Grocery Cart Compare: Whole Foods v. Giant Eagle, week 1

When it comes to grocery shopping, there’s an experiment I’ve been wanting to do for a long time. I wanted to take the time to price match an entire week’s worth of groceries to determine if Whole Foods is really so outrageously priced as people like to say that it is. So this week, I wrote down the exact items I purchased at Whole Foods and took my list to Giant Eagle Market District, which is the most comparable store that is “conventional.” We have other health food stores in the area, but they are smaller and wouldn’t likely be able to get the price comparisons that Giant Eagle and Whole Foods would. (For those of you not from western PA, Giant Eagle is our region’s version of Kroger or Publix. Market District stores are special stores with expanded selections of food, and in my opinion are designed to be competition for the dollars of consumers that are looking for more than just the basics.)

I did this with a completely open mind, as a data gathering experiment. So I wasn’t out looking for ways to make my own preference of stores “win.” And ultimately there are many factors to consider when it comes to where you shop – price isn’t the only factor. I also didn’t evaluate the quality of the items on taste or on the freshness of the produce, etc.

In some instances, one store did not carry some items that I found at another store, so I did the closest comparison. (For example, Whole Foods had some organic products I purchased and Giant Eagle only had conventional and vice versa.) I noted these differences as best I could.

Also, I should note that I realize that a two-adult, two-income home with no kids to feed has a different grocery budget than many other family configurations. This isn’t meant to be a judgment on what you buy or to present what I buy as the “best” groceries. It’s merely a price check experiment for one household – not a moral judgment. On to the data.

Item Whole Foods Giant Eagle
Organic heavy cream – 8 oz 1.99 N/A* * Conventional heavy cream, $6.29 for 32 ounces
Pepper jack slices (deli) 7.99/lb* 8.99/lb *rBGH free cheese
Black forest ham (deli) 11.99/lb* 8.99/lb *hormone and antibiotic free
In-house roasted turkey (deli) 12.99/lb* 10.49/lb *hormone and antibiotic free
Noosa yogurt 2.49 2.49
Organic fresh sauerkraut 2.99 2/$4* *conventional and canned, not fresh
Organic green onions 0.99 1.79
Organic green bell pepper 2.99/lb 3.99/lb
Organic red leaf lettuce 2.69 3.49
Conventional cucumber 0.89 1.49
Organic Granny Smith apple 2.69/lb 1.83/lb* *3 lb bags, not loose
Conventional Macintosh apple 1.69/lb 1.99/lb
Cherry tomatoes (US greenhouse) 4.49 3.99* *Mexican, artificially ripened
Conventional blood oranges 5/$4 5/$4
Conventional bananas .69/lb* .54/lb *Whole Trade
Organic peanut butter 4.99 5.99
Organic brown sugar 3.49* 3.99 *24 oz pkg v. 16 oz pkg at GE
KIND bar 1.49 2/$3
Organic NuGo protein bar 1.59 4/$5
Organic honey 5.49 6.29
Organic almonds 6.49 N/A* *Conventional only – 6.99
Sourdough boule (bakery) 3.99 4.99* *small loaves 3.99, large loaf 5.99 – avg
Organic English muffins 2.69 N/A* *Convention only 3.99
Organic raisins (bulk) 3.99 3.99
Conventional cranberries (bulk) 7.99 3.99

For this week, Whole Foods was the better choice overall. You’ll note that for dairy products and deli meat, even though the prices were more expensive at Whole Foods, I chose them as the better option for me, since I don’t eat meat with antibiotics or growth hormones, and the same goes for dairy. So if you eat conventional deli meat, you’d want to go with Giant Eagle. Ironically, the better quality cheese was even cheaper at Whole Foods. 

I also made some choices on produce at Whole Foods because of other factors (whole trade, location and method of growth), but some of the exact comparisons were cheaper at Whole Foods and others at Giant Eagle. From week to week, it will likely vary, as different shipments come in and growing seasons across the world change.

I was pleasantly surprised to see some of the prices the same at both places, or very comparable. Also pleased to see that Giant Eagle’s bulk section is so large and also gives Whole Foods a run for their money ($4 cheaper per pound for cranberries? whoa!).

This also makes me note – if I had more time, many of the things on my list I could make at home (fresh raw sauerkraut, sourdough boule, English muffins, yogurt). It would be interesting to do a price breakdown of what it costs to buy a loaf of sourdough boule at the bakery v. making one at home, also including the time/labor factor.

I am intrigued enough by the results of my findings that I am hoping to continue this series regularly (as long as I am able to get to the two stores to do it!), since we buy different grocery items most weeks. Plus, this also gives me an idea if it would be better for me to shop around. Typically, I only shop once and at one store, because frankly running errands in crowds drives me insane. But to save significant money, I would probably make the effort. 

  • Jonelle Cosgrove

    Only thing is which I have recently REALLY taken into consideration is the cost of gas and wear/tear on the car to go to numerous places. And…membership prices. It is actually saving us money to shop at Sam’s or Costco right now than Aldi, Big Lots, and Walmart. Unfortunately in Greenville/Mercer those are your options. Down here, we have more…including Bottom Dollar (which I have only found their sales to be worth the trip and only on the way home from church b/c we literally go right past it).

    With dealing with the traffic Saturday to go to Costco it was definitely worth going to one store. It took us several hours. We left the house not wanting to be gone all day and left at 11am and got home after 4pm. We went to Costco, Field & Stream (right beside for those that don’t know), and then lunch at Chick Fil A b/c that’s the only time we go there. If I had to deal with the traffic I did to go to numerous, I’d waste more money in gas for sitting in traffic than I would staying at one store and coming home.

    I know YOU know this, b/c of living down here long enough but to compare it for those still in small towns where traffic in Hermitage, Greenville, Grove City, etc is not near the headache as Butler, Cranberry, and Pittsburgh (etc).

    I still need to find a farm for meat so I can talk to my farmer…. :(

    There’s my input.

    Also – those prices aren’t bad! And thanks for the comparison to show me (who has never been to Whole Foods) that it really isn’t that bad. I have a friend that went there and left with one bag of food for $80 – her husband flipped! I wonder, now, what she got!

    Thanks Jo! :)

    • Joanna Taylor Stone

      Unfortunately, that’s the limitation of an experiment like this – there are so many factors to take into consideration. I consider the location, the time it takes me to get in and out, the workers’ helpfulness and kindness and the cleanliness of the store. And someone with a schedule like mine is going to have a harder time just going to the store at any random time, since my availability is only at peak times (rush hour and weekends). Plus, some stores just don’t have what you’re looking for and others have conveniences that some people need. For example, we don’t buy gas at GetGo, so shopping at Giant Eagle for the fuel perks isn’t helpful. And we don’t buy much in bulk because we don’t go through it enough to make the small savings worthwhile.

      That’s one big misconception about Whole Foods, is that it’s crazy expensive. Of course some of the stuff is nuts, especially because you have specialty items there you can’t find anywhere else, like exotic fish and produce, but the same stupid spending applies to any store – don’t buy dumb, expensive stuff and you can save money. :)

  • Jonelle Cosgrove

    SOME DAY – I’ll have a car that works – lol – and I won’t have to go during rush hour and peak hours.

    We only use GetGo with Grandma’s card (shhh) but Ron has boycotted Giant Eagle b/c when he stopped for medicine for Caroline (fastest and most convenient on the way home from work) he tried to go through the self checkout (one bottle of children’s medicine) and since he didn’t have his advantage card he couldn’t go through. He had to wait in line for ONE ITEM and waste time getting home. We take advantage of Costco (right by his office) and Sam’s Club (by our church) for gas – their small discounts are nice. I haven’t shopped at Giant Eagle for ages b/c I couldn’t even justify spending money on their items when it was the same as somewhere else for cheaper…even with gas. I don’t even bother with their ads anymore down here. Its right beside Sam’s in Butler but still not worth the extra trip across the parking lot – sad right?

    I’m keeping up with my excel price comparisons each time we shop so I can figure out which big box store is worth it more and if small stores are better for us. So far, Sam’s and Costco are winning. And between those 2….its hard. Sam’s is closer but Costco has more oraganic produce, better meat, and cheaper on several items (their size are bigger for less even!). It’ll be something to figure out come the end of the year.

    Plus, with Costco’s executive membership you get 2% back on purchases and if you truly shop there, you’ll get your membership paid for. Ron’s sister shop there for EVERYTHING and with 2 teenagers (and her entrepreneur son selling pop and candy at school) – she gets her membership paid for plus money back!

    It truly does depend on the family….2 working adults, no kids – harder to shop b/c you’re there with everyone and while everyone else is out and about; 1 working parent, 1 stay at home mom and kid(s) – can go at different times BUT depending on the area (Cranberry) you still waste gas sitting in traffic to get to different stores; retired couple living in a small town – shop around any time and not waste near as much time or gas. :) I’m spoiled by the small town for so long I’m still getting used to longer traffic lights and more traffic. :)

    I’d like to visit Whole Foods but it doesn’t seem fitting for our family right now.

    And yes…shop smart and you’ll save money no matter what.

    oh and for me to go to Zeli or Harmony for Shop n Save and BiLo for specials still isn’t worth the extra miles/gas to “save” vs just staying at one store. Now, if I’m over there, sure I’ll stop…but not a special trip. :)

    Look forward to your next comparison! :) I appreciate them!

  • Cheralee Stover

    Hi, I just found your blog through our mutual Instagraming. :). I have this dilemma as well because of living in Slippery Rock. First, if I even get close to a MD or WF, it’s because it was a week in the planning to maximize the trip to the city. Second, because we have moved between several states, I know we buy some things just because we had them once upon a time. We usually do a trifecta of Trader Joe’s, WF and MD. It’s a pain because I prefer the Robinson Market District on top of everything else. :) We do grind our own flours and do a lot of our own dairy because our CSA. I find myself putting things like pomegranate molasses on the shopping list and let’s be honest. 😉 Slippery Rock GE just isn’t going to get the job done. Please stop by my blog as well. It’s great to meet you!

    • Joanna Taylor Stone

      Great to “meet” you! I’ve been checking out your blog and added you to my reader!

      I actually grew up in Greenville, so I’m familiar with Mercer County and its lack of comprehensive grocery stores. (Though ironically when I was living there, I couldn’t care less.)

      For awhile, just when I was starting to change my diet and lifestyle, I shopped primarily at Trader Joes. But I had problems week after week with my produce going bad right away and coming home to find my meat had gone off. I think the store had issues with its cooling systems and the customer service was always great, but I got so sick of dealing with things going bad that I mostly switched over to Whole Foods, even though some TJ dry goods are cheaper. I am finding that it’s really hard for me to have time to travel to multiple stores, especially because my free time at rush hour limits where I can get in the city.

      I also realized in doing week 2 of the price check that when I’m at Giant Eagle, I am really tempted to just throw junk in my cart b/c the stuff I used to love is really cheap there. (I’m looking at you, Oreos, 2 for $4) At Whole Foods, the splurge items are a lot more expensive and I’m just not willing to pay $6 for a box of 4 cookies. So I find that I spend less at Whole Foods in general, simply because I don’t give in to the siren call of cheap corn. :)