What to buy (and oh my!) at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s + Costco (the hunger games)

03/19/2012

Yep, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are great for scoring natural and organic hair and beauty products. And, yes, Costco is great when you need a whole lotta something. But it never fails—regardless of how hungry or not I am whilst cruising down the aisles, I always end of with way more food in my basket than originally planned.

Somehow (I blame great store design, lighting and awesome marketing) Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s make you feel like your life will change for the better if you buy the bag of apples that costs a third more than at your average supermarket. And shopping at Costco feels like the more you load into your cart, the more money you’ll save. There’s a lotta hype on them there shelves, but there are times when you truly are better off buying at these stores than at {insert your favorite big box supermarket}. Here are some tips I uncovered:

Buy at Whole Foods

  1. Local fruits and veggies: Locally sourced and seasonal produce consistently has competitive prices.
  2. Sustainable fish and seafood: Likewise, responsibly farmed or caught fish are what’s up. Be sure to look out for “One Day Only” sales.
  3. Lentils, nuts, grains, herbs and other dry goods sold in bulk: You know, this is where you slide you bag over the chute, pull the lever and watch stuff shoot out at an amazing speed. Whether you’re buying beans, walnuts or rosemary, buying in bulk at WF is often cheaper than buying the same items canned or packaged at your average market—plus they’re unprocessed. You will also find greater variety of these items at WF.

Oh My! at Whole Foods

  1. Conventional fruits and veggies: Staple items like apples, oranges, peppers and tomatoes are def pricier than your supermarket.
  2. Meat: You’ve seen it—Whole Foods meat counter looks like a full-on butcher shop. If you are dead set on locally raised or organic meat, or need some specialty hard-to find protein, then knock yourself out and shell out the extra green. But otherwise your basic beef, pork and poultry items are pricier than your local supermarket.

Buy at Trader Joe’s

  1. Cheese, glorious cheese: TJ’s has a wide selection (at least 60 varieties) of quality, well-priced cheeses. So go on and get your Gruyère and Toscano on.
  2. Freezer goods: There will come a time when you will need to pop a frozen meal in the micro and call it a day. Look no further than TJ’s for a good selection of frozen entrees and appetizers (particularly if you enjoy Asian cuisine)—tastier than your average TV dinner and made with good ingredients. You’ll also find great deals on frozen fruit—this is where I stock up for my green smoothies.
  3. Wine: Decent stock even in the $6 – 10 range. And of course, if you’re a TJ stan you’re already up on their infamous Two-Buck Chuck—The Charles Shaw variety for only $1.99 a bottle.
  4. Chocolate: Exotic chocolate bars and bonbons by brands such as Valrhona and Toblerone are found for at least a dollar less per bar than other retailers. And apparently TJ’s chocolate chips (for baking) beat out Ghirardelli and Hershey’s in a taste test, and at more than a dollar less per bag.
  5. Trail Mix: TJ beats out the competition in price (in some cases more than a dollar less than other markets) and selection—they stock at least 20 varieties of trail mix, including my fave, wasabi.

Oh my! at Trader Joe’s

  1. Produce: Frankly, I find better variety, quality and prices at my neighborhood Kroger. However, bananas are typically a steal at 19 cents a piece.
  2. Meat: Don’t expect a meat counter that even comes close to rivaling that of Whole Foods—and the packaged meats aren’t noteworthy either.

Buy at Costco

  1. Wine: How about Costco is the largest retailer of fine wine in the country?! This means that they get good deals and access to some pretty good bottles. Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Lot 200 Cameron Hughes 2008 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, both critic and consumer faves, sell here for competitive prices here. Check out CostcoWineBlog for more on their wide selection.
  2. Chocolate truffles: Once a year during Christmas time, Costco sells authentic chocolate truffles from Chocmod Truffettes de France, a froo-froo-she-she confectionery for $10.89 ( two 2-pound boxes) compared to an average of $29 on Amazon. I mentioned this Costco best seller in a past post, hoping to snag some post-holiday stock (no such luck).
  3. Extra-virgin olive oil: If you caught this recent Mic Check post, then you know that Costco’s Kirkland Signature Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil was one of only five brands found not to be mixed with cheaper refined olive oil in the study that tested 19 popular extra-virgin olive oil brands. Costco’s brand sells for $9.99 for 1.5 liters—that’s about half the cost of the Bertolli brand

Oh my! at Costco

  1. Extremely large boxes, bottles and packages of food that you really don’t need, or can’t humanly consume before it spoils: It’s so easy to convince yourself that you need a 50 lb crate of apples, but do you really?

Do you shop at Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s or Costco? What would you add to the list?