Is Whole Foods Becoming Costco with a Side Order of Trader Joe's?

20080804-wholefoods.jpgWhole Foods is trying a store image makeover, according to the New York Times. In these lean times, with rising food prices and wholesale economic anxiety, the store sometimes known as "Whole Paycheck" is trying to recast itself as a value-driven store.

Serious eaters, I have three questions. Have the prices at Whole Foods come down? Is it now competitive with other grocery stores on staple goods? Should its nickname now be "Half Paycheck"?

The Times piece has a handy chart comparing prices at Whole Foods, Trader Joe's, and Shoprite on a range of common items. I then made it hyper-relevant to me by going to my local value-positioned upscale grocery store, Fairway Market, to check on the prices there. Here's what I found.

  • Fairway's blueberries were $2.50 a pint compared to $3.99 at Whole Foods
  • Fairway and Whole Foods were charging an identical $1.99 for a pound or organic baby carrots
  • Fairway was charging $2.79 for a dozen cage-free eggs compared to $2.69 at Whole Foods
  • At Fairway 16 ounces of all-natural Smucker's peanut butter was $3.19 compared to $2.19 for an 18-ounce jar of the same type of peanut butter
  • A box of Kashi Go-Lean Cereal was $3.29 at Fairway and $3.39 at Whole Foods
  • 12 ounces of storebrand bacon was $4.29 at Fairway versus $4.99 at Whole Foods
  • A pound of ground beef at Fairway costs $3.69 versus $4.59 at Whole Foods

What can we conclude from this admittedly small sample of seven staples? Fairway's prices were markedly lower on bacon, ground beef, and blueberries. The prices at both stores for cage-free eggs, Kashi cereal, and organic baby carrots were very similar. Whole Foods was much cheaper only for the peanut butter.

It's clear that Whole Foods has a ways to go before it can honestly call its prices competitive, at least when it comes to staples.

But given the state of the economy and Whole Foods' plummeting stock price, we shouldn't be surprised if its prices on many items come down markedly. Which probably means they were too high in the first place.

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