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Thursday, January 16, 2014

My Visit to Whole Foods

Where I live, there are health food stores, but they are small- the largest one is roughly the size of your average Payless store. When I knew I was coming to the US, in addition to visiting Walmart and Target, I wanted to pay a visit to either Whole Foods or Trader Joes, a health food store that is super sized (like everything else in the US ;) ) also for the experience, and also to get a taste of how American health food shoppers shop, to get ideas of pricing and such so I know about how much my American readers end up spending on various health food items.

My hosts in Kansas City took me on a trip to Whole Foods, which has been nicknamed "Whole Paycheck", and now I understand why.

I have to say, it was quite an experience for me- so many options of healthy items in one place- locally, I either can't find what I'm looking for, or have only one option and can't really price compare or even decide which brand I prefer....

The problem with a place like whole foods, though, is that with so many options in front of you, it's very tempting to just browse the aisles and just get what appeals to you, even if you don't need it, because it's good looking, it's not unhealthy, and it's right there in front of you!

Take this shelf of chocolates, for example. Locally all the chocolate is filled with such garbage, and here was a shelf filled with chocolate made with 3-5 ingredients, all not bad. For example, they were pure cacao powder, cocoa butter, and unrefined cane sugar, and then maybe a natural flavoring or two. It is so tempting to want to treat yourself to a bar of chocolate... but at 6 or 7 dollars for a small bar of chocolate, those little treats add up in price very quickly.

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We did end up buying one bar for 3 adults to share- a chili flavored chocolate- and it was out of this world delicious- and unlike most chocolate, I didn't feel sick after eating it.... But this was definitely a one time treat, because it is seriously too expensive to buy even on a semi regular basis.


We passed by this shelf filled with dairy free milks. It's nice to have such a variety- where I live, you have two choices of soy milk, one brand of almond milk, one brand of rice milk, one brand of oat milk. That's it. So being able to take my pick of so many types of non dairy milks (at home I can only buy almond milk or rice milk since I don't do soy or oats), from almond to rice to oat to hemp to hazelnut to quinoa to coconut to soy, etc... with a few different brands and flavors of each type- it was definitely nice... However...

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That was until I looked at the price tag.
These non dairy milks are super expensive- more expensive than they are locally, in my opinion...
This just reinforces how much of a good idea it is to make your own homemade non dairy milks if you're dairy intolerant, because homemade stuff is far cheaper, by a mile, and they don't have any problematic ingredients that might cause health issues...

I checked out the shelf with gluten free flours, and, again, the variety there was so amazing. Of course, it almost all was Bob's Red Mill brand, so you couldn't really price compare between brands, but still...
But again, these gluten free flours were so expensive that it reinforced for me what a good idea it is for gluten free people to purchase their own grain grinder and grind their own flours instead of buying them pre-ground.

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I actually came to whole foods intending to buy one specific thing- Daiya cheese. It's a dairy free, soy free cheese that is meltable, and doesn't contain too many bad ingredients. I've looked for something like that locally many times, but from what I've discovered, they don't sell it in my country. I do make my own vegan cheeses, but they aren't so easy to make and don't taste 100% cheesy- meaning, they're close, but not perfect, and it would be nice to have something like Daiya stocked in my freezer for lazy times, etc... I was planning on buying a bunch of Daiya to bring back with me, but quite a few people warned me that I shouldn't do that until I try it, since some people react badly to Daiya cheese, and it would be a shame if I stocked up on it and it ended up making me sick.
So I wanted to buy a bit, try it out, and if it agreed with me, buy a bunch to take home with me before I leave on Sunday.
So the visit to Whole Foods was mainly intended to get that.
And wow, what a selection of Daiya!!!

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I price compared, to see what was cheapest per ounce- shredded, sliced, or chunks of cheese, and the sliced stuff ended up being cheaper, so I bought a bit of the Daiya cheddar to try out. Oh my gosh. We had broccoli with our supper, and I melted the Daiya cheddar on it, and it was amazing, and best of all, no bad reaction to it! So I'll definitely be stocking up!!

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I have to say the thing that amused me the most about my visit to Whole Foods was watching this tour there. I have never before seen a grocery store tour, so I don't know what they showed and what the purpose of the tour is... but either way, I found it cute/strange enough to photograph.

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The tour was right near the bulk food section, which is the cheapest part of Whole Foods- how you can get grains and nuts and seeds and other dry goods cheapest...

When we got to the shelves of olive oil and other oils, I was shocked at how expensive the oils were. I rarely buy olive oil because it is simply super expensive where I live, but after seeing the prices at Whole Foods, I am definitely appreciative of how "cheap" our olive oil is locally...

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Last but not least on our pictorial tour of Whole Foods was this shelf filled with all different varieties of kombucha!
I got so much inspiration from the different types of kombucha there, which I want to try out at home. Some of the kombucha was mixed with fruit juices, some was mixed with greens, and some was mixed with fruit juices and chia seeds. My hostess treated me to a bottle of chia and black currant kombucha to drink before flying out of Kansas City this morning, and it was delicious!

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I also checked out the section where they sold homemade soaps, some made with goat's milk and oatmeal... I recently made some goat's milk and oatmeal soap and it came out a really wonky color, so I was afraid I did something wrong, but the goat's milk oatmeal soap there was exactly the same color, so it reassured me that I made it just fine. I checked out the prices, and discovered that my soap bars, the size that they are, would sell at about 5 dollars each at Whole Foods. And they definitely cost me much less to make!

So, what did I get from my trip to Whole Foods? What was my impression?

Well, I have to say that as a health conscious person, I sometimes feel like people think I'm a crazy nutter, and it was a nice feeling to have so many similarly minded people nearby, none of whom think I am crazy for looking for a fever/pain reducer (similar to tylenol or ibuprofin) that didn't have fake sugars like sorbitol in it, but understood why I was looking for that (unfortunately, Whole Foods didn't carry such a thing), or didn't think I was nuts for drinking kombucha, etc... It's just a nice feeling to feel "normal" and not like a "weirdo" for caring about my health and wanting to live a more natural lifestyle.
And it was definitely nice to have a large selection of stuff to choose from that were suitable to the type of lifestyle I lead and diet I eat.

At the same time, Whole Foods is super expensive, and I think shopping there regularly could be too big a temptation for most people, because the cost there really adds up and because everything is "totally fine" there is too much of a pull to just "add one more thing into the  cart" that you wouldn't necessarily have when shopping in a regular supermarket and weeding out the healthy items there. In a way, I'm glad I don't have a Whole Foods locally, because I think too much variety makes people think they need to try EVERYTHING, because it's available, instead of being satisfied with just the simple stuff they could make from scratch.

And speaking of making from scratch, I did enjoy seeing the variety of healthy processed foods at Whole Foods, which gave me ideas of things I can make at home, whether different granola type bars (made with raw buckwheat, sprouted seeds, and dates) or raw granola mixes (similar to the bars) or flavored kombuchas, etc...
I think it's a good idea to get occasional cooking inspiration from Whole Foods, and then go home and make those foods from scratch instead of buying them already made and prepackaged from Whole Foods.

Either way, I had a fun time and am glad I checked it out.

Do you have a Whole Foods locally? Do you buy from there? Is that where you do your usual grocery shopping, or do you only buy certain items from there, and if so, which items? What is your impression of Whole Foods? Do you agree with my assessment?

37 comments:

  1. I do shop at Whole Foods occasionally, mostly for local in season stuff. There is a local olive oil mill I get my oil from and local honey especially! I also will watch their sales but mostly I stay away. It is really tempting!

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    1. they have a booklet there with coupons - that's what usually gets me - oh, look, a sale - but do I need it!!!!

      Klara

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  2. We do have one. I shop there occasionally. It's pricey. I generally try to stick to oats, veggies, occasional dairy.

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  3. We do have one. I shop there occasionally. It's pricey. I generally try to stick to oats, veggies, occasional dairy.

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    1. Do you find those are sold for good prices there? Why do you buy those there specifically?

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  4. Loved this post! I have to say that even though the prices there were expensive, I like the idea of being able to get healthy, natural "fast/convenience" food instead of the regular pizza/burgers route.

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    1. Yes, it certainly is nice to have stuff you can eat that are ready made...

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  5. We have one very close by, but it is too expensive to shop there regularly. We go for splurge cheeses - I brought smoked mozzarella and parrano cheese to the hospital when I went into labor, and Harmless Harvest coconut water (most kinds of coconut water taste terrible to me but that brand is delicious). We usually get sandwiches while we're there because they have GF bread. It's terrible to spend $70-100 on a single bag of groceries, though! Especially since they're all "splurge" items, it feels like a huge waste of money. We go no more than once every few months.

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    1. Its nice to splurge on nice things every once in a while, but when it becomes a daily thing, then it becomes problematic.

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  6. living here in the states, i am always surprised how unhealthy the shoppers at whole foods appear to be. it is ironic. i guess everyone is on a constant journey to health.

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    1. You cant always tell health by looking from the outside. There are healthy people at all sizes. And also, there are some people who are getting into healthy eating specifically because of medical issues they have...

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  7. I shop at Whole Foods--possibly the one you went to since I'm in the KC metro. Their in-store brand is a great value. And the meat sales can be good. But it's a dangerous place to be if you're tempted by baked goods!

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    1. Interesting how many people reading this are in the KC metro area! Good to know about those cheaper items there.

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  8. For heaven sakes go to Trader Joe's! Ever since they moved into town (I live in a suburb of KC) I NEVER go to Whole Foods anymore.....and they're only about a mile away from each other......

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    1. Maybe i'll get to do that tomorrow. :-D

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    2. Yes TJ's and WF are ENTIRELY different ball games lol. Do get yourself to a TJ. Much smaller, much less selection, much less overwhelming, much less expensive. All pluses in my book!

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  9. After having my fun adventure with you at Whole Foods, I wrote a post about it too and how to make chocolate granola banana slices. http://daniellasilver.com/chocolate-granola-banana-slices/
    Thanks for introducing me to raw Buckwheat :) If I am going to make a granola should I toast them 1st, bake on super low temp w/ the rest of the granola or cook it in some way. Can you just eat it raw?

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    1. Toast them in a dry skillet, cooking them for a few minutes until they crisp up a bit but arent hard hard, just as hard as peanuts.

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  10. I was waiting for this post! I am also looking forward to going when I fly into the States in two months. I haven't been there in 6 years and I've never been to Whole Foods. I will probably be culture shocked by the good/bad American consumerism craze. (Did you ever see the TED video about "the paradox of choice" and linking too many choices to happiness? Interesting.)
    Waiting to see all the goodies you do come home with! Enjoy the rest of your trip and come home safely.

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  11. I like Whole Foods, but things are way too expensive there (regular price) and the closest one is over an hour away. I do have a friend who shops sales and uses coupons there and does very well there...

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  12. I love whole foods! I wish we can get daiya cheeses here as well. I love them and so do my two oldest, but my third is anaphylactic to coconut, one of the main ingredients

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  13. Whole Foods is too rich for my blood. Fortunately, there is a small natural foods co-op near my home. They are the cheapest source for some items, but not for others, so I have to be careful about what goes in the cart. But they're still cheaper than the other place. :-)

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  14. I do have a Whole Foods, but I hardly buy anything there. They have the cheapest price on my current favorite toilet paper (which is not bleached at all). And they have 97% fat-free ground beef or buffalo that has fewer chemicals and more humane than most meat. (There are other places I can get nice meat and other places I can get low-fat meat, but not at the same time.) I do basically agree with your assessment. The prices are high, but their bulk items and 365-brand items have better prices.

    I've decided the cheapest way to snack on good chocolate is to get chocolate chips.

    (And I would also recommend Trader Joe's as completely different. They are small because they have only one or two choices for most items. If you have their same priorities, it could be good. They will probably have fewer choices for dealing with your allergies. But if they do have things you like, the prices will be better. I like their organic salads, most dairy products, cheese puffs, "everything" crackers, and many bread products. However, they do use more packaging than is necessary on many things.)

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  15. I never go to Whole Foods because it is way out of my budget and I know I would be too tempted with all the goodies. I do have a farmer's market close by, so I go there. I would love to be able to shop at Trader Joe's, but there is not one close to me to make it worthwhile to drive - I would spend more in gas than it would be worth.

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  16. I live in Canada, close to the US border and commuted to Detroit for work for several years. I tried a Whole Foods once, but didn't like it. I think it was in an old supermarket and did not make a good first impression. I walked around briefly but bought nothing. I did go to Trader Joe's and loved it.

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  17. I shop there sometimes, but Trader Joes is by far my favorite and is better on the pocketbook

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  18. Did you get overwhelmed by the selection in the US? In Finland we have about 3 different types per thing but America has like 1,000! Whenever we grocer shop back in America with my Mom I just kind of blank out for a couple minutes confused by the selection lol! Thanks for the pictures! We don't have a local Whole Foods near us in GA.

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  19. I am lucky to live in Las Vegas nv and have a myriad of choices all within 20 miles of my home. It is called Whole Paycheck here as well! We usually only shop there to treat ourselves with thier exstensive selection of vegan "meats" in the frozen section, other than that, Trader Joes is the way to go or here we have Sprouts as well and they have amazing prices on produce and all things healthy! Please do yourself a favor and get to Trader Joes!! Its such a fun store to shop! Hope you enjoyed your trip back to the states!! Have a safe journey back home!!

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  20. I live in a pretty diverse city but whenever I go to Whole Foods, it seems the shoppers are mostly white. The area I live is very affluent but it's not just Caucasians that have money here! In contrast, when I go to my local farmer's market, the diversity is reflective of my city. It's just an interesting tidbit that I'm still trying to dissect.

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  21. My experience is that Whole Foods has a lot of expensive things, but certain things (especially their store brand, 365, which has lots of organics) are priced reasonably, at least compared to other stores in the US. I don't know compared to your country. (Oh, I see someone said that above, but adding my opinion). I used to go there for certain things, but now it's inconvenient enough I don't usually make it.

    The best prices I have seen on olive oil are at Trader Joe's--"regular" extra virgin olive oil is about $6 a liter, I think, and for a couple dollars more they have fancier/organic, I don't remember exactly. I know people who get olive oil in large quantities at Costco and that is probably also cheap.

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  22. I find WF overwhelming and over expensive, though 365 stuff isn't too bad. I love TKs, I actually worked at one for about a year. they are affordable and If its the TJ brand it is gmo free. They have a decent gluten free selection, and a list of all the gf products.

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  23. Definitely check out Trader Joes before your go! Way cheaper options from all over the world. Please keep in mind that Daiya Cheese has to be kept refrigerated so bringing it back in your bag may prove to be an epic waste of money when it goes bad. Enjoy the remainder of your time in the USA!

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  24. When we shopped at Whole Foods regularly it was absolutely an exercise in doing exactly what you said. Their private label "365" brand products can be a really good buy and is often on sale, especially if you don't have a large supermarket with their own private label organic line. So we tried to buy almost exclusively bulk bin/365 and fill in with other things. Swing by the butcher counter to see what's on special (they often have very good specials on economy packs of basic things like chicken and ground beef). And, of course, try to keep the treats to a minimum.

    But then my friendly neighborhood Co-Op opened closer to my house and now I shop there. It's smaller, easier to get in and out of, and they have better bulk bins.

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  25. I almost never go to Whole Foods. Their store is the same distance from my house as the local health food co-op and Trader Joe's, both of which have much better prices. (Whole Foods does have the cheapest organic tofu in town--but it's only 20c less than TJ's so not worth the trip.) 365 products are mostly organic but not always; I've seen 365 products that weren't any better than the regular supermarket's store brand but were up to twice as expensive. Other things I don't like about their Pittsburgh store are that it always smells like rotting fish and the parking lot is insanely crowded and dangerous to walk through, even if you took public transit to get there and thus don't have to look for a space.

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  26. I like going around a nice Whole Foods once in a while for ideas and sampling their produce etc but it's almost every item too expensive to be included in a frugal budget. Some of the stuff is sheer luxury prices.

    Sprouts is cheaper and always has something on special to make a visit worthwhile.

    ~Tracy

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