoid something called “Bettercreme” is a deal in my book. 

What are your favorite budget-friendly items to buy at Whole Foods? Tell us about it in the comments below.