Whole Foods CEO Just Begging To Be Called Out On His BS

There are certain assumptions we make in this world: The sun rises in the east; the Cubs will never win the World Series again; and Whole Foods is an expensive place to shop. But don’t tell that to the grocery chain’s CEO John Mackey, who says that only .1% of the products he sells are pricier than you’ll find elsewhere.

Speaking to USA Today, Mackey tries to downplay Whole Foods’ image as an expensive place to feed your family:

On like items, Whole Foods is very competitive…. We have 30,000 items, and you can probably find 30 on which we’re more expensive. Look at our 365 private-label line, which we price against Trader Joe’s. We match their prices. But you can’t always be cheapest if you have the highest quality.

Considering that, as recently as April, Whole Foods was found to be 14% more expensive than most other grocery stores, we find it hard to believe that customers are paying more on only one out of every 1,000 items there.

Now here is your chance to publicly stick it to the CEO of Whole Foods. If any of you are up to the challenge, we’d love to see just how many products sold at Whole Foods you can find cheaper elsewhere. We have a hunch it’s slightly higher than 30.

If you decide to comparison shop at Whole Foods, send us your results at tips@consumerist.com

Whole Foods CEO: Healthy food is affordable necessity [USA Today]


Edit Your Comment

  1. Robofish says:

    Comparing themselves price wise to Trader Joe’s probably doesn’t help. I love my local Trader Joe’s but typically don’t shop there when I can get cheaper prices as Giant / Mars / Food Lion

    • chaesar says:

      when I had a TJ’s nearby, the only thing I didnt like about them was 1) produce that was only available in pre-packaged amounts (i.e. you couldnt buy just two potatoes) and 2) alot of the produce was from California, when they could’ve probably sourced it somewhere closer (me being an east-coaster)

      • huadpe says:

        To be fair, outside of a few peak months, local produce from the northeast is MUCH less efficient than produce shipped from California. Greenhouse tomatoes in cold environments use obscene amounts of power to heat themselves.

      • kethryvis says:

        the produce thing bothers me too but at my TJs they are starting, albeit small and slowly, to offer more produce where you can pick up say, two potatoes or one pepper. They’re not offering it on many items, but it’s at least starting. i’ll take that as a good thing.

      • Genocidicbunny says:

        Thats been steadily changing. TJ’s now carries a lot more single-item produce because it was what people were looking for.

        As for produce being from california, it makes sense if you consider how TJ’s sources it’s products. There was a recent Fortune 500 article that describes the process fairly well (although not entirely accurately)

    • SugarMag says:

      I find Giant and Mars v. competitive so I shop mostly there a lot too.

      I do love TJoe’s but I dont do my bulk shopping there. I do find their staples a good price though (eggs/milk/yogurt/)

    • Julia789 says:

      Trader Joes near me is a heck of a lot cheaper than the Super Stop & Shop supermarket. We love TJ’s.

    • lain1k says:

      Trader Joe’s brand items are typically much cheaper and better quality than similar brands near me. But the other brands they carry can be the same or more.

    • Genocidicbunny says:

      Exactly. I can pretty much guarantee you that any item that TJ’s stocks that Whole Foods stocks (discounting different brand names because in the end, it is the same exact product) TJ’s will have it cheaper. It wouldn’t be available otherwise. Price is one of the main reasons items get discontinued so often — the manufacturer wants more, TJ’s says goodbye. It’s why their long-standing (and oh so delicious) raspberry and orange marmelades covered in chocolate have recently disappeared.

  2. keepntabs says:

    Very rarely is Whole Foods the only grocery store in the neighborhood. If people don’t want or can’t afford to buy their groceries, then they shouldn’t, and go buy them somewhere else. It’s that simple.

    • danmac says:

      No one is debating that point. The article is addressing what is obviously a spurious comment by the Whole Foods CEO regarding their product pricing. And when you say that only people who can afford to shop there should, you’re implicitly agreeing that his comment about competitive pricing is likely a lot of hot wind.

      • Gulliver says:

        Why would it surprise you that a CEO would say something that is positive about his business? Wal Mart says they don’t discriminate or drive others out of business. They also say they buy American. Guess what, politicians lie too. John McCain NEVER claimed to be a maverick. Rush Windbag believes in family values (on his 4th wife).
        In other breaking news, water is wet.

        • danmac says:

          What is your point? Did you even read the comment to which I responded?

        • Conformist138 says:

          You are right. What a revelation! I will from now on just remain silent if someone with money or power lies, cuz gee, that’s what they get to do. Now, consumerist should stop posting any complaints about anything a company or politician ever does since the fact that it happens a lot makes it perfectly okay. The herd should shut up and chew their cud.


          The point is not that they always lie, we know that, the point is to draw attention to it and not let it just slide by. You can speak positively about your business, but you have to be at least somewhat honest. Price comparisons are provable, and he is clearly wrong here. Instead, maybe just that comment about paying more for quality would have gone unchallenged since that’s much more subjective. Saying they’re not really more expensive is an outright lie; claiming they’re more expensive because they sell a better product is at least debatable.


    • mythago says:

      You should get that knee looked at. It appears to have a tendency to jerk whenever the term “CEO” is mentioned, such that you post generic comments that have nothing to do with the article.

      The issue isn’t where people choose to shop, it’s that Mackey is (surprise!) full of crap.

    • benh999 says:

      Organic, antibiotic-free, hormone-free, cornfed meat is a right, not a privilege.

      • Slave For Turtles says:

        Find me grass-fed and let’s talk. It’s a designation that difficult to find at Whole Foods even. I’ve given up looking. I understand that it’s based on supply, so maybe I just have bad timing.

    • peebozi says:

      no one is saying you’re an argumentative troll or a really good wholefoods liar, er lawyer (because you’re deflecting the discussion).

      another possibility is your reading comprehension skills are that of a 1st grader.

  3. pecan 3.14159265 says:

    I love Whole Foods kitteh. My gripe with Whole Foods is that it wants to be an organic store, but it knows that it won’t attract nearly as many customers if it only sold organic foods. So it offers a non-organic version of its store brand, but it doesn’t do that for everything. Whenever I have to go to Whole Foods, I won’t be able to get everything non-organic. Who needs organic peanuts?

    I’ll give them one thing though – their produce department is always stocked and always has a reliable variety of vegetables. One of my local Safeways doesn’t carry endive – pretty basic veggie, right? Safeway doesn’t have it. Whole Foods always has it and always has enough so I can pick the one I want.

    • George4478 says:

      Sure, endive is a basic veggie, right up there with corn and carrots. I know I use it at least one a year.


      • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

        Exactly. Is he saying those 30 items are the only ones more costly than Trader Joes, or than all grocery stores? Big difference there.

        • RadarOReally has got the Post-Vacation Blues says:

          Woops… replied to the wrong comment.

          But endive? Don’t all of you use it to garnish your plates before you send them out? Or at least some parsley? Philistines!

    • Boylerules says:

      What the heck is endive?

      Seriously… I’ve never heard of it.

      • craptastico says:

        my local Shoprite carries them. it’s kind of a leafy vegetable. they look almost like a lettuce heart.

    • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

      Never heard of endive, and being a basic, meat and potatoes kind of person, I’d say it’s not as basic as you think.

      That being said, on occasion my local chain grocery, King Soopers, doesn’t have things like zucchini or yellow squash. Now THAT’s pretty basic stuff.

    • aloria says:

      Endive? Really? The only reason I know what an endive is is because of the movie Amelie.

    • johnva says:

      I think you overestimate the food knowledge of the average American. Most people don’t pay attention to or regularly buy a wide variety of different foods. For those that do, places like Whole Foods and so on cater to that market. They’re just not catering to the people who only want to buy TV dinners at the cheapest price.

    • Jack Doe says:

      Endive, basic? Carrots are basic. Cabbage is basic. Squash is basic. If 8 of 10 people have to Google it to find out what it is, no, that’s not basic. (Unless my snark-o-meter is off…)

    • SugarMag says:

      I only eat organic peanuts/peanut butter. One of the few items that must be organic. Peanuts are well known as having a large amount of residue left on them (in non-organic farming) and so many get mixed in the same jar (for peanut butter). I do organic olive oil too for this reason.

    • Big Mama Pain says:

      Oh come on, show off-you know darn well that endive isn’t a “basic” veggie. :)

    • jefeloco says:

      I agree that endive “should” be basic since it is full of awesome, but good luck finding it at any grocery store in Idaho without it being packaged in a “spring mix” bagged salad.

      Whole Foods has been talking about building a store in downtown Boise for a couple of years now but I’m not really sure if it will be competitive in this market due to their pricing. Winco foods is prevalent here and offers fairly high quality (with atrocious selection to offset it) at ridiculously low prices. Even Walmart has trouble keeping up with Winco.

  4. Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

    It might be a little more expensive, but you get what you pay for, or so they say. What I do know is this: I can stop by after work, grab what I need and be out of there in about 5 minutes. Compare that to standing in one of three open lanes with 10 people in each one (because the ‘cheaper’ grocery store is too cheap to open another register). So how much is your time worth to you?

    • Woofer says:

      If it’s after work, 10 minutes is easily worth saving 14%

      • Warren - aka The Piddler on the Roof says:

        Actually, I forgot to mention that the ‘cheaper’ grocery store is farther away, too. So I suppose I’m paying for the convenience of not having to walk 2 more miles and spend more time. However, Whole Foods’ roasted chickens are much better.

        When I’m in the ‘cheaper’ grocery store I usually go to the electronics counter to check out. No lines and it’s always open! ;-D

        • SuperSnackTime says:

          Prior to your comment, I drove 6 hours to the nearest Wal-Mart to save $0.05 on a can of green beans instead of buying at the corner store. But now I see… I should ALSO factor in time/convenience!

    • NarcolepticGirl says:

      I’m guessing you don’t live in Boston and go to the Whole Foods locations there

    • NYGuy1976 says:

      You are lucky. I regularly go to the Chelsea Whole Foods in NY and if its after 5:30 the line usually wraps around to the other side of the store. Not complaining since most of the registers are open at that time, its just too crowded so I avoid going then.

    • JonStewartMill says:

      The few times I’ve been to the WF where I live, I wished for a cattle prod to get through the crowds. Great Muzak though.

    • Mary says:

      I’ve had more problems getting through the line at Whole Foods than I have my cheaper neighborhood grocery store.

      But then, I frequent a specific grocery store specifically because it actually makes it a company policy to have enough lines open, to always place customer service first (and they mean it) and to make sure the store is always clean and items are always easy to find. I worked there for a few months this summer, and I had to sit through the training. When they say the customers are the most important thing there, they absolutely mean it.

      That to me is worth a price hike, but somehow, they actually also keep their prices lower than Whole Foods.

      It’s a mystery.

  5. PupJet says:

    Whole Foods? They’re still in business? I shop at Giant Eagle because they give you perks (10 cents off the price of gas for every $50 you spend and a % off groceries for every x gallons of gas you purchase (I think its a max of 20% at 200 gallons)).

    • Matzoball says:

      I guess I don’t understand why you think they should be out of business.

    • xxmichaelxx says:

      Giant Eagle is a regional chain. Whole Foods is an international chain. Yes, if you leave backwoods Pennsylvania, they are still in business.

    • tbax929 says:

      I used to shop at Fry’s (Kroger in some places) because of the .10 per gallon gas discount, but I’ve recently become a Safeway loyalist. They only give .03 discount on gas, but I don’t have to spend $100 to get it – just have a loyalty card.

      There are two Safeways within 3 miles of me, and they’re both really nice. The nearest Fry’s isn’t as close or as nice.

      • psiphiorg says:

        Kroger gives a 3-cent discount just for having the loyalty card as well. The 10-cent discount is a bonus after spending $100 (or buying two non-insurance-covered prescriptions, which happens more often for us) but the 3-cent thing is always available.

  6. hills says:

    Hey Mackey, we don’t call it Whole Paycheck for nothing!

    • Verucalise (Est.February2008) says:

      I think Mackey is full of CRAP(PY?). Sure, you pay more for higher quality, but don’t belittle the smart, economical crowd that knows what things are *usually* worth and the competition’s prices. He must be making so much money that he forgot what the average person/family has to live off of… a BUDGETED AMOUNT.

  7. deadandy says:

    He said on “like items”. The problem is, you can’t find “like items” at most other local places. In the Phoenix market, there are only a couple shops where you can buy air-chilled chicken, or certain cuts of meat, or vegan chocolates, or rare Trappist ales. They are priced on par with Whole Foods. Think you’re going to find Gravenstein apples at your local Safeway? No. But if you did, they would be comparable per pound to Whole Foods.

    It’s marketing-speak for sure, but he’s not actually claiming that his $8 gourmet pasta sauce is a “like item” with $2 Ragu.

    • johnva says:

      Exactly. This is what people are missing. YES, there are all kinds of ultra-expensive things at Whole Foods. But what he’s saying is that they aren’t really much more expensive than other stores for the SAME items. And in my experience, they really aren’t. For the high-end items, Whole Foods is often comparable or cheaper than other stores (I know, because I’ve done price comparisons). And their store brand is pretty reasonable and usually (but not always) good quality. The place where it can REALLY get expensive is when you start buying a lot of stuff that the other stores don’t even carry.

      • Loias supports harsher punishments against corporations says:

        Then the CEO is an asshole, using marketingspeak to create a deceptive claim.

        Either way, their 14% more expensive.

        • johnva says:

          I agree that he’s a deceptive asshole (and not just in this instance). And I do doubt his claim of there being only 30 items that are more expensive there. But I stand by my statement that a lot of people overestimate the price differential because they aren’t comparing apples to apples.

          As for the 14% claim, all we have to back that up that I can find in the articles is a single line in a blurb. I don’t know what that represents, or what methodology was used to determine that. I definitely would believe that the average grocery bill at Whole Foods is at least 14% higher, if that’s what they mean. I’m just not sure what the reasons for that are.

      • VA_White says:

        That’s exactly how I think of it. I go to Whole Foods for certain organic or specialty items that I can’t get at Fry’s or Safeway or HEB. And I get them at Whole Foods because they are almost always priced cheaper than the same or similar items at the local health food store or specialty market. You can’t compare the overall cost of doing all your grocery shopping at Whole Foods to another store because their item selection is too different. All those pricey specialty and organic items are going to bring your total bill up.

      • ronbo97 says:

        YES ! That’s it. Whole Foods carries mostly specialty items. Example: Clif Bar. Whole Foods: $1; Stop&Shop (in the organic/specialty isle): $1.25. ORGANIC apples, lemons, mushrooms, etc. at ShopRite, Stop&Shop, etc., are at about the same price point as WF.

        I rely on WF for meat, fish, poultry, veggies, since I’m lead to believe that it’s of a higher quality and held to a higher standard than what you can buy at a conventional supermarket.

        • peebozi says:

          wonder if the ceo helped to lead you tot hat belief the same way he’s leading people to believe the cost is the same!

  8. seanjustinpenn says:

    He’s playing with words!
    He says you can probably find 30 items that are more expensive. Doesn’t mean that it’s not possible to find 3000 items that are more expensive.

    • Coles_Law says:

      Alternatively, since they’re 14% more expensive on average and only 0.1% of all products ave more expensive, it’s possible those 30 products have a 14,000% markup. Any $10,000 packs of gum there?

  9. Angus99 says:

    Yes, they are pricey, but where else can I get larks’ tongues, wrens’ livers, chaffinch brains, jaguars’ earlobes and wolf nipple chips. Not to mention dromedary pretzels and tuscany fried bats. Oh, and the otters’ noses and ocelot spleens are to DIE for.

  10. PAConsumerist says:

    Has anyone seen the price of arugula at Whole Foods recently?

  11. Jdavis says:

    Whole Foods is more expensive when you compare their generic, but organic items against the generic, but non-organic items you can get at more mainstream stores. Sometimes their white-label products are even cheaper, if you shop at the right time. However as a vegan I still try to get the products that are only available at Whole Foods, and ignore the convenience because their produce is always more expensive.

    • johnva says:

      Which isn’t really a fair comparison. It’s ridiculous to say that a store is expensive because they sell a different product that is more expensive. It just means they aren’t selling the same things.

      A direct price comparison is something like comparing the price of Heinz Organic Ketchup at Safeway to Heinz Organic Ketchup at Whole Foods. I’ve done that comparison before, and Whole Foods really isn’t more expensive very often when it’s the same product. “Conventional” grocers often put massive, ridiculous markup on organic and otherwise “high end” products.

      Now it’s definitely very debatable whether you actually need organic ketchup (I like it because it’s made with real sugar and I think it tastes better), or any of the other high-end items that Whole Foods sells. But if you DO want to buy that sort of thing, you’re going to pay more just about anywhere. And Whole Foods isn’t that ridiculously overpriced on any of that, judging by a comparison of their prices to other places. I’m sure the average person spends more there, but I’d bet a good portion of that is from buying more expensive items rather than because Whole Foods has higher prices.

  12. dr_drift says:

    “Look at our 365 private-label line, which we price against importing groceries from the world’s finest markets and stores. We match their prices, which include ocean freight, customs, and front door delivery.”

  13. 24gotham says:

    It depends…. Where I live in Manhattan, Whole Foods quite often has the lowest price on the basic items I buy (greek yogurt, frozen berries, Amy’s brand products, etc…). I am quite often shocked by how much stores like D’Agastinos or Gristedes charge for their basics. I do a majority of my shopping at Whole Foods and supplement from occasional trips to Trader Joe’s or Fairway.

    That said, I understand I am paying at least a 10-20% increase over the same items elsewhere. I call it the New York Living Privilege Tax.

  14. momtimestwo says:

    The last time I shopped at Whole Foods they were Wild Oats. I so love the store, and if I were single with no kids, that is probably where I would do my shopping. But since I have 2 kids and a husband, I shop at Publix which has the best produce around here, and a wider variety of items without HFCS. It’s a bit more expensive then the local Kroger or Walmart (or even Target now that my local target added a grocery/produce section), but my Publix bagging person doesn’t make a face when they see my reusable bags and I rarely have to stand in line.

    • momtimestwo says:

      Actually they might be a Trader Joe’s now. It’s been so long since I’ve been there I can’t remember!

    • e065702 says:

      Publix has a HORRIBLE selection of fruits and vegetables and is also over priced. I Only go there for processed foods and some organic/ humanely raised foods.
      If you buy your meat from Whole Foods or another non-processed meat supplier you will never want to go back. You can eat less, still feel satisfied and and it will taste a whole lot better.

  15. Andy Dufresne says:

    How much is a cat at Whole Foods?

    • Leksi Wit says:

      You’re thinking Chinese I think… Just kidding!!

      “But you can’t always be cheapest if you have the highest quality.” – Too True. You get what you pay for folks!

  16. justagigilo85 says:

    Define “like item”

  17. Beave says:

    He’s most assuredly comparing his prices to those of other “specialty health food stores” that cater to the organic and vegan crowds.

    Produce prices in particular are insanely high at Whole Foods. I can get organic tomatoes for $1.50/lb right now as they’re in season at the local grocery store. (They’re under $1/lb for non-organics) Last time I was at WF they were still upwards of $3/lb.

    I have a daughter with a dairy allergy so we have to shop at WF simply because they do have a wide variety of non-dairy and vegan products that we can’t find anywhere else. Even that list has shrunk drastically in the last few years though as our local grocery stores have started to carry more natural and health food lines. When they do they’re almost always cheaper than WF.

    One product we use a lot of I can tell you the prices on to the penny…
    Earth Balance Vegan Buttery Sticks – It’s like margarine without any diary protein and we use it in all our baking, on top of popcorn, etc. $3.99 a pound (box) at Whole Foods. $2.99 a pound at our local Woodman’s.

    • Beave says:

      Oh, someone mentioned Amy’s products… The Amy’s spinach pizzas are a favorite of my wife’s as are a few of their other convenience foods. The local organics store is always the most expensive (over $7), followed by Whole Foods (over $6), and then again the local big box discount grocery store ($5.29) that has a big section of organic and health foods. They’re regularly 15-20% cheaper on Amy’s foods. Plus, they run sales all the time so we can stock up. Whole Foods seldom runs stuff on sale we would actually want to buy.

      Another one that popped into my head… Cascadian Farms Peanut Butter Granola Bars (Diary free and actually chewy!) They’re over $4 a box at Whole Foods. $3.29 at the grocery store and at least once a month they’ll be on sale. Plus there are often coupons on the boxes to save $1 on two boxes. I never see those coupons at Whole Foods.

      A bit of advice for those looking to eat healthy and avoid overpaying… Amazon sells a lot of health foods very reasonably. Especially if you have Prime and get free shipping. You have to buy case quantities in most cases, but if it’s something you regularly use it’s usually cheaper than WF.

      • johnva says:

        Amazon is indeed a cheap place for non-perishables.

        I’m interested in how many people list things like loyalty cards/programs and constant “sales” as a plus of groceries that do those things. In my opinion, that’s just a tactic that they use in order to obfuscate their pricing and monkey around with their customers. Yes, you might save some money by only buying the stuff that’s on sale…but you have to put in a lot of effort to do that, and often buy more than you immediately want of something. Having constant “sales” on 1/4 of your items means that they’re overpriced when they’re NOT on sale. I appreciate the fact that places like Whole Foods (and other groceries that don’t use those tactics) have fairly “stable” pricing. They don’t tend to change the price of the same item nearly as frequently, so it’s a lot easier to tell how much you’re going to be spending before you go there and to comparison shop.

        Sales and loyalty cards are meant to PREVENT you from comparison shopping effectively. They increase prices and profits, rather than decreasing them.

        • Beave says:

          There are ~20-40 staple foods we buy regularly. Knowing the average market price of those foods doesn’t confuse things if you’re buying groceries every week or two.

          • johnva says:

            That doesn’t change the point I was making, which is that the point of those programs is to obfuscate prices and discourage shopping around based on price. They are not a plus for consumers: they are a plus for the stores. That’s why most stores do it.

        • s0s has a chewy nougat center says:

          Also, Amazon is about the only place I can find Berry Berry Kix. They’re NOT cheap, but then the regular stuff is verging on $4/box around here, at the low end.

          I absolutely love Amazon for staples, thanks for pointing them out!

  18. chaesar says:

    bwahahah, the entire beer and wine section is more than .1%

  19. MarsVolta187 says:

    The Chicago Cubs will win it all in 2015. So sayeth Back to the Future: Part 2. You bastards.

  20. golddog says:

    Ha! It’s OK John. Embrace who you are…we all know and it’s OK.

    I like WF for certain things but most households aren’t doing their entire weekly shopping there. I can walk to three WFs from my office and I can authoritatively state that all Kashi products of all flavors (cereal, bars, crackers) are priced highest at WF, followed by Safeway, then Kroger/Albertsons, then Target, then Walmart. Same for all Horizon products. That puts you way over 30 right there.

  21. duncanblackthorne says:

    I shop at Whole Foods for things I can’t get anywhere else (mainly gluten-free products that I don’t have a choice about eating or not eating), but to be fair, there is some crossover between them and the local grocery store I shop at for everything else, and those items I’ve noted are usually cheaper.

  22. NarcolepticGirl says:

    I occasionally shopped at Whole Foods but, yes, it was expensive. Especially produce.
    I usually went to Trader Joes despite their lack of selection at the locations I frequented. but I was single and don’t cook – so I was only picking up frozen/pre-made items and fruit.

    We don’t have any of those places here – but what we do have is EarthFare. Which is way more expensive than Whole Foods. BUT:

    “Earth Fare has a food philosophy that prohibits items with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) and sweeteners – all of which have been linked to health issues like childhood obesity. In addition to the above, Earth Fare has banned all items containing antibiotics, synthetic growth hormones, artificial colors, flavors, fragrances, preservatives and bleached or bromated flour”

    So take that Whole Foods!

    (I actually just shop at Kroger)

    • johnva says:

      Whole Foods has similar policies on a lot of stuff like that. I don’t know if they totally ban HFCS and partially hydrogenated oils, but very few items that they carry contain that stuff if they don’t.

      But yes, Earth Fare is one of the most expensive groceries out there.

  23. mdovell says:

    Organic or ‘natural” food might sound nice but it comes with a few obvious problems

    1) it has a shorter shelf life due to a lack of preservatives

    2) it is priced higher

    So knowing 1 and 2 why would people pay more money for a product that is going to expire faster? Don’t get me wrong in some products it can be worth it but not everything. Organic apples make sense…organic fish? not so much…

    The only whole foods near me is in a plaza with Crate and Barrel, Apple Store, Cold Stone Creamery, Joseph A Bank and Williams Sonoma…NOT exactly entry level stores…meanwhile to get there I’d end up passing by at least three to four supermarkets..probably six drug stores, one natural health place that has been there for over a decade and plenty of farmers markets…

    This is also run by a ceo that went online and trolled against his own competition (wild oats)!

    • johnva says:

      Shelf life doesn’t matter if it’s something you’re going to use immediately. Also, there isn’t going to be a big difference on stuff that’s fresh, because that doesn’t use preservatives anyway.

      Now, I totally agree that it doesn’t make sense to buy organic everything. But the reasons people buy it are not just related to product quality. Some people have other reasons as well, such as environmental concerns (you can debate whether that’s a valid concern: I’m just saying that it’s a reason some people shop the way they shop).

      And yes, the Whole Foods CEO is a right-wing egotistical asshole. I doubt that’s a unique set of traits among CEOs of major American corporations.

  24. sheldonmoon69 says:

    Sure, ground bison and cage free eggs may be competitive with the local super market, but that’s not the problem.

    The problem is that most working class families can’t even afford Whole Foods-type products in the super market.

    I like Whole Foods and their products and I’m fortunate that I can shop there once in a while, but I guarantee that when you are feeding a family of 4, $15 goes a lot further in the grocery store than it does at Whole Foods.

    I challenge the CEO to live on an average American’s salary for a year and then try to shop in his stores.

    • johnva says:

      I’m not even close to rich, and I can easily afford to shop there. Yes, there are people who probably can’t, but it’s a matter of priorities. Some people care a lot about eating good food, and will spend a larger percentage of their income than the average on it. Others care more about convenience and low cost. And I might add that given how often Americans tend to eat out, the price differences between different groceries are probably fairly insignificant. I mean, if you can afford to pay a lot more for someone to prepare your food for you, you could easily afford to shop at Whole Foods and make it yourself.

      It’s not their job to fix all the economic inequality problems in America (which are vast). They’re just a store that caters to a certain market, just like any other.

    • Gulliver says:

      I eat a large percentage of food from Whole Foods and a competitor of theirs called Plum Market. After all is said and done it does not cost that much more. The price of many vegetarian and organic products are lower or the same at Whole Foods as at my local Kroger. On some specialty items it costs me more, but if you feed your family higher quality food they do nto need to eat as much. Most national branded crap is filled with empty calories (pre-processed frozen dinners), that make your family want to snack more often. I do not make anywhere near what John M makes, and nobody would call me rich either, but I make a choice to spend more on my food than I do on designer clothes, or a huge home, or the latest car. I bet I could make a menu for a family of four at Whole Foods and easily feed them at a low cost per meal. Of course, if you need Frito Lay chips, and Coca Cola and Chips Ahoy, then all bets are off.

    • Awesome McAwesomeness says:

      I can shop at Whole Foods for the same budget that I spend at Super Target and I eat much healthier. Since their isn’t as much garbage to buy at WF, I may end up with less in my cart, but we eat healthier and I am forced to cook from scratch. I don’t mind giving up Pringles and 100 calorie packs in favor of organic bulk popcorn (which is cheap) that I can pop at home myself.

  25. Bramble73 says:

    I’ve actually found that as organic, natural, and speciality food moves more into the mainstream grocery stores its often cheaper to buy those items at Whole Foods. I’ve got a Whole Foods and two Kroger family stores (a QFC and a Fred Meyer) within close proximity, so its not trouble for me to shop on an item by item basis. For brands that are carried at both QFC and Whole Foods, QFC is almost always much more expensive. I believe that is because for QFC they add on a “premium product” surcharge, figuring they can get more money out of people, while at Whole Foods they’re just regular products. For brands that are carried at both Fred Meyer and Whole Foods its not as clear cut. The more mainstream the product the cheaper it is at Fred Meyer, and the more likely it is that they’ll be less expensive than Whole Foods, but Whole Foods will still sometimes still be pretty close in price. For more out there things like Brown Rice Protien Powder, Whole Foods still has the lowest price.

    • johnva says:

      Yep, that matches my experience quite closely. A lot of “normal” groceries get more and more overpriced the more “unusual” the item is, and I don’t just mean on organics. People who mainly just eat a typical American diet might not notice this as much, but people who do a lot of cooking with exotic ingredients, etc are going to be able to tell. Most groceries only compete on price on the lowest common denominator items.

  26. Buckus says:

    On the whole, Merecedes-Benz isn’t more expensive than BMW’s. Ford? Who’s that?

  27. JonThomasDesigns says:

    I do my Shopping at WholeFoods / My Wife does her shopping at Big Y /Stop and Shop (Mass) .. A lot of items she is shocked at how on par prices really are , and the quality at wholefoods is much better of course .. Yes you can buy a exotic item that is way more than a generic item but you can do that with anything

    I love the Consumerist site but its been really negative as of late ..

  28. ihatephonecompanies says:

    Why play down the cost anyway? Part of whole foods cachet is being super premium luxury food. Diluting that message with a low cost argument is stupid.

  29. mobiuschic42 says:

    Plenty of times I’ve been looking for specific spices that were priced at $9+ at my local Shaws or Stop & Shop and the exact same thing is $3 at Whole Foods…I think that might be because Whole Foods customers buy them more and have a better idea of the value of spices but…that’s one thing Whole Foods is def better on.
    Also, if you’re looking at the same products – eco-friendly or vegan-friendly or whatever, Whole Foods usually is priced about the same, in my experience.

    • johnva says:

      Unusual spices are horrible at regular groceries. Incredibly overpriced, and usually old and stale too. You’re much better off buying those from a specialty place or an ethnic retailer that sells the ones you want.

  30. BStu78 says:

    He’s right. Or, at least, he’s not wrong. He’s just missing the point.

    For natural/organic items and brands Whole Foods does often have competitive if not better prices. The store brands do tend to compare well to Trader Joe’s, too, though I happen to feel TJ is the one who can boast about better quality. On quite a few natural brands, WF has considerably BETTER prices than mainstream supermarkets. My wife bought some Odwalla juice at Stop and Shop recently and was stunned to find it was $2 more than at Whole Foods. Their produce is priced in-line with mainstream supermarkets and often of a vastly higher quality. Ditto on their bakery which is often an outright bargain and so much better than the alternatives. At least around me, Trader Joe’s bakery items are very underwhelming. As is their produce, to be quite blunt.

    The issue, though, is that these lines are much more expensive than not-like alternatives. THAT is why people think shopping at Whole Foods is so expensive. He has a point, but he’s not addressing the complaint so he’s going to lose the PR battle over this. And he’s overstating his strength. Off the top of my head, I know Newman’s Lemonade is much pricier at Whole Foods. A lot of very popular natural brands are, actually. And while WF may do better than Trader Joe’s on a lot of staples, if you as me the freezer case is the real go-to spot at TJ’s. You just can’t get anything like the products they have, certainly not at their prices.

    The complaints about Whole Foods may be overdeveloped, but they are doing nothing to rectify their perception issue with this kind of defense. Maybe they don’t need to, but then just keep your mouth shut.

    • mobiuschic42 says:

      My gripe with TJ might be that, while their quality is good, I’ve found the selection quite lacking. They cycle products in and out, so they don’t always have the same things and they often don’t have basics. Have you every tried to buy plain old pretzel sticks at Trader Joe’s? I’m not talking the thick logs, but the skinny ones. They haven’t had them on 3 separate occasions and 2 different stores I visited. Whole Foods will have at least 2 different brands or salted and non-salted.

      • BStu78 says:

        Granted. Trader Joe’s is definitely not established as a reliable grocery store. Its a unique model but I’ve gotten used to it. It’ll keep them from being a primary grocery store for me, but they are a welcome supplemental. I’ve just accepted their inconsistent availability as part of the experience.

        The challenge for Whole Foods is that for many, they are competing as a supplemental grocery, so their strengths as a reliable grocery are muted.

      • SugarMag says:

        I agree mobichick. TJoe’s doesnt even sell dry black beans, a staple for me.
        WF does at 1.99/lb or Goya at the commerical stores for $1.29/lb.

        I like TJoe but avoid it many times because i always have to do an addl trip with TJoe. At WF and Giant, regardless of price, at least it is ONE stop

  31. Harry_Greek says:

    There are plenty of options.

    If you enjoy calling out BS, congrats. But, I don’t expect Whole Foods to change their ways by you calling out BS. You can make them drop their prices by NOT shopping there and NOT dealing with them.

  32. Buckus says:

    Possibly what the “14%” study did was to take a shopping list to two different stores and see what they cost. So, for example, if you bought regular tomatoes at Kroger’s or what not, but organic at Whole Foods, Whole Foods cost more, but you’d be forced to buy the organic at Whole Foods because they don’t carry regular tomatoes.

  33. Segador says:

    Yes, his statement is ridiculous. Whole Foods is simply more expensive than other groery stores, and every single person who shops there knows this fact. I shop at Whole Foods for their selection of organic and ethically raised meat. Their quality on most produce is also much better than at competeing stores- but you pay accordingly. I’d guess that I spend about 20% more at Whole Foods than I would at a local HEB (a large grocery store chain in Texas). However, I know this before I shop and am happy to pay the extra for the increase in quality.

    That said, you seem to have an unhealthy obsession with Whole Foods, and John Mackey in particular.

  34. Dallas_shopper says:

    For most of the things I buy, WF is outrageously expensive. Sprouts and Central Market are almost always (but not always) cheaper. It’s pretty unusual for me to set foot in WF but when I do I am always underwhelmed by the quality of produce and the selection.

  35. Big Mama Pain says:

    Maybe they are using that funny business math with the decimal point? He says .1% but really means 10%

  36. NYGuy1976 says:

    Most of the items in whole foods are of the higher quality variety and usually priced higher no matter where you buy them. A regular supermarket usually carries a store brand, mid priced, and a higher end item so you have more of a choice to spend less there. Also, I cant really blame them for charging a little more. They tend to build stores in high priced areas where the rent has got to be a lot higher on average than a typical Kroger, Shoprite, Stop and Shop, etc. The shopping experience alone in Whole Foods is worth it for some to spend more.

    • johnva says:

      It’s certainly worth paying more to me to shop at a “nice” grocery vs. a craphole like Wal-Mart. Whole Foods isn’t the only grocery that’s pleasant to shop at, but they ARE nice. That’s worth something to many people, undoubtedly.

  37. corkdork says:

    I’ll vouch that their wine is expensive — moreso than at the wine store I work at, at least. We price-check our local Whole Foods on a monthly basis by walking through their section and noting anything less expensive than it is in our store; their prices there are only slightly better than other grocery stores (and are often worse — some items are 10% more expensive at WF than at our local grocery chain).

  38. johnva says:

    I’m sure people can easily find 30 items at Whole Foods that are more expensive than at other stores. I’m also sure that you can find 30 items at Whole Foods that are cheaper than other groceries. Different stores are cheaper for different things.

  39. RosevilleWgn says:

    I only buy meat and produce from them. The meat I get at Safeway makes me sick more often then not. Not that the meat is “bad”, but that I’m likely sensitive to the hormones used in non “organic” meats. Their mochas are very tasty as well.

  40. SugarMag says:

    I’m not sure exactly what is meant by “like item”.

    Organic peanut butter 365 brand: $2.99
    Organic peanut butter at Trader Joe’s: $2.99
    Organic peanut butter store brand (Nature’s Promise) at Giant: $3.99

    Protein powder (forget the brand name) at WF: $17
    Same brand/item at Trader Joe: $8

    WF is walking distance from my home but I avoid it often because I have poor impulse control there and spend like $100-200 a trip, even though I went in for “milk and eggs” only. I do like their sandwich special on Tuesday though: Buy one/get one. That’s 3-4 lunches for the week (sammies are v. big) although they get a bit soggy after the first day.

  41. InsomniacZombie says:

    I shop at Whole Foods because their quality is better and the alternative for my area is Stop and Shop, which is not that great. Whole Foods is more expensive, I know that, but when it comes to putting stuff into my body I want to get the best stuff I can, and I have no options for growing my own vegetables, animals, etc.

    Their meats are amazing, also. I found that their all-natural vegetarian fed beef is the best stuff I’ve had other than kobe. I have no problem paying a little more for better quality food, which is what I find to be an acceptable trade-off.

  42. Home_Economist says:

    I shop at Whole Foods to supplement my Farmer’s Market provisions. I have called Whole Foods “whole paycheck” for many years. The name “whole paycheck” must really, really bother CEO John Mackey because I saw a Whole Foods checker wearing a button recently that had the words “Whole Paycheck” with a big red circle and slash through it. No doubt the checkers were voluntarily-forced to wear the buttons. (Corporate contradicting-double-speak intended)

  43. Emerald4me says:

    So, we have given up on the Cubs?

  44. cmdr.sass says:

    This whole thing is foolish. Whole Foods isn’t selling to the Walmart crowd. If you want Walmart prices and Walmart quality go shop at Walmart.

  45. moore850 says:

    Well there’s his out right there, he will just claim anything that’s a higher price is also a higher quality.

  46. coren says:

    He’s not even CONSISTENT – oh we’re not more expensive…but you pay more for quality! So which is it – you have better products and so they cost more, or you cost the same and are therefore the same.

    • Gulliver says:

      Not more expensive on the SAME items, but they carry items that are of higher quality that the Krogers and Meijers of the world have never dreamed of offering, so that quality comes with a higher price.
      It is like saying a car dealership is cheaper than another. One is a Honda, Audi, Mercedes dealer, the other is a Honda, Kia and Hyundai dealer. On the Hondas the prices are very similar, but if you want to shop for the Mercedes you have to pay for quality.

  47. Bodger says:

    Could you fix your typo please? You wrote that Whole Foods was 14% more expensive while the real number must surely be 41%. Glad to be of help . . .

  48. AnthonyC says:

    Ok, what the CEO said is clearly dumb, but not for the reason this post seems to think.
    Take *any* two grocery stores such that, on average, they are equally expensive. I would then reasonably expect that their prices would only match exactly on a small fraction of items; nearly half would be more expensive in store A, and nearly half would be more expensive in store B. So in order for *any* store to be more expensive on only .1% of items, it would have to be a super-discount store better than any I’ve ever seen.

    On there other hand, I do think Whole Food’s reputation for high prices is way out of sync with the reality. Consider that many people shop there *because they have already decided* to buy organic and/or otherwise specialty items. In that case, you’ll notice that Whole Foods prices *on those items* are usually lower than comparable items at regular grocery stores, whereas the prices on conventional produce are higher than usual.

    Bottom lines: whether it is more expensive depends on what you intend to buy, and any such comparison must include the fact that prices on grocery items, even in the same store, can vary greatly from week to week. Also, consider: suppose Stop & Shop has 3 kinds of soda: Coke, pepsi, and one local organic brand; and Whole Foods carries Coke and 2 local organic brands, and both charge the same amount for coke, and the same amount for each local organic brand, which is more expensive “on average?” It isn’t even a meaningful question without a much more careful definition.

  49. al says:

    Whole Foods is the country club of supermarkets. You pay the premium price to shop in the company of those who dont care about the more expensive prices.

    Chances are you will not find most people shopping in their pajamas at a whole foods.

  50. VeganPixels says:

    I wonder if WFM can beat my $0.99/16 oz. cans of Muir Glen Organic soups and $2.50/tube Tom’s toothpaste from Big Lots, or my $0.99/can organic kidney, black, and garbanzo beans from the 99-Cent store …

    I use WFM for what it’s worth to me: cheaper/oz. Earth Balance, Vegenaise, and the occasional splurge on Uncle Eddie’s cookies or Daiya cheese.

    • johnva says:

      I don’t remember the exact prices, but the prices I remember for those items (canned tomatoes and beans) are pretty close to that, yes.

  51. sopmodm14 says:

    i would agree that their items are more expensive, but aren’t they all/mostly organic ?

    if thats the case, they’re pretty on par with other store’s organic offerings i think

  52. FrugalFreak says:

    No Whole “Price” food, no “hype” Trader Joes here. We have what we call Gardens in Alabama, Beat that Price Whole/Joes!

  53. DovS says:

    I don’t think it’s fair to assume that Mackey is lying.

    If we assume that, on average Whole Foods products cost 14% more than other supermarkets but we also assume that only 30 out of 30,000 products are actually more expensive, these two statement can be easily resolved.

    To be generous, let’s assume that the other 29,970 products cost the same price as other supermarkets.

    If X is the % markup on those 30 products we have:

    30 * X% + 29,970 * 100% = 30,000 * 114%

    When we solve for X, we get 14100%.

    So, you see, all Mackey is saying is that they only have 30 products which are more expensive than other supermarkets and that those 30 products average at around 141 times the cost of the same products at other supermarkets.

    Perhaps these are super-luxury items such as a $70 can of soda or a $400 gallon of milk.

  54. MrEvil says:

    I’m more than up for calling a CEO out on his bullshit. I’ll buy a bill of groceries at HEB here in Austin, and then I’ll go buy the EXACT same bill of groceries at Whole Paycheck foods. And don’t get me started on how all their stuff is organic. Penn & Teller: Bullshit already have made some VERY compelling arguments against Organic foods and how they’re not really better.

    • MrEvil says:

      I also forgot to mention that maybe Whole Foods would shed that more expensive image if they didn’t build all their stores in the more affluent parts of a city. Here in Austin the 2 Whole foods stores I’ve driven by are in affluent parts of town. The 183/Arboretum area and right in the middle of downtown (And downtown Austin is quite upscale thanks to the Capitol.)

  55. meechybee says:

    In Manhattan, Whole Foods is a bargain (seriously). Everything from milk and yogurt to fruit and baked goods is cheaper than in other grocery stores. I know that’s probably more of a reflection on the other stores than WF, but at least I never feel any guilt for shopping there — and the food is much fresher to boot.

  56. Mary says:

    I would love to take this on comparing them with Harris Teeter. Even if you went with only the HT Traders label of products to compare with Whole Foods, I bet HT would come out on top. If you compared the same items, the organics, the whole nine yards, I would still bet good money that you’d save a lot shopping at Harris Teeter instead.

    Assuming you were in the small geographical area that HT serves. Which is the only drawback I can see.

  57. Bkhuna says:

    It’s not so much the extra cost of shopping at Whole Foods, it’s the condesending attitude of the workers that’s such a turn off. That and all the Hope and Change decals in the parking lot.

  58. Galium says:

    Whole foods sell BS at a high price to food snobs. The Higher the price the better the snobs like it.

  59. banmojo says:


  60. Bye says:

    That Whole Foods CEO is a total liability. I haven’t stepped into a Whole Foods in about a year now solely because of his bs…and we were some of their stupidest customers spending dollar after dollar on their overpriced items. I appreciate his helping to snap me out of the Whole Foods fog.