Maiden Voyage: Whole Foods

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?

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6 responses to “Maiden Voyage: Whole Foods

  1. Sounds like you had a good time. I had never been to a whole foods until my fiance and I moved to Palatine over the summer. There was one down the street so it was very easy and convenient to get to. She loves Sigi’s greek yogurt, specifically the grapefruit flavor and that Whole Foods is the only one we knew of that stocked it. We also liked Amy’s Strawberry toaster pastries which again we couldn’t find anywhere else.

    We ended up moving to Arlington Heights so while we’re not as close we still go there every so often to get nicer food items we can’t find at our usual grocery store. While we started going to the Jewel down the street from our apartment in Arlington Heights when we first moved there, we heard about this new store, Mariano’s, that just opened last fall. We visited once and fell in love with it. They have so much selection and variety of fresh produce, fresh baked items, deli, and even a gelato station. Their prices are overall way better than Jewel too so it was a no brainer really.

    • Yeah, I saw a few different varieties of Greek yogurt I hadn’t tried, but was pretty well stocked at home. Next time 🙂

      Those smaller, non name-brand groceries can be great. I really don’t like Jewel – so, so pricey – so I tend to stick to Meijer for about 80% of my shopping. But there’s a great smaller supermarket by my parents’ house in Crystal Lake (Joseph’s) that sounds like Marianos – I love shopping there.

  2. I stopped by the Schaumburg one after Woodfield malling with two teen girls – gosh, that place is $$$$$$$$$ I really needed somethign for dinner, so got some flounder and overpriced green beans.

    I think I will stick to my Aldi/Butera/Meijers/Caputos/Trader Joes for food.

    Would like to check out the huge Japanese supermarkets I have heard of someday.

    • A lot of their meat, fish and the organic produce was pretty expensive, but I was pleasantly surprised that a lot of the bulk goods – nuts, dried fruits, quinoa, oats (really, everything in the bulk foods aisle) was super cheap. Their dairy prices were decent, too.

      I love Trader Joe’s. Meijer is my standard weekly stop, and I really like the renovated Butera, especially since it’s so close. I never think to go to Caputos but whenever I do it’s nice. I used to shop at Aldi a lot, but ever since I started eating minimal processed foods, there’s not much there for me.

      I’ve heard good things about the Japanese markets, too, but haven’t been.

  3. I think you had a very successful maiden voyage! You certainly can end up spending a lot of money fast at Whole Foods, but like any grocery trip, the key is knowing the baseline prices of the items you always buy at any store, so you get to know your stores and where the deals are to be found. The bulk aisle at Whole Foods is definitely where the grain deals are at!

    I’m going to have to keep an eagle eye out for those mini-larabars, though – that’s a total score. Then again, I mostly make my own Larabars…but more on that coming soon. 😉

  4. I just use Aldi’s every two weeks for bulk yogurt, flour/sugar, cheese, eggs – not much else. And then only because it is on the way to Meijers 🙂

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