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Need to Shop at Whole Foods - What to Buy?

A good friend has a group that is having a fundraiser at Whole Foods. A portion of proceeds from that days shopping by people who request it will go to this charity. I generally avoid Whole Foods like the plague so I have no idea what sorts of things are good buys. Things that I'm not likely to find at Safeway, or are significantly better in quality. My budget is tight, so as long as I'm there I want to make the most of what I need to spend.

Thanks Hounds

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  1. I think their potato salad is like crack. Very good.

    Whatever you do, DO NOT buy the rotisserie chicken. Awful shit. Like a big giant Peep that has all the sugar sucked out of it. Actually, a big giant Peep with no sugar probably tastes better than the Whole Foods rotisserie chicken.

    3 Replies
    1. re: ipsedixit

      Amen, I bought the rotisserie chicken once and it was like eating desert sand.

      1. re: redfish62

        Yes, I returned the rotisserie chicken I bought there. It was like jerky and so offensive that I needed to get my $17 back.

        Agree on the potato salad, too, though it needs salt, like most of their prepared items.

      2. re: ipsedixit

        I read somewhere that Sysco makes a lot of the stuff sold in their deli department.

      3. I don't shop there much, but when I do go, I look for the following things:
        1. fresh ground honey-roasted peanut butter--about $3/lb in my area, beats anything you will get in a jar. Terrific on crisp apple slices.
        2. Vanilla granola from the bulk bin.
        3. Produce--it can be hit or miss, but I've gotten better deals on tomatoes, apples and potatoes at WF than at my local A&P.
        4. Cereals--they often run sales on these, and the cost is favorable in comparison to whay generally see in the supermarket.

        1. In the prepared food section they have a penne pasta salad w/ smoked mozzarella that I really like. I've tried to replicate it at home but it's not the same.

          Also for some reason their brownie bites are especially good.

          They are also the only place I can find truffle butter (although at around $9 last time I bought it for like 4oz, it's not really budget friendly), and I like their chicken sausage selections. Also I like the "bargain" cheese area where they sell the bits and pieces of the fancy cheeses.

          1. Why not give your friend a direct donation, then 100% will go to the charity. I find most fundraisers in that style net very little to the charity. Believe me, WF isn't going to forfeit profit. If you feel the necessity to purchase, I'd stick to some cheese.

            1. I agree with treb about donating it directly to your friend's charity.

              But if you do want to check out the goods at WF anyway, the bulk section and 365 brand will get you the most for your money. I would avoid the prepared foods - IMO they're overpriced and usually not very good. Grab the weekly sales flyer to see what specials your local store is running. You should also look at the "Whole Deal" booklet - they're usually either by the door or at the end of checkout lanes - which is loaded with special buys and coupons.

              5 Replies
              1. re: goodhealthgourmet

                Thanks for the replies (auto-correct prefers replays.) I have and will continue to give the cause direct contributions, but the idea is that if this one goes well, they have a better chance of getting future support, and that leads to wider community participation. If it is stuff I need to buy anyhow, then so be it if I pay a little more.

                I agree that most fundraising sales are silly, be it a church bake sale, bbq chicken (HuliHuli in Hawaii), or even girl scout cookies. But for some reason people would rather buy two boxes of cookies they shouldn't be eating rather than give some little girl down the street $10. Lots of psychology and sociology in there somewhere. Beyond the bounds of this board for sure.

                1. re: KaimukiMan

                  My wife LOVES the smoked whitefish salad, which is usually in little containers near the fresh seafood section (next to the packaged smoked salmon).

                  Other than that, the cheese selection is great, but not cheap. However, they will let you sample cheeses and break up packages if you want a smaller quantity.

                  1. re: KaimukiMan

                    Ah, that makes a lot of sense. Go you.

                    As for WF, I generally avoid it too, but agree with iluvcookies upthread on the freshly ground peanut butter. Or, if they have it, the callebaut or valrhona chocolate in bulk can be a good price (like $10/lb?) and can be stored for later when you need to make an extra special treat or present.

                    Avoid the pre-baked goodies. I tried a box once as a treat, thinking "It's sold at WholeFoods; it's got to be fancy & good". It was stale. :-/

                  2. re: goodhealthgourmet

                    I'm somewhat wary of the 365 line; I've generally had good luck, but taste tests on serious eats show 365 doing very badly.

                    1. re: NorthEncantoGirl

                      This makes no sense to me. You said you've enjoyed the products yourself - isn't that all that matters?

                  3. Definitely check out the 1. bulk bins - all kinds of grains (whole and ground), beans, nuts, granola, snacks; 2. cheese dept; 3. produce
                    I've found all of these to be comparable in prices to many other supermarkets and often much better selection and/or quality. The suggestion to check out what they have on special is a good one, too.

                    I agree that their prepared foods are overpriced, and hit-or-miss in terms of flavor (never a question of freshness though). And I usually don't buy seafoods or meats there, because they're out of my budget, but they do look great in terms of quality and freshness. But it sounds like your budget is closer to mine!

                    1. grade b maple syrup sooo yummy

                      1. In the past, I went to WHF to get Whole Wheat Pastry Flour because I could not find it anywhere else. I haven't needed it recently.. but you might check-out their selection of flours, extracts, and spices.

                        Also, if you cannot just give a donation, you could look at the Whole Body section and maybe find an item that could be used as a hostess gift in the future.

                        1. I don't know if they carry it everywhere, but in California they have Vicolo cornmeal pizza crust (2 per pack) that are delicious and always nice to have on hand. My store has two stocking locations, by the fresh prepared foods and some in the freezer. They also have already-topped pizzas; I haven't tried them. http://www.vicolopizza.com/nf_crust.htm

                          1. I like their fill your own bottle of honey, they have various types. Last time I was there I treated myself to some blueberry honey.

                            Also good, buying 1 or 2 of a few random types of varietal fruits that you would get otherwise. They had some lovely Satsuma's still on the branches with leaves when we went just before New Years. I ate some and made Satsuma infused bourbon with the rest. But you could always pick out 1 or 2 varieties of heirloom apples or so forth as a treat.

                            I liked their grind your own chocolate peanut butter. It was peanuts and chocolate chips in a hopper and you pressed the button and filled up your little cup. It went VERY solid once it sat for a few hours, but it melts so nicely on hot toast or bagels. I also made a dessert out of some of it warmed in the microwave and then spread on (the horrors, sorry!) pillsbury crescent rolls, topped it with slices of banana and rolled them up into little packages and baked them.

                            You could buy 1 or 2 natural sodas or teas you wouldn't normally buy to taste them.

                            Lastly if you look over in the cheese department sometimes they have a basket of "ends" and there will be a bunch of different kinds of cheese in small quantities all wrapped up. Those are nice for when you want to try a couple ounces of something expensive.

                            1. Raw milk Parmesan. Could easily spend a ton of $$ there alone

                              They have the best selection of Muir Glen tomatoes, I'd probably blow a few bucks there too, and on their lavender body wash

                              The one by me has ZIngermans bread, so I'd have to indulge in that!

                              1. Just curious, why do you avoid whole foods like the plague? Is it the temptation of the many luxury items they carry or you just don't like the stores in general? Personally I find "conventional" grocery stores to be much more expensive than whole foods.

                                I had stopped at Safeway pharmacy recently and thought to grab a gallon of milk because I was low and it was almost $2 more than what whole foods charges and it wasn't even hormone free or organic. Never again (obviously I'll grab one or two things in a pinch but I haven't done a full food shopping trip a Safeway type store in years- namely because of the prices).

                                I shop at whole foods for:
                                whole milk
                                organic baby yogurt
                                cage-free eggs
                                local cheddar cheese
                                organic chicken breast and thighs
                                ground beef
                                frozen haricots verts
                                frozen strawberries
                                framani smoked ham, sliced thin
                                house made roast beef
                                tomato chipotle cream soup (prepared foods) delicious but pricy
                                non-GMO pastas
                                glen muir tomatoes
                                organic mini raviolis (frozen)
                                fresh bread section (acme bread)
                                multigrain Os (like Cheerios but 365 brand)
                                fancy cheese if I want something TJs doesn't carry
                                fresh fruit or veggies depending on variety or in between farmers market visits
                                flaked coconut, spices, pecans from bulk bins
                                365 sodas, I like their ginger ale and cherry vanilla sodas
                                rotisserie chicken on $5 Fridays
                                the occasional cannoli or key lime tart from the dessert case

                                I think the value/pricing for most of these items (other than the ham and soup) can't be beat. If you are shopping on a tight budget I would encourage you to revisit whole foods. That said, it can be extremely difficult to avoid "treating yourself" at whole foods...

                                3 Replies
                                1. re: olyolyy

                                  I too have found that many products are less expensive at Whole Foods vs other grocery stores (Safeway and Harris Teeter). While it can be more expensive and you hvae to pay attention, I think that the reputation of "whole paycheck" results from the fact that they tend to carry higher quality items and items which just aren't found at other stores. For example, I admit that that the grass-fed steak, St. Agur blue cheese and fresh wild king salmon are quite pricey but then again I can't find any of these things at Safeway or Harris Teeter. That being said, I would never do the bulk of my shopping at Whole Foods, but I go there nearly every other day for specific products which are usually of higher quality. Even if a specific thing is slightly more expensive than another store, if I know and trust the quality of the Whole Foods product, I will get it from there instead.

                                  1. re: olyolyy

                                    First a disclaimer: I am sure that there is a small percent of shoppers who have good reason to be in Whole foods.

                                    But I am one of those who believe that the primary purpose of Whole Foods is to separate food snobs from their money, and that many of their shoppers wouldn't know the difference between a fresh vine ripened tomato from one that has been in cold storage for half a year if they were both in the same salad.

                                    From my own experience the products at Whole Foods are about 50% more expensive on most items, double on many, and comparable on about 10%. If it works for you, then great. And from your shopping list I can see that you are a discerning shopper. But when I see people paying $10 or $12 for a jug of tropicana pure premium that I just spent $7.50 on at Safeway, I have to say I'm stunned, and that was one of the more reasonable items.

                                    1. re: KaimukiMan

                                      Yes, I agree the markup on many products that are not anywhere near luxury splurges is ridiculous. Whole foods carries brand name Cheerios priced at almost $6 for a small box, while Target has it for around $3 if not less on sale- the list goes on.

                                      I just find that assuming a basic staple is on sale at say Safeway, I can get something like Lucerne cheese at a reasonable price, whereas whole foods has it regularly priced at that similar pricepoint and it's hormone free, organic and/or local which personally is a pro for me. Their pricing on organic chicken thighs and breasts out beats the nonorganic at trader joes, so I feel my dollar stretches a little farther at whole foods for things I would buy at my price point anyway.

                                      That said I also shop at TJs and my year-round farmers market, as well as buy Safeway-type items (sometimes a girl just needs some peperridge farm sausalito cookies) that I occasionally buy at Target where the pricing is more competitive. I put a lot of effort into creating a shopping plan and budget because when you have young ones to feed it's very easy to go over budget if not organized and scheduled so I know where you are coming from when you say just regularly shopping at whole foods is overpriced.

                                  2. I shop at WF a couple of times a month. Their organic produce pricing is similar to, and in many cases lower than, neighborhood grocery shops. (this week, Kale is 2 bunches for $4, bell peppers 4 for $5) Their selection of bread products (conventional and gluten free) is impressive, and often includes sale priced items. WF has the best selection of gluten free soy (and related) sauces, preserves and house-made sausage, in our region.
                                    WF shopping fundraisers are also a vehicle for the organizations to reach a broad, philosophically aligned audience.

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: KarenDW

                                      I'm just not a Whole Foods kind of guy. I don't spend extra for organic produce, my body processes gluten with no problem, I don't buy many dairy products (milk allergy), I never buy breakfast cereal of any kind, I only buy eggs when called for in a recipe, I don't like their taste. So from all items mentioned in many lists above there isn't much at Whole Foods of interest to me. I can get Muir Glenn tomato products at a reasonable grocery store, and I don't like to spend more than $3 per loaf for bread of any kind unless I'm doing something special. And as mentioned above, I don't like the store philosophy. $6-8 per pound for ground beef isn't my thing.

                                    2. Their 365 mayonnaise is cheaper than national brands and I prefer its tangy taste, as it has no sweeteners, i.e. the way it's supposed to be.

                                      Low sodium chicken broth is $1.99 a quart, way cheaper than the stuff at Safeway and much better quality.

                                      I bought some frozen swordfish at WF's last week for the same price it goes for at Safeway, when it's available, which is rarely.

                                      365 raisin bran. It's cheaper than national brands and not full of sugar.

                                      Smoked salmon trimmings. So what if you get small pieces instead of large slices? The savings are more than worth it.

                                      1. cheese! and sometimes bread when I don't feel like baking.

                                        1. I get coffee there regularly. Their house brand Pacific Rim and Pleasant Morning Buzz are both good for heavy dark roasts.

                                          Last time in I found a wedge of brie for under 3 bucks. I thought it was good, my wife took exception to "exta rind." She won't eat the stuff. They usually have a basket of cheese bits that are leftover from larger pieces. At a couple bucks each, it's a nice way to try new things.

                                          House brand San Marzano tomatos in cans are very good and reasonably priced. Their house olive oil is our standard for cooking. Less for drizzling.

                                          I also like their house brand sodas. I get the cola and ginger ale regularly. Don't drink them often, but they are perfect when thats what I want. Sugar, no HFCS.

                                          I also try to get in in the morning on my way to work. I won't shop there during high customer volume times.

                                          1. The fruits and vegetables are pretty good. They have good chocolate milk in a glass bottle(they ask for a $2 deposit for the bottle). Some of the prepared food is good but most of it is way overpriced and mediocre. The last cake I got was stale( A strawbherry shortcake). I did purchase lamb chops that were quite good.

                                            1. In our area there are a number of things I can only get at Whole Foods (certain cheeses, flours, beans, etc.) I still end up overspending on impulse purchases there (oooh, chocolate! lotion!) but there are some staples that are an excellent deal, most of them 365 brand, or things my family just loves:
                                              --Grade B Maple Syrup in big jugs
                                              --their white chocolate chunks are really good
                                              --basic everyday olive oil for cooking
                                              --FAGE Greek yogurt in large tubs
                                              --the frozen salmon patties are our family's convenience food. I think their frozen wild salmon and other frozen portioned fish is a pretty good deal, too.
                                              --big bunches of dill for $2.50, compared to tiny sad packs
                                              You could definitely stock up on beans & chocolate and be fine.

                                              1. I really like the prepared soups - a few favorites: turkey chili with white beans, chicken noodle, crab soup, clam chowder

                                                1. i have a thing for drums and wings and wf prices are cheaper for chicken and turkey than what the standard groceries in my area charge for frozen.

                                                  blue hill bay pickled herring, all natural, is the same price as grocery store brand vita herring, which has hfcs.

                                                  i go nuts for texas rio star grapefruit. i can get a 5lb bag at wf for $5 while my local harris teeter's, if and when they have them, charges $1.50 for a single grapefruit.

                                                  i've purchased some nice, hydrating goat-milk soap bars for less than regular national brand soaps.

                                                  i don't buy soda frequently, but i enjoy the 365 gingerale. real ginger and real cane sugar. for less than the national brands.

                                                  for desert, i get their fresh fruit tart. loads of premium fruit, buttery-cookie crust, tasty custard. same price or less than the regular grocers.

                                                  i have a budget to which i try to stick, so i shop multiple stores; safeway, giant, harris teeter, shoprite, wegmans, mars, gersbeck's, eddies, grauls, sam's, food lion, weis. i've found that no store has an overall lower price for all products, so, wf does come out lower on some things.

                                                  1. I love Whole Foods! Depending on the size of your local store, it can be overwhelming. As others have suggested definitely take a look at their weekly sales flyer, it is available in store and you can find it on their website. 365 Brand is their "store" brand and the quality is really good. Most of the items are organic and price comparatively in my opinion. I buy 365 brand oatmeal, peanut butter, canned beans, baking needs, frozen veggies, etc. They also usually have a good selection of locally sourced breads. In the produce area, try some on-sale organic items. In my area there is usually one kind of apple for $1.99/lb and some sort of greens for $2/bunch. I like their large brown eggs also and selection of organic yogurts. Enjoy!

                                                    1. thank you all for your input. sorry for not updating before this. I came down with the flu the day of the fundraiser. stayed home sick for the next three days. wrote the charity a check.

                                                      still it was interesting to read what to look for next time i'm in the area.