Natural or whole foods stores have been seeing rising sales over the last several years as people become more focused on the health and safety of the food they are consuming.
In fact, organic foods have become so popular that many regular supermarkets have begun stocking natural or organic products to keep up with the demand and to encourage customers to shop at their stores rather than going to speciality markets.
Natural or Organic stores specialize in specific products that are certified “organic” and are environmentally sustainable, or safe for the environment. Most of the products they carry are not genetically modified (GMOs) and cannot contain pesticides, toxins, or other harmful chemicals.
Meat and dairy items must be free from antibiotics and growth hormones. No radiation or dangerous preservatives are permitted to lengthen shelf life. While Whole Foods Market is a large national chain of natural/organic stores, there are also many independent or smaller chain stores that offer similar products. Trader Joe's is one of those smaller chain grocers.
Selection: While many grocery stores are beginning to stock organic items, the selection is usually limited. Stores that specialize in natural or whole foods will have a much wider variety and will even carry some unusual products that are difficult to find elsewhere. For example, you will be able to buy almond milk, rice milk, hemp milk, oat milk, coconut milk, soy milk, and even hazelnut milk. And that doesn't include dairy products made from organic cow's milk such as cheese and yogurt.
For people suffering from allergies such as gluten or nut sensitivities, these stores can be particularly helpful. It is often very difficult to find a lot of gluten-free options in the regular grocery store, but organic markets will have a wide selection of products made from buckwheat, rice, or quinoa. When you are on a restricted diet, having this variety is very enjoyable.
These stores also carry a selection of makeup and personal hygiene supplies such as soaps and lotions that are toxin and chemical free, as well as chemical-free cleaning products. This is very nice for people who have skin conditions or sensitivities to perfumes and dyes. Again, some regular grocery stores may have a small section dedicated to these types of items, but the selection is very limited.
Locally Grown Food: Most natural or whole foods stores will try to use as much locally grown food as possible, depending on the availability of organic fare in their area. Not only will the food be fresher but there is the added bonus of protecting the environment since the products will not need to be shipped as far.
Safe, Healthy Products: For people wanting food that has not been genetically modified or does not contain harmful toxins, whole foods stores are one of the best places to shop. Many people are also choosing this option because they want to purchase environmentally conscious products and good quality nutritional supplements that are not available at other stores.
Informed Staff: Most whole food grocery stores have educated staff members who are familiar with the products they carry and can answer customer questions accurately and with some depth. Even though regular supermarkets may have natural/organic sections, they do not always have informed staff that is familiar with the health food industry.
Also, you will usually get better customer service at these speciality markets, and it is very easy to find a staff member or salesperson who can help you when needed. This is true because the grocers realize they cater to a niche shopper who is better informed.
Plus their prices are usually higher than regular grocery stores and providing knowledgeable and sensitive staff is and expected part of their business.
Buy in Bulk: Many of the organic/natural stores have a bulk section so you can purchase smaller (or larger) quantities of certain products. Organic almonds are expensive, and you don't want to pay for a whole bag when you only need half a cup for a recipe. With a bulk option, you will only have to pay for what you need.
Price: It will definitely cost you more to shop at an organic/whole foods store. Even though you can save some money by buying certain products in bulk, you can still expect prices to be higher than at the regular supermarket. So it is always recommended to perform some grocery price comparisons.
Organic farming takes more work, especially since no pesticides can be used, and most farmers do not receive subsidies from the government. However, if getting healthier foods that taste better and will not harm the environment is important to you, then there are ways to shop at whole foods stores for less.
Not Everything is Healthy: Just because you are in a natural/organic store does not mean that everything is healthy. In fact, you could be paying more money for an “organic” label unnecessarily.
For example, organic sugar is still sugar and is still just as harmful if eaten in excess as non-organic sugar. Chocolate is chocolate – it might be minus a few chemicals or preservatives, but you will have to decide if that is worth the exorbitant price tag.
Availability: Not every town has a natural/whole foods store so you may have to drive quite a distance to find one. This can be a great disadvantage, especially if you add the travel expenses and extra time to the already higher food prices. This is one reason online grocery shopping is becoming a more acceptable method to shop.
Lack of Competition: You can usually find great sales at regular grocery stores because they want to encourage customers to visit their store rather than shopping at a competitor's store. Competition helps to keep prices lower and allows you to compare sales so you can get the best deals possible on the same (or similar) products.
Since organic/whole foods stores do not have a lot of competition within towns or cities, they can keep their prices a little higher because they know that people want healthier options. Hopefully this will change as larger supermarkets begin to carry more organic items.
1. If there are particular items that you really insist they be organic, buy those at a whole foods store and shop elsewhere for other products. Do a little research and find out which fruits, veggies, or grains are highest in toxins or chemicals so you know which products are most important to purchase organic and which non-organic items are relatively safe. This will be personal preference and will also depend on how much of a particular food you eat. But, cookies aren't considered a “health food” anyway, so unless there is an allergy or restricted diet to consider, then there might not be any point in paying the extra money for the “organic” label.
2. Shop Seasonally. Since whole foods stores try to use locally grown products, some items will be less expensive during certain times of year. Stock up and can apples when they are in season. Can or freeze tomatoes when they are cheaper, or purchase extra root vegetables in the fall and store them in a cold cellar.
3. Know your prices. While whole foods stores offer great selection, they are not always cheaper than your local supermarket on certain items. Some products that have a longer shelf life such as organic toothpaste or soap may actually be less expensive at a larger supermarket chain. It just makes good sense to compare grocery prices whenever possible to save money buying organic/natural and whole foods and products.
4. Consider store brands. Many natural/whole foods store sell their own brand label at much lower prices. Since they have to comply to the same standards as other companies in order to receive their “organic” certification, these products are usually just as healthy and tasty.
5. Buy in Bulk. You can save money on your grocery bill by buying some items in bulk. Whole foods stores will often sell bulk products for less per pound since there are no packaging and nor individual handling costs to consider. And, since you can buy only the amount you need, you will not have to pay for a whole pound if you only want a small sample or amount for that new recipe.
6. Check out their website or flyer. Most natural/whole foods stores will not send out their flyers in the mail as they try and conserve paper. However, Whole Foods has a coupon book. It runs 60 days and can be picked up at the store. It's called "The Whole Deal Coupons" or its online with printable grocery coupons at their website. In fact they have weekly sales on the same page different tab! Websites will also have special promotions and printable coupons.
7. Ask about sales and special deals when you arrive. Ask a cashier or staff member about any current sales or discounts before you begin shopping. They will usually be able to point you toward reduced bins of frozen meats, or shelves of discounted foods especially spices.
8. Stock up on sales. Take advantage of sales when you see them. If you stock up on items that you use regularly, you will be able to cut the cost of your food bill when shopping at a whole foods store.
Shopping at a whole foods store has the potential to be expensive, but if you have serious allergies or if eating organic is important to you then the investment may be worth it.
However, by following a few tips, it is possible to eat healthy while still keeping to your budget.