Bargain Shopping at Whole Foods: 12 Strategies for Success
Trying to eat healthier? Wanting to explore organics and plant-based eating without spending the equivalent of a second mortgage? Whole Foods is considered by many to be out of financial reach. Believe it or not, you can go bargain shopping at Whole Foods and actually save money.
I know, I know. Heading to Whole Foods with a shopping cart and making it your only weekly shopping source can feel like a short ride to Brokeville. I shop there quite regularly however, and manage to save money. The trick is to shop strategically and with an eye towards several key items and areas. Here’s my general plan of attack for bargain shopping at Whole Foods, broken down into twelve main categories of saving.
Wall of Wines
At the Whole Foods store here in Tampa, there’s an entire wall display in the wine section featuring wines that are all less than seven dollars per bottle. Remember that review I wrote of Our Daily Red organic wine? Well, it’s available at Whole Foods for $6.99. It’s normally around ten bucks a bottle at other stores.
If you buy six bottles or more of wine, you get an extra ten percent off your purchase, plus a free four-section fabric wine bag for carrying home some of your bottles. Guess who came home with a case of organic red and two free wine bags?
Organic Dry Goods
One of the cheapest organic food transitions we’ve made at our house has been with dry goods. This bulk buying strategy is a great way to stock up without a freezer. In addition to several kinds of organic flour you can use to make your own bread mixes, Whole Foods has a bulk bin dispenser aisle which offers organic versions of black-eyed peas, rolled and steel cut oats, multiples types of lentils, brown rice, quinoa, black beans, oat bran and kidney beans to name just a few. Several of these organic dry good items are available for less than two dollars per pound, and many of them are well below the three dollar per pound mark.
Precision Produce Purchases
I’ll be the first to admit that the organic beets priced at five dollars each are absolutely not in my budget. That being said, a careful scan of the fresh produce section usually results in a few deals. I’ve found organic carrots for roughly a dollar per pound, organic peaches for less than two dollars per pound and organic red potatoes for $1.69 per pound.
When I’m in the area stocking up on dry goods or in the area running other infrequent errands, I try to pick up fresh items I’m not able to find in organic versions on a regular basis if they are a good price. For further savings, here’s an article on an affordable emergency produce list to keep things on budget. Choose which items that are the most critical to purchase organic, and purchase the conventional versions of those that aren’t, such as cabbage.
We don’t tend to eat much junk food, but there are a few items that still make it into our home from time to time. For example, we don’t purchase soda as a regular beverage, but do like to keep tonic water and few other flavors on hand for cocktail parties. The Whole Foods sodas don’t contain any high fructose corn syrup that I’ve seen, and cost less than the generic natural sodas I’ve seen at Target. While I’m still waiting for them to develop a diet tonic water sweetened with stevia, these do for now and since we buy so little of it, it’s affordable for us.
I also found organic dark chocolate bars on sale there recently for $1.50 less per bar than at my closest Super Target.
DIY Menu Pairings
If you’re not careful at their hot and cold food bar, you can end up spending a fortune. Now, if that’s what you’re craving, go for it. However, if you just want to have something healthy before you start shopping, get familiar with all areas of the store and be creative with your menu. My husband and I have each selected a piece of fruit from the produce section while sharing an agreed upon calzone. Decadent spinach-feta croissants are available in the self-serve bakery cabinet for $1.79. The last time I ate lunch there, I paired a ninety-nine cent black olive bread stick with a $2.99 cup of curried lentil soup. All of these options were less money than would have been spent at a fast food drive through window, making this an unexpected option to save money while dining out.
Organic Canola Oil
In addition to olive oil, I like to have a lightly flavored oil to cook with that stands up to high heat. I was using grape seed oil, but got frustrated that it wasn’t available organically. If I’m going to indulge in non organic grapes, I’ll do it with wine thank you very much. Whole Foods offers an organic canola oil by Spectrum that is roughly the same price as the non organic version I have access to at one of my regular grocery stores in Hudson. Plus, it’s stored in glass which is something I try to pay attention to when the option is available to me.
Cheap Beverage Options
Compared to the checkout coolers at the regular grocery store, there are several beverage options that offer a decent value when you want to sit in the eating area and take a break. In addition to the free water dispensers, you can purchase one-liter glass bottles of store brand flavored sparkling water for $1.50. My husband and I often share one of these when we’re down in the area shopping. I like the Steaz organic white tea with pomegranate and lime in the sixteen-ounce can for a buck, but if soda’s your thing, the store brand ones are available individually in lunch area cooler for around fifty cents a piece.
Casual Business Meetings
Their seating area makes a great place for a casual business gathering. The store offers free WiFi, complementary water dispensers, recycling bins for meal packaging and toaster ovens and microwaves for heating up bagels and other items you might choose to snack on from the grocery area. Remember the article I wrote about how to enjoy Starbucks on a budget? If you recall, I mentioned it as an affordable business meeting venue as well.
The atmosphere at Whole Foods is notably more casual, but suitable for general networking purposes if not for high end client courting. I’ve used their lunch area to meet up with fellow travel writers and network. Everyone can be satisfied for meal options there as well, as there are gluten-free, vegan and meat lover’s options as well as dairy-free soup alternatives. Since you can pantry stock there as well, it’s a nice twofer on a busy day.
Whole foods has their own generic line of products just like Target, Sweet Bay, Hannaford and others. Who knew? It’s called 365 and offers a generic equivalent to many of the other products on the shelves. Not all of the 365 items are organic, but many are. Some of my bargain choices? Organic cider vinegar, baking flour and agave nectar when our by-the-case delivery is back ordered. Generic product lines in general are a great way to go bargain shopping for organic food.
Organic Loose Teas
I just noticed this on my last trip down. In addition to the regular tea section, there was a table of loose gourmet teas in glass jars that were priced by the ounce. Many of them were organic, and when I compared them to the weight I was paying for a similar amount in pre-bagged varieties from my local grocery, I noticed many of them were similarly priced if not cheaper. Some of them were more expensive to be sure, but many of them were not. So this is a great package-free organic alternative I’ll consider stocking up on when my other tea stash runs out.
Healthy Hotel Food
I was disappointed to find the plain instant oatmeal offered at a complimentary hotel breakfast recently had a ton of extra crap in it that was unnecessary. We also wanted some healthy eat-in-the-room options as our schedule was wacky on this particular trip and we were arriving back at the room too late to conveniently go out to eat. We squeezed in one meal out on the return trip and used grocery store options, including Whole Foods to supplement our meal plan. Suggested items for travelers include pourable boxed organic soups to microwave, Ezekiel sprouted grain tortillas, organic oatmeal and bagels, fruit, and pesticide-free peanut butter.
A few other options exist for bargain shopping at Whole Foods. Store-specific sale flyers can be located on the company web site, free bargain tours are offered by calling ahead to schedule, and free sample stations abound for self-serve enthusiasts. I sampled organic cheese cubes and dried goji berries on my last trip to the store. I also received a store credit of ten cents per fabric bag brought and used to the store. Not bad.
Based on budget and bulk buying preferences at our house, I can’t say grocery shopping exclusively at Whole Foods makes sense at our house. That being said, I have been surprised at the number of bargains I have been able to find there that have made our transition to organic, plant-focused eating more affordable. There are some deals to be found here, just like there are things worth spending money on at Costco. With some discipline and careful sleuthing, you can likely save some money there too, if organic eating is something you are trying to do more of.