Whole Foods' Image Problem

When I first smelled the overwhelming scent of rotting meat five years ago at a large grocery store with a reputation for its social scene that shall remain nameless, I started putting a little more thought into where I bought certain products. Whole Foods was closer to my house at the time anyway, and I started noticing a few surprising price differences.

Contrary to its "Whole Paycheck" nickname, Whole Foods' prices were actually lower on, for example, the yogurt I liked. A whole 30 cents lower. But whenever I explained to someone that if you shop carefully, you really don't have to spend more at Whole Foods, I was met with headshakes full of doubtful pity.

Of course you can go to Whole Foods and buy a four-ounce block of cheese for $15 or a small bottle of olive oil for $30, but no one's making you.

A story in today's New York Times delves into Whole Foods' elitist image problem and reports on a new ad campaign the company is runnung in New York that highlights "value" and "deals."

From the story:
Researching the price of branded products like organic chips in Arizona recently, [Andrew Wolf, a longtime grocery industry analyst at BB&T Capital Markets in Richmond] said, he found that Whole Foods charges, on average, 3 percent less than competing local supermarkets.

"The reality is that they are not a higher- priced competitor," he said.

"However, if your store looks cleaner and your products are better, you can create a price image that is higher than reality," he added. "You are punished for being good."

In response, the store is running ads like the one shown in the story, which pushes the $2.99 Oreo knockoffs. Isn't it ironic that while all the large chains are trying to be more like Whole Foods, Whole Foods is trying to be more like them?


Mari said...

I noticed once that their milk was cheaper than Giant's. When Giant was charging $1.29, WF was charging .99. But for some other stuff, they were expensive. Better off going to Rodman's.

Anonymous said...

In unrelated Whole Foods news, the Hill is reporting a new WF store has been inked for the Hill (South of the Freeway, no doubt): http://thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/Features/Hillscape/051006.html

That gives the Hill 2 Harris Teeters and one Whole Foods--not too shabby.

Amanda said...

I'm getting a little jealous...

Washington Cube said...

I actually started shopping at Whole Foods when it was Bread and Circus up in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I was hooked from the beginning. I was so glad when Fresh Fields came down here and we had that level of quality available to us. I know Whole Foods has a reputation of being overly priced and exclusive, but to me the chief factors in shopping there were and have been as you cited: cleanliness and extremely fresh food. Shopping at Whole Foods give you a much longer shelf life on your produce and meats/seafood, and you know you aren't going to be getting potentially sick from eating it, nor will you be throwing it out uneaten, like the rotted avocado I bought at a local Giant last week. You're preaching to the choir, on my end.

Anonymous said...

Agreed. If you spend some extra time and effort you can find some reasonably-priced items, and some high quality items. Overall, WF is a nice place.

And they buy 100% renewable energy like wind power.

Anonymous said...

I've been saying this for years. If you're just buying basics (milk, bread, yogurt), on average, you're going to spend a lot less. If you throw in a $9 brie cheese and a $6 fruit salad, well, there you go.

Whole Foods rocks.

Washington Cube said...

If you really want to do major damage at Whole Foods, hit the Balsamic Vinegar and Oils aisle. The cheese case is another cart hazard. Move along folks, nothing to see. One thing I went after them on, time and again, was the children's carts. I begged them to get rid of them.

Amanda said...

I wish the P Street WF had bulk spices. Anyone have a favorite source for buying spices in bulk?

Washington Cube said...

This might be a good source for bulk spices:


Another one:

Organic Food Express
(301) 220-1100
9827 Rhode Island Ave
College Park, MD 20740

And here:


You should call them first, to make sure they have what you need.

Anonymous said...

Interesting website with a lot of resources and detailed explanations.