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Have Co-op Produce Prices Risen Astronomically, or Am I Just Noticing?

Went to Linden Hills and noticed that most produce was at least a dollar more per pound or unit than at Whole Foods.

It seems to me that Linden Hills prices rose once they moved - on every item. I only go to The Wedge when I need spices (and only in the early morning since getting in and out of that parking lot is sheer madness). Since I rarely buy produce there, I have not compared prices.

I realize Whole Foods is not at all in the model of co-operative buying and that I am comparing apples to appaloosas. Still, I was surprised at the difference.

Food prices are rising. Just wondering if co-ops are the leading edge of the rise.

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  1. I shop at the Seward and haven't noticed a big difference, but I wonder if the time of year might be an issue. At the co-ops locally grown produce is cheaper when it's abundant, and right now nothing is abundant.

    1. Mississippi Market member here who also shopped at Seward recently. I guess I haven't noticed anything unusual lately. I don't shop at WF (madness in a second form at the St. Paul location) so I can't compare.

      LiaM makes a good point about this being at a bad time of year for local produce

      1. The reason that produce and everything is higher at Co-ops is that most are certified organic.That means separate everything, also contributing is the amount of staff, no commercial venue would staff a store like Co-ops do. There also was troubles in Mexico, frost in Florida, and drought in California.

        1. Food costs have gone up across the board, we've noticed it. However, we find that Linden Hills and the Wedge are consistently significantly more expensive that other co-ops. We shop at Seward, so if we have to run to Linden Hills for something (as it is closer) we usually get a bit of sticker shock.

          3 Replies
          1. re: forgottendreamr

            Interesting, as I find the Wedge's produce to be cheaper on average than Seward. Sometimes significantly so. I asked at the register at the Wedge once, and they said they own the organic produce distributor that serves all the coops, so they are usually cheaper.

            1. re: jaycooke

              Wedge is an impressive empire. They are way cheaper than my local Mississippi.

              1. re: jaycooke

                Makes sense. Though, when we shop, we rarely get just produce. The steeper bill might be due to periphery products that we are buying at the same time.

            2. Might you be comparing organic prices (co-ops) to non-organic? Much of Whole Food's produce is definitely non-organic.

              I find Seward's prices to be (justifiably) on the high side, but definitely lower than Whole Foods and Byerly's (who has a pitifully small selection of organic produce). I don't compare Seward's prices with the Wedge, because I go to The Wedgie for things I can't find at Seward.

              7 Replies
              1. re: AnneInMpls

                Nope, at least in that I am comparing organic to organic. For instance $4.99 per pound for organic red peppers to $6.99 a pound (and under a dollar per pepper at Trader Joe's - which is not by weight, but still much cheaper).

                1. re: MplsM ary

                  I have stopped in at Linden Hills a couple of times since they moved, and have been taken aback at the difference between their prices and those at Mississippi Market.

                  But you've made me curious to compare produce at Mississippi Market & the St. Paul Whole Foods. I would size up organics, but am also interested whether they differ for local vs. non, and across country of origin.

                  1. re: KTFoley

                    Well, that is one big difference. Much of Whole Foods organic produce comes from Mexico.

                    1. re: MplsM ary

                      For much of the year, so does all of the co-ops.

                    2. re: KTFoley

                      My experience at the St. Paul WF is that, even in season, it carries less local produce than Miss Market. And a surprising amount of WF produce is conventionally-grown.

                      1. re: KTFoley

                        Yep, yep, all of that matches my own experience in scrutinizing produce options across the seasons and among the stores. My limited aim here is a like-for-like comparison to answer the price question for Whole Foods vs. a co-op (Mississippi Market).

                        If anyone else wants to make the same study for their own produce purchases, let's come on back and post them when we're done.

                        Prices vary a lot as the growing season progresses, so any data for meaningful comparisons would have to be gathered within days of one another.

                        1. re: KTFoley

                          The Wedge supplies Whole Foods with some produce and pre-made stuff.

                  2. I gathered some produce prices to satisfy my own curiosity.

                    First, some cautions:
                    1. I focused only on the OP’s question about co-op produce prices, using St. Paul Whole Foods (SPWF) and Mississippi Market Co-op (MMC).
                    2. Info was gathered from both stores on the same day, more than a week ago.
                    3. Springtime growing season is too changeable to talk about the produce/prices we find tomorrow morning vs. what was available before Memorial Day.

                    Second, some conclusions:
                    1. When the terms are equal, SPWF organic produce wins 9 of 15 price contests over MMC.
                    2. As Steve_in_StPaul noted, most of SPWF’s produce is conventional.
                    3. There are only two USA/International comparisons, and in both cases the international items are cheaper.
                    4. Local produce is more expensive than non-local and organic is more expensive than conventional. But organic local produce, holy buckets!

                    Third, the census of local and/or organic choices:
                    Local Organic items:
                    - SPWF (5): bulk button mushrooms, bulk crimini mushrooms, bulk portabella mushrooms, bulk shiitake mushrooms, turnips
                    - MMC (16): asparagus, baby spinach, black Spanish radishes, burdock, bulk button mushrooms, coleslaw, packaged crimini mushrooms, cucumbers, green garlic, pickling dill, red potatoes, scallions, scarlet turnips, sunchokes, tomatoes, wild leeks.
                    Local Conventional items:
                    - SPWF (1): bushel boy vine-on tomatoes
                    - MMC (5): pea shoots, sprouts, wheat grass, vine-on tomatoes
                    Local Other items:
                    - SPWF (0)
                    - MMC (3): Aquaponic leaf lettuce, Hydroponic watercress, Hydroponic basil
                    Non-Local Organic items:
                    - SPWF (17): see below
                    - MMC (too many to list): items that were also found at SPWF are listed for comparison

                    Fourth, the comparison details for the local and/or organic items that were found at SPWF:
                    SPWF Organic Chile – apples, gala 3-lb bag – 6.99
                    MMC Organic USA – apples, fuji 3-lb bag – 8.99
                    MMC Organic USA – apples, gala – 3.49/lb

                    SPWF Conventional USA seasonal – asparagus – 2.99/lb
                    MMC Organic Local seasonal – asparagus – 6.99/lb

                    SPWF Organic Peru – bananas – 0.99/lb
                    MMC Organic Ecuador – bananas – 1.19/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – bok choy – 2.99/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – bok choy – 1.99/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – broccoli – 3.29/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – broccoli – 3.99/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – cabbage, napa – 1.99/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – cabbage, napa – 2.49/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – cabbage, red – 1.99/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – cabbage, red – 1.49/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – cauliflower – 1.99/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – cauliflower – 3.49/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – chard, rainbow – 2.49/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – chard – 2.49/ea

                    SPWF Organic USA – fennel – 3.99/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – fennel – 4.99/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – garlic – 5.99/lb
                    MMC Organic Argentina – garlic – 4.99/lb

                    SPWF Organic Local – mushrooms, button, bulk – 4.99/lb
                    MMC Organic Local – mushrooms, button, bulk – 3.99/lb

                    SPWF Organic Local – mushrooms, crimini, bulk – 5.99/lb
                    MMC Organic Local – N/A

                    SPWF Organic Local – mushrooms, portabella, bulk – 5.99/lb
                    MMC – N/A

                    SPWF Organic Local – mushrooms, shiitake, bulk – 12.99/lb
                    MMC – N/A

                    SPWF Organic USA – onions, green – 1.49/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – onions, green – 1.99/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – onions, red – 1.99/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – onions, red – 2.49/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – parsley, curly – 4.00/2 bunches
                    MMC Organic USA – parsley – 1.69/bunch

                    SPWF Organic USA – potatoes, red – 1.99/lb
                    MMC Organic Local – potatoes, red – 1.69/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – spinach, 1-lb clamshell – 5.99
                    MMC Organic USA – spinach, 1-lb clamshell – 6.99

                    SPWF Organic USA – spinach, 5-oz bag – 2.49
                    MMC Organic USA – spinach, 9-oz bag – 3.49

                    SPWF Organic USA – spring mix lettuce, 4-oz bag – 2.49
                    MMC – N/A

                    SPWF Conventional Local – tomatoes, bushel boy vine-on – 3.99/lb
                    MMC Organic Local – tomatoes – 5.99/lb

                    SPWF Organic Local – turnips – 2.49/lb
                    MMC Organic Local – turnips, scarlet – 2.49/lb

                    SPWF Organic USA – yams – 2.49/lb
                    MMC Organic USA – yams – 2.49/lb

                    29 Replies
                    1. re: KTFoley

                      KT, thanks SO much for doing all that work! It's a very interesting set of results. For me, it confirms that MMC, despite being a much smaller company than WF, either buys better and/or gets by with a lower margin than WF.

                      1. re: KTFoley

                        You are my hero. Thank you so much for doing the work I was too lazy to do.

                        1. re: KTFoley

                          Love this round up of yours, KTFoley!

                          Since the OP was wondering if prices have gone up recently, I thought I'd chime in with a link to a grocery store comparison on a "bag of common grocery items" that TC Daily Planet did back in 2009 that has influenced my shopping these past few years (I think I encountered this article in 2011 and it was the most recent I could find at the time). TC Daily Planet used Seward Co-op for their comparison. http://www.tcdailyplanet.net/article/...

                          They concluded the following: "The Seward neighborhood co-op was the most expensive place to buy all organic products. Rainbow, Lunds, Wal-Mart and Cub were all within a dollar of each other. Trader Joes and Target were slightly less expensive, but Whole Foods was the least expensive place to buy a bag of these organic items."

                          And, not surprisingly, "Organic products are more expensive than regular products at every store." Also, "Lunds and Target were the most expensive stores for regular products."

                          I wish that TC Daily Planet had made note of the "local" aspect the way KTFoley did. I wonder if the organic produce they picked up at Seward was also local? It was apples and carrots, so it most certainly could have been...

                          It seems Whole Foods works at keeping their organic food prices competitive. A recent Strib article on the price of organics, though -- again-- not addressing the "local" aspect at all says re:: Whole Foods "The company has had to lower prices, although it has done so quietly to avoid any perceived decline in quality."


                          So, I guess the co-ops have always been on the leading edge of prices on organics? (To sum it up pretty simplistically after what we all know, thanks to KTFoley, about the wrinkle about prices on local, etc.



                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                            Sorry, but a 5 year old article has little information for a market that changes quarterly, if not monthly.

                            1. re: american_idle

                              It was the only data point I knew of that might shed light on how the comparative pricing structure for organics among the various local grocery stores has (or really, has not) changed, which actually was part of the OP's question. And it was an article I remembered very clearly. Whole Foods was lowest on organics then, it's the lowest now (if price is the only thing you care about, but as KTFoley points out, there are other considerations such as variety and local sourcing). I think thought the barely month old Strib article that talked about Whole Foods practices in this segment was an interesting complement to all of it. Sorry you didn't find it interesting or relevant, though I'm unsurprised you found fault with my post. I thought it was interesting and relevant.


                              1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                Why would I by default have issue with a post?

                                Limes have shot up about 300% in the last few months due to crop issues. This is the most extreme example, but food prices will continue rising due to droughts out west, the collapse of bee colonies, floods, etc.

                                I find it surprising that Target was expensive in the old article, currently their prices are very low on just about everything (in an obvious effort to push everyone out of business). Rainbow is leaving the market. Cub is on it's knees. The Coops have good buying power, largely through The Wedge's empire. Farmer's Market season will hopefully have an impact on the markets. Between my own garden, a CSA and Farmers Markets, I hopefully won't have to buy produce in a store until October.

                                1. re: american_idle

                                  Yes, "Food prices are rising" that's the starting point for this conversation as per the last sentence of the OP.

                                  The question of the OP as I understood it was have the co-ops pricing changed recently relative to everyone else's, namely Whole Foods'.

                                  You don't like my 5 year old comparison (and I understand and agree there has been a lot of recent shifting in the major local players). I'd be happy to consider a price comparison that is more recent that 5 years old but older than KTFoley's recent-but-more-than-a-week-ago one. I'm unaware of one, but if you can provide a link to one, I'd be thrilled to look at it! Do you have one to share with us? I'm not saying the five year old comparison I dredged up is perfect, but it specifically discusses Seward Co-op and Whole Foods which seemed to be pretty on point for a conversation about how the relative pricing has changed. I just thought it was interesting to compare those findings, warts and all, with KTFoley's. That's all.

                                  P.S. I personally don't know about Target because I don't do any major grocery shopping there. I occasionally do buy a few things there (Skippy Peanut Butter, graham crackers, goldfish crackers) but those specific items aren't available at the other places I shop so there's no real way to compare them. I defer to whatever surprised or shocked or disbelieving opinion you have about how Target prices its produce. If you've got any info at all on that, it's most assuredly better than what I have.


                                  1. re: american_idle

                                    I was going to add that I also don't shop at Lunds for most of my stuff. I used to because they are open at the crack of dawn, but I've had to throw out too much meat that wasn't right etc. I still go there for a few things I can't buy anywhere else --Lavash bread--but again, no way to compare.

                                    I hate shopping at Cub and Rainbow and Aldi. Too chaotic and stressful for me. Am I alone in feeling this way?


                                    1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                      You're not alone about Cub, Rainbow, and Aldi. I feel exactly the same way. Also, I shop at Lunds because it's the most convenient for me, but I'm annoyed about the meat quality, as well. It's as though the stuff they're cutting and packing themselves just isn't being handled and packaged properly, so it spoils quickly. It's very frustrating, but my only other convenient choice is the Grand Ave. Kowalski's, which has a limited selection due to its size. I wish we could just have some intermediate-level grocery stores in the Cities - not chaotic and bargain-oriented and not super high-end and overpriced - but I don't know of anything that fits that slot.

                                      Sorry, grocery ranting. It's been bugging me for years.

                                      1. re: gildeddawn

                                        I always thought Rainbow fit the mid-range grocery niche quite well - not hoity toity like Lund's/Beyerly's/Whole Foods/the co-ops, and not a Costco wannabe, like Cub. Also, I always thought the quality of the produce at Rainbow was quite good and their prices were fair. This is why it is a shame that Roundy's is pulling out of the Twin Cities. I hope the Rainbow's being converted to Jerry's will maintain a similar experience. Of course, you are right about their meat - I will buy USDA beef from Rainbow, but not chicken or fish.

                                        1. re: ChancesR

                                          Rainbow feels like the bottom of the barrel to me, even worse than Cub. Poor quality and still with that irritating bag your own approach. Low buck, not mid-range. I agree with you, though, that it's sad that Roundy's is pulling out of the area.


                                          1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                            I like Cub better than Rainbow -- I generally find that their produce is good. Meat is OK, fish is fine if you want frozen. The selection is surprisingly good for a mass-market grocer -- Nueske's bacon and Morey's smoked fish are available at good prices, and they have a decent range of cheeses. If they could just up their baked goods game to even the level of Archer Farms and offer a better selection of deli meats, I'd be very happy with them.

                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              Rainbow hasn't been "bag your own" for many years, at least the ones I frequent. In fact, when Roundy's assumed ownership, they invested quite a bit in the stores, remodeling them with better layouts, lighting, etc. I have found their produce to be on par with what all of the other grocery stores in The Cities are doing. Moreover, when I go into Cub the produce bins are usually a mess with rotten or smooshed fruit not cleaned up. Rainbow is usually neat and tidy. That said, this may vary from store to store.

                                              1. re: ChancesR

                                                Are you certain they eliminated the self-bagging at all Rainbow locations? I just looked at my email history and have an exchange with customercare@roundys.comm (yeah, .comm with two m's--weird) regarding a bad experience I had with the whole self-bagging deal at their East Lake Street location. Dated 2012.

                                                (Note: I searched my email on the keyword "groceries" to dredge up this email exchange and also brought up complaints I've logged over the years with Whole Foods, Coborns, and Lunds. I'm an equal opportunity complainer, apparently. Or, just a complainer.).

                                                That's the last time I was in a Rainbow (even though I thought they handled my complaint pretty well, actually.)

                                                I think I've only been in that Rainbow and the one on University Ave in St. Paul.

                                                I'm not about to defend the produce bins at Cub, as I don't like shopping there either. I'm not saying it's because of poor produce, I dislike the experience for a number of reasons. But, I've been to a Cub more recently than I've been to a Rainbow. :)

                                                When I shop at Cub and carefully use their coupons and circular (and forgo local sourcing and disregard any concerns I have about factory farmed meat, poultry and dairy ) I am shocked at how low my grocery bill can be compared to what I'm used to spending. Some of that is Cub's pricing, some of it is their promotions, some of it is the down shift in my standards as far as what I'll loosely call ethical considerations. If I were on an absolute shoestring budget, this is probably where I'd try to shop.

                                                P.S. My husband is a huge fan of some of the Roundy's products. I'm sad on his behalf that they are going away. When he does the grocery shopping, some of these products occasionally wind their way into our pantry.

                                                (This entire post of mine is pretty far astray from the OP's question, though. Cub does stock some organic produce. It's fine, I guess. And, as I say, I believe I can ring up at Cub for less overall when I put my mind to it. Also, I think they offer a wider selection --compared to Rainbow-- of ethnic ingredients, which suits me better.)


                                            2. re: ChancesR

                                              From what I have read, some current Rainbow locations were purchased by Lunds or Cub. Some will continue as "rainbow" with some kind of independent management as far as I can tell.

                                  2. re: The Dairy Queen

                                    Let's also note that Whole Foods is choosing NOT to stock most organic fruits and vegetables. Seventeen organic items is a tiny, tiny percentage of their huge produce section. All are either sturdy enough to hold in inventory (root crops, brassica, cabbage family, chard), or else certain to turn over quickly (spinach, one other kind of greens, parsley).

                                    We can check prices on only the items that they stock, and they stock only the items on which they are willing to risk some competition. The procurement strategy skews this comparison method HUGELY in SPWF's favor.

                                    Price-conscious shoppers can find some cheaper organic items at SPWF, but they face these trade-offs:
                                    - six times out of fifteen, MMC will be cheaper
                                    - most times, SPWF will have only conventionally-grown

                                    Another comparison method would be to take one's typical shopping list to both stores, and declare SPWF the loser for every item that's not available as an organic selection.

                                    For me, they lose on spinach because I buy the 9-ounce bag. They also lose on five counts if I try to make organic guacamole -- no avocados, tomatoes, limes, or cilantro, and MMC's garlic is cheaper.

                                    My grocery shopping approach is to buy organic, local when possible (again, holy buckets!), and to go to one store rather than hopping around St. Paul. MMC meets these priorities better than SPWF does.

                                    1. re: KTFoley

                                      Yes, I thought your data on how little organic produce WF stocks was interesting because I had that sense, too, though had no actual facts to back that up.

                                      I actually do hop around the Twin Cities for grocery shopping as I seem to need to buy a few perishables (milk!) every few days. So I reroute my commute to work and other activities so that I drive by WF this time, Seward next time, and so on. So it's a constant, rotating stocking up depending on what I need and where my schedule for the day takes me. Sadly, MMC is no longer convenient for me in my day to day activities. I wish it were but I've moved and it's moved. I stock up on whatever I especially like at that particular market on whichever day I happen to be there, which more or less shakes out to be about once a week.


                                      1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                        Excellent points!

                                        I really do believe that we need to choose comparison methods that fit with our own shopping patterns.

                                        1. re: KTFoley

                                          Most of us are lucky to have some really great grocery and market options in the Twin Cities. And we haven't even touched the question of ethnic markets. I think the co-ops here are so amazing compared to the co-ops I encountered before moving to the Twin Cities.

                                          I understand there are a lot of neighborhoods in the Twin Cities that don't have access to good grocery stores but heard the tail-end of an MPR piece about a mobile (truck) grocery that is trying to fill that gap. I thought it was an interesting solution.


                                      2. re: KTFoley

                                        Also, I was going to say, now that the farmers markets are back in action, that also influences my shopping habits. Very different habits at different times of year.


                                        1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                          True, though I no longer consider the St. Paul farmer's market a place to buy produce cheaper. I value that the food is local and *very* fresh and that I'm supporting smaller businesses. But I don't kid myself that I'm saving money. I'm just paying more for better produce.

                                          1. re: steve_in_stpaul

                                            Still, it would be interesting to have an actual comparison of prices (which would be exceedingly difficult since they vary by farmers market vendor, even, and the produce is priced by randomly-sized tray, not weight) to see how the facts really bear out.

                                            No doubt, though, that unless you're going to harvest it yourself, it's hard to beat the freshness of what you buy at the farmers market. Plus, it's just so pleasant and calming to stroll the farmers market.


                                            1. re: The Dairy Queen

                                              I work in downtown STP and live in S. MPLS. It's great having the 7th place farmer's market walking distance, I go there on a weekly basis. We try to get to one of the S. MPLS farmer's markets when we can. The one market that I avoid, though, is the downtown STP farmer's market. I'm sure I'm in the minority here, and perhaps the only one that feels this way, but the downtown STP market gets too crowded for me, and the parking can be a pain. My experience at the downtown St Paul market the opposite of a calm stroll! Many of the other ones, though, I greatly enjoy. It's not typically the prices that draw me, it's the freshness and quality that I'm valuing most. That, and the idea of supporting local.

                                              1. re: foreverhungry

                                                I agree, the St. Paul market can get too crowded. We try to go early for that reason. And when you go early, you usually have better parking luck too. Honestly, if we can't get there early, we don't go. But, as you point out, there are many farmers markets! I especially love Mill City, too. Also one that can get crowded, though it feels like it has more space to me. Maybe I'm imagining that.


                                                1. re: foreverhungry

                                                  Might I ask where you typically park? I kind of have a secret spot. I do tend to go early, and the construction the last 2 years has been a bear to deal with.

                                                  Go about 10am on Sunday and start making deals with the vendors. They don't want to drag all that home.

                                                  1. re: american_idle

                                                    We come down 7th, and try to park in the 6th/Wacouta/Sibley area. Somewhere Mears Park-ish.

                                                    As for deals, what kind of deals? We're a family of 2, so buying small quants. If dealing means saving $0.50 on a box of peppers, i'm not sure that's worth my personal aggravation with parking and bustling et. al.

                                                    If there's potential for savings on meats, then yeah, I'd like to know about that.

                                                    FWIW, I've also had very bad luck with the plants I've gotten from there. Most have not made it a season, where similars we've gotten from Bachmann's, other dealers, or alley sales or giveaways have done better for us.

                                                    1. re: foreverhungry

                                                      I had bought my tomato plants from STPFM for 3 or 4 years, never had an issue. I now start / grow my own seedlings (of crazy rare varieties), so I no longer need them.

                                                      Park behind the Super America on 7th.

                                                      I have gotten deals up to 60% off. $5 basket of something? $2. Do it enough, works out okay. I'm not a jerk about it and it's not my normal mode, but it is possible.

                                              2. re: steve_in_stpaul

                                                I think most produce in full season swing is cheaper at the Farmers Market. Sure, the first tomatoes of the season or the first Brussel Sprouts usually command higher than average prices, but once more vendors get something in, the price normalizes (I've read complaints of price fixing, but whatever).

                                                And even if it is more, I'm more than happy to buy local and get a better product.

                                      3. I started another thread before seeing this one. I'm kind of wondering where people by the bulk of their fruits and vegetables?

                                        In the other thread, I was listing the pros/cons of some of the grocery stores around me/that I frequent. I end up doing most of my shopping between Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, the Wedge, and Kowalski's on Lyndale. But that's too many places on my tight schedule. If anyone wants to have a look, I'd love to hear your thoughts. (Not trying to pull people away from this thread, the focus is slightly different).