For the past two quarters, my professors have assigned giant projects that use Whole Foods as a case study. (This quarter, it’s the final project for my Finance class.) And though I’ve spent months talking about value drivers, compound growth rates and competitive strategy (this quarter) and consumer attitudes towards organic foods (last quarter), I had never set foot inside a Whole Foods.
One opened last year in quasi-nearby Schaumburg, but I have a strong hatred for Schaumburg on weekends. I knew I really should go, but I hadn’t made the trip yet.
But last Saturday, after spending five hours discussing performance ratios with my group at an Andersonville Starbucks, I realized I was actually pretty close to a Whole Foods and I might as well stop in.
So I navigated myself to the Sauganash store, parked and checked in via FourSquare.
Since it was an impulse trip, I had no list, no plan and no idea of what I actually needed. I was trying to think through my fridge and pantry, and meals for the coming week, but I haven’t been on a real grocery trip in a month – just quick stops to pick up dairy and produce.
So I wandered, somewhat aimlessly, noticing the huge array of relatively pricey produce. Everything looked so fresh and good, though, it took some willpower not to start loading my cart with things I thought I had at home.
I ambled through the store, somewhat afraid a security person would stop me, as I probably could have been profiled as a shoplifter. I was picking up dozens of items and reading labels, but putting little in my cart.
The other big limiting factor to my trip – other than the lack of preparation – was the damn pantry project I announced last week. While I wanted to stock up on things, I already have quite a stock at home that I should use up. This proved especially tempting at the grind-your-own nut butter station.
Then I stumbled on the Larabar selection. I love Larabars, and I’m lucky that my local Meijer stocks a couple flavors and occasionally puts them on sale. But Whole Foods had several flavors I had never tried – banana bread, carrot cake, ginger snap, PBJ – and they also had the mini versions. I ended up grabbing a box of minis and about 6 or 7 regular size bars, not really violating the pantry project because they go in the cabinet, not the pantry. (This was a loophole I should have exploited more.)
Then, I rounded the corner and discovered the famous bulk foods aisle, just as I got a tweet from a friend insisting I must visit said aisle. I marveled at the variety – every kind of grain, for dirt cheap? All kinds of granolas and dried fruits? Sign me up! But again, restraint prevailed. I ended up getting a couple pounds of oats, since I was due to make granola bars again, and some cous cous, which I was out of. I also got a bunch of dried figs. If I had regular access, I would definitely take advantage of this aisle.
I was hungry after a day of caffeine and sugar, and the prepared foods area smelled divine. But I hadn’t cooked in a week and craved my own home cooking – and had chicken thawing in the fridge – so I passed by with a wistful sniff. I investigated the cheese section, marveled at the wine and beer, and grabbed the milk (cheap for organic!) and eggs I needed.
Overall, it was a good first trip, and I have a better understanding that may help my project. I will definitely go back, prepared with a list, after pantry project month is over.
I think it might even be worth braving Schaumburg on a Saturday.
While I was wary of the “whole paycheck” moniker, I actually didn’t spend that much, in part due to my restraint. The total damage was only $37, of which about half was Larabars. The rest was spread among milk, eggs, oats, cous cous, figs and a bag of fingerling potatoes that I ended up using for dinner. I’m sure if I had grabbed meat or cheese, that number could have been far higher.
What’s your favorite grocery store? If you go to Whole Foods, what are your must-buys?