Sunday, June 14, 2009

Side by Side Shop: Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods

Ever wondered which has the better deal - Trader Joes or Whole Foods? Ms. Smiley of Seek and Find Shops, in this guest post, has compiled research that may surprise you:

As a single gal who tries to feed herself something interesting and healthy-ish on a semi-daily basis, I’m often wondering whether I should head to the gorgeously designed and sensory-overloading Whole Foods for the slightly pricey a la carte dinner trip or skip on over to the more intimate and often times friendlier Trader Joe’s for an easy all-in-one budget-friendly frozen meal. Either way, I’m likely spending more money “eating out” at these grocery stores rather than doing my shopping all at once. With my recent layoff and increasingly limited funds, I needed to get my act together.

Armed with an Affluent Pauper designed grocery list of items anyone could build several great meals from, I embarked on my price-comp trips to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s, probably two of the most widely known grocery stores selling organic and environmentally conscious food products.

My local Trader Joe’s is similar in scale to a small-town neighborhood grocery store, with limited advertising, simple displays and signage that appears to be handwritten. Learning to read the pricing may take a minute but once you get the hang of it, it’s easy.

The Whole Foods grocery store, on the other hand, is about the size of a Target and it’s very apparent that no expense is spared in the marketing and design departments. The experience of walking through the doors of this huge store can be mind-boggling and overwhelming, but once you get the lay of the land, it can be a new adventure every time you shop, since you’ll likely discover a new aisle every time you shop.

Of the 40 items on my list, I found 30 at Trader Joe’s and 35 at Whole Foods. I quickly realized that Trader Joe’s sells more store-brand items than I’m used to seeing. For example, when searching for my favorite refrigerated national soymilk brand, Trader Joe’s did not sell it or any other national brand, they just sold their own. Whole Foods, though, did offer my favorite brand alongside their soymilk and a few other brands as well.

In comparison to Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s seems to have the market cornered in the convenience food selection, which is great for me and any parents looking for quick and easy meals for the whole family. Now, if you are more interested in making sure the majority of your items are organic, Trader Joe’s puts in a good effort here, but it’s a slam-dunk for Whole Foods. Many of their 365™ Everyday Value store-brand products are certified organic, and if they don’t have an organic version, they sell another company’s product to fill the void.

Savings-wise, it was back and forth between the stores, and of the 27 items that could be found in both stores, Trader Joes was $1.90 cheaper than Whole Foods. At the end of the day, both stores are closer in price than I expected and my decision to shop at one over the other will likely depend on their sales and the coupons in my organizer.

For those of you looking to save even more dough, your local Whole Foods provides you with a variety of ways to save including their Whole Deals coupon/recipe book (coupons available in-store only), a weekly specials flyer (in-store/online), Thrifty Thursday tours, Dine for Less Dinner Clubs and they credit you 5 to 10 cents for bringing your own bags. In addition to their lower cost store-brand products, Trader Joes provides you with a Fearless Flyer newsletter (in-store/online) showcasing the products they have on sale.

To see the shopping list in full with pricing, take a look at the document below.
Trader Joes vs. Whole Foods Cost Analysis

- Ms. Smiley

Thanks so much for doing the legwork for us on this one! I had assumed that Trader Joe's would be significantly less expensive than Whole Foods, so this was eye-opening for me.


  1. Very informative! I am Whole Foods shopper for all our specialty foods and organics, but have always wondered how Trader Joe's was.


  2. Wow this is fantastic! Thank you so much for this!!

  3. This is awesome! I always assumed TJs was far far cheaper than Whole Foods (aka Whole Paycheck), but I guess shopping the sales pays off.

  4. Nice cherry picking, but next time you might actually include items which people typically buy and don't include loss leaders from Whole Foods.

  5. This was a great analysis! So detailed. Thank you for this, it helps me a whole lot. I have never visited TJs but was thinking about it because I thought I would save a whole lot more than shopping at WFs.
    I will probably still visit TJs but this time I'm more prepared.

  6. I'm such a late bird...but thanks to everyone for loving the SBS shop and thank you Affluent Pauper for letting me do it. :)


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