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All Contents © 2017The Kiplinger Washington Editors
Courtesy Whole Foods Market
Yes, it is possible to shop at Whole Foods without spending your whole paycheck – if you learn the tricks to saving money at the upscale grocer.
“The company is unfairly characterized as being overpriced,” says Burt P. Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a consumer industry consulting firm. “It’s becoming much more cost-competitive for consumers, particularly with [its house brand] 365 products.” A family of four would typically spend about $5,500 a year shopping at Whole Foods, estimates Flickinger. But by employing cost-cutting strategies available to any shopper, he says, that annual amount can drop by $1,000 or more.
The chain, which specializes in natural and organic foods, is giving shoppers additional reasons to drop by, even if they don’t care where their apples are grown or whether their salmon is caught in the wild. Besides carrying the usual grocery items, stores are jazzing up their fresh- and prepared-food selections with everything from customizable guacamole to beer growler refill stations. You can dine at an in-store restaurant, attend free events and meet up with friends for $1 craft brews at happy hour. And even more changes may be in store after Amazon announced in June 2017 that it is buying Whole Foods for $13.7 billion.
Before your next visit, check out our 11 tips for shopping at Whole Foods without busting your budget.
By Miriam Cross, Staff Writer
| Updated June 2017
No edible item that Whole Foods carries can contain hydrogenated fats or artificial colors, flavors, preservatives or sweeteners. The 365 Everyday Value house brand is no exception. “The quality, at minimum, is as good as national brands and in many cases superior, but you still realize savings of 12% to 20% or more,” says Flickinger.
Nor are you limited to boring kitchen staples. Whole Foods’ 365 products run the gamut from naan chips and spinach spaghetti to meatless burgers and barbecue sauces (grilled pineapple and moonshine, anyone?). There are limited-edition treats, too, such as Thai curry cashews and matcha green tea lemonade. The 365 brand isn’t immune to the pumpkin spice craze, either: Jump on pumpkin spice granola, sweet pumpkin hand soap and the über-popular pumpkin pie ice cream sandwiches before they fly off the shelves.
At any given Whole Foods, you may be able to find weeklong national sales on top of weekend and one-day flash sales that vary by region and even by store. Recent sales that caught our eye included two packages of frozen chicken tenders for the price of one ($6.99), 25% off some seasonings and extracts, and asparagus at $2.99 per pound (regularly $3.99). Speaking of the produce aisle, Whole Foods tends to carry premier brands, such as Driscoll’s berries, so when those go on sale, “the prices stand out,” says Flickinger.
To keep abreast of new promotions, grab the sales flier for your local store (it’s available online, too). It also pays to follow your local store on social media, where you can get the scoop on when sales start or end. The Whole Foods Market mobile app (more on the app later) will list sales for your chosen store, too. If you sign up for the weekly e-mail newsletter, you can tailor it to show you special offers, new products, recipes and more.
After scoping out sales at your local store on WholeFoodsMarket.com, click the “Coupons” tab, where you can print coupons specific to your store. For example, we found $2 off a package of Tazo Tea, $2 off Illy coffee products, 50 cents off a pint of Ben & Jerry’s, $1 off a carton of Imagine soup and $5 off pet food.
For a double-whammy of coupons, download the Whole Foods Market app and select your local store for a list of digital coupons. “We try to keep them seasonally relevant and focus on key categories that people love,” says Kate Neu, global sales and supplier marketing manager of Whole Foods. For example, I recently found coupons for $2 off a purchase of fruits and veggies totaling $10 or more, $2 off any fresh turkey purchase of $10 or more, $1 off an Allegro Coffee Pumpkin Spice Latte and $1 off all bagged potatoes. Using these digital coupons couldn’t be easier: The cashier scans the bar code in your app, and any relevant coupons will be applied to your purchase.
You can cut down on waste – of both food and money – by purchasing the exact amount you need at Whole Foods. Say you only require a quarter of a cabbage for a recipe or half a loaf of fresh bread to get you through the week. Ask an employee to hand-cut the portion you want. There might be some limitations, depending on the product, but many items can be purchased this way.
Not quite sure what you want? Whole Foods also has a “try before you buy” policy on almost every product in the store, meaning you can ask an employee for a free sample of, say, those mango habanero pickle chips that intrigue and unsettle you at the same time. Cheese lovers can chat with certified professionals behind the cheese counters, try free samples and order up just enough to fill a cheese plate. For an item that can’t be sampled easily in the store, ask to take one home to try for free. Or, says Flickinger, the store manager might agree to set up a product demo at a later date.
Net a 10% discount for buying certain products – such as wine, sodas and snacks – by the case rather than in individual bottles or packages. You’ll need to ask an employee what constitutes a “case,” as it can vary by store, but a case of wine, for example, might be as few as six bottles. In the meat and seafood aisles, keep your eyes peeled (or ask) for “value packs” – large quantities of meat and fish bundled together and sold at a discount. Freeze whatever you can’t use by the expiration date.
Conversely, you may prefer to unbundle. Some stores let you build your own six-pack of beer by combining single bottles. “It’s fun to play with when you see a lot of seasonal beers,” says Neu, the Whole Foods marketing manager.
At some Whole Foods stores, the meat and seafood departments will cook what you buy for you, either on the house or for a small fee. Not only will you save time on dinner prep, but you’ll also save money over ordering your steak or salmon at a restaurant.
Fishmongers will scale and debone fish to order, season fillets with anything from salt and pepper to a Latin spice blend, and steam them, too (a few stores even have the capability of grilling, baking or sautéing your fish). “I do this at the beginning of my shop, so 15 minutes later it’s filleted and ready to go,” says Neu. In addition to slicing and grilling your meat, including lesser-known cuts, some butchers make sausages to order and even dry-age beef.
Another frugal tip: Ask the butcher or fishmonger for leftover bones or shells to make homemade stock (or, in the case of bones, a treat for your dog to gnaw on). Even if the scraps aren’t free, you can usually get them for a very low price.
Whole Foods offers specials on food and drinks on certain days of the week. The schedule varies by location, so check ahead. I like “Meatless Mondays” at my local Whole Foods because I can load up a takeout container with vegetarian food from the hot and cold buffets. As long as the lid fits, I pay a flat $8 – making Mondays the perfect night to fill up on heavier items, such as macaroni and cheese or mashed potatoes.
A Whole Foods in Boise, Idaho, holds “Cheap Date Night” every Tuesday. You can get two drinks and two snack plates for $15. At my local Whole Foods, I’m always bumping into people partaking in “Wine Down Wednesdays.” Five dollars gets you five wine samples paired with five nibbles, spaced throughout the store. Other locations offer cheap pizza nights, brunch specials (complete with cocktails) and even “yappy” hours for your dog.
Many Whole Foods locations host free or low-cost beverage tastings and cooking demonstrations. My local store holds a free food tasting once a week. There are beer tastings at some stores, too.
But not all events are focused exclusively on food and drink. Some stores offer free yoga classes or running workshops, live music, open mic nights, karaoke or pub trivia. At one Whole Foods in Boston, you can book treatments at the in-store spa. (Recent specials included $12 express manicures on Mondays, regularly $20.)
Check the online Events Calendar for your local store to find out what’s coming up, or ask the store manager or pay attention to the store’s social media postings. For example, glancing at my local branch’s Twitter feed alerted me to DIY face masks and free wine to kick off a 25%-off body care sale.
Many Whole Foods locations host a “Kids Club.” Among the perks is a free snack (say, a fruit bar or animal crackers) for your child to nibble on. It’s a good way to keep the little ones sated while you shop.
Some of the clubs have more elaborate offerings for young shoppers, including art activities and cooking classes. The Kids Club in Brea, Calif., gives children ages 3 to 12 a coupon for a free mini fruit tart, a free treat each Tuesday and Saturday, a discount on kids’ cooking classes and a free birthday cupcake. The Kids Club in Westminster, Colo., offers free 30-minute store tours that teach kids about nutrition and food prep. Participants are also encouraged to find the mascot hidden in the store to win prizes.
Courtesy Whole Foods
Whole Foods has rolled out a new chain called 365 by Whole Foods Market, which currently has three locations up and running on the West Coast. “It’s designed to be a lower-cost operation that translates to lower everyday prices,” says Jon Springer, retail editor of Supermarket News. “It has a little less merchandising pizzazz and fewer employees. You don’t get fishmongers and butchers.” Several more stores in the new chain are scheduled to open across the U.S. in 2017.
Besides its namesake 365 products, the smaller and more budget-friendly 365 stores stock a range of other brands, grab-and-go meals, packaged meat and seafood, fresh produce and more. The store even has its own rewards program, with features including a digital “punch card” (buy 10 of a product, get one free) and 10% off select items.
One thing you don’t find in other budget supermarkets, but you will at 365 stores: hip restaurants and bars. The three stores currently open have partnered with independent businesses, including a plant-based burger joint, a craft brew bar and a self-serve tea station where you can customize your own blends.
Right now, Whole Foods is testing a loyalty program in the Dallas/Fort Worth and Philadelphia markets. It should roll out nationwide in 2017. “It’s geared toward customer personalization,” says Neu.
Eventually, that could mean tailoring coupons and offers to your shopping habits, whether you love the produce bins or you own a pet. So far, the program available to Dallas and Philly customers includes 10% off your first purchase as a new member, a one-time chance to score 15% off the department of your choice, and some freebies.
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