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The Whole Lie

vintage cereal box

Whole Foods CEO John Mackey, in USA Today:

On like items, Whole Foods is very competitive. … We have 30,000 items, and you can probably find 30 on which we’re more expensive. Look at our 365 private-label line, which we price against Trader Joe’s. We match their prices. But you can’t always be cheapest if you have the highest quality.

This is what people are always saying about Whole Foods. “On a lot of things it’s so much cheaper!” Well, yes, their prices on organic peach granola might be cheaper than organic peach granola is at your corner store that isn’t making big orders because they need to have a variety of price points on their shelves. But if all you can afford (or want!) is Cheerios or something, that “cheaper at Whole Foods” thing is kind of a joke.

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  • Jack Butcher

    But they don’t sell Cheerios.

    I don’t get it. You’re saying it’s a joke because they’re not offering a cheaper price on something that’s not even on their shelves?

    My local Whole Foods actually does stock tons of stuff cheaper than my local big box regional grocer.

    Recently my wife went to our big regional grocer and brought home a jar of spice, a bag of nuts, some flour and some dried fruit for a recipe she was making. The total cost shocked me. I returned the items and bought all the same stuff at Whole Foods 20% cheaper.


    • Snacktime

      No, I’m saying that when people say “Whole Foods is cheaper” they are talking about cheaper within a certain set of privileged shoppers. For someone who only has say, $3 to spend on cereal, the fact that fancy granola is $5 at the grocery store and $4 at WF doesn’t really matter.


      • Jack Butcher

        Sounds like a bit of a straw man to me.

        I don’t think “people”, including Mackey, is saying that WF is cheaper across the board. Even his quote that you use says “on like items”.

  • Here are two anecdotes from a recent trip to WF.

    Anecdote 1 — My organic peanut butter (which is one of the few items I actually care about buying organic because it is, objectively, better) was WAY cheaper than I’d pay at my local non-crunchy supermarket.

    Anecdote 2 — Limes were literally 400% of what I’m used to paying at my local Mexican grocery store. Granted, it’s comparing organic to not organic, but I don’t really care if my limes are organic so it felt like I was being gouged nearly to death.

    So, yes, it’s true on “like items” Whole Foods is pretty competitive. But, when I don’t care about something’s hippie credentials it feels like highway robbery.