Prices of Organic Food at Three Major Supermarkets

Food is kind of a big deal to Ben and me. While the the majority of Americans spend less than 10% of their income on groceries, we spend closer to 15, although we used to spend more. A couple of years ago, seeing how much we spent on food and how much we threw away, we started a habit of planning the week’s meals ahead of time, including the lunches we take to work. For the most part, we stick to this plan and it gives us an easy way to buy only what we need, and eat all that we buy. Now the expense comes from the fact that we 1. love to eat, and 2. we eat organic, natural, local foods instead of their cheaper processed counterparts.

This doesn’t mean we don’t value thrift, just that it is not as important to us as the health and well being of ourselves, our food, and our planet. By the same token, just because we can afford to spend 15% of our income on food doesn’t mean that we can afford to spend 20. So, in an effort to reaffirm our commitment to organic, locally sourced groceries in 2013, we went to three local grocery stores and compared them with each other on both price and food source quality. Here’s what we found.

THE STORES:

Whold Foods: Whole Foods is probably the best known of these three markets. It has stores across North America, and in the UK.

Sprouts Farmers Market: Sprouts recently acquired Henry’s, Sun Harvest, and Sunflower markets, uniting them under the Sprouts name. They can be found in eight states: AZ, CA, CO, NM, NV, OK, TX and UT.

Ralphs: Ralphs is the California name for national grocery store chain Kroger, also known as Fred Meyer. You can find a full list of Kroger’s subsidiary chains here.

PRICE BREAKDOWN BY STORE:

ITEM
WHOLE FOODS
SPROUTS
RALPHS
Organic Russet Potato
1.99/lb
.99/lb
1.33/lb
Organic Broccoli
3.49/lb
2.99/lb
1.99/lb
Green Grapes
4.99/lb (organic)
2.99/lb
3.29/lb (local)
Organic Bunch Carrot
1.99/bunch
1.69/bunch
1.69/bunch
Organic Pink Lady Apple
2.99/lb
1.99/lb
1.99/lb
Organic Romain Lettuce
2.49/bunch
1.99/bunch
2.49/bunch
Organic Salad Mix – 5 oz Box
3.69
3.49
3.99
Organic Persian Cucumber
2.49/lb
1.99/lb
1.99/lb
Cheerub Cherry Tomatoes
4.99/carton
2.99/carton
3.99/carton
Yogurt – 6 oz Cup
0.89 – 2.30
0.99 – 1.99
0.59-3.49
Sour Cream -16 oz Tub
2.39-4.39
2.30-3.30
1.99-4.20
Cheddar Cheese
0.50/oz
0.30/oz
0.33/oz
Pregrated Cheese
0.58/oz
0.40/oz
0.56/oz
French Bread Loaf
4.20
3.99
1.47
Bagel
0.99/each
0.49/each
0.59/each
TOTAL COST
38.66
29.58
28.28

 

Items I could not find at Ralphs (the absence of these things also clearly illustrates why I don’t shop at grocery chains like Ralphs.)

ITEM
WHOLE FOODS
SPROUTS
Good Belly Probiotic Shot
4.69/pack
4.49/pack
Lactose Free Organic Milk
4.99/gallon
4.99/gallon
USDA Organic Chicken Breast
8.49/lb
8.49/lb
Free Range Ground Turkey
7.99/lb
3.99/lb
Organic Garlic
0.49/oz
0.99/oz
Whl Roasted Free Range Chckn
9.99/chicken
6.99/chicken
Roasted Free Range Trky Brst
9.99/lb
6.99/lb
Dozen Free Range Org Eggs
3.99-6.99
2.29-5.99
Org Frzn Cheese Ravioli – 16 oz
2.08
4.96
Tacupeto (Local) Chips
3.69/bag
3.49/bag
Pacific Natural Organic Broth
3.69/carton
3.49/carton
TOTAL COST
60.08
51.16

 

FOOD SOURCE:

Whole Foods products have a minimum standard of origin and ingredient that neither Sprouts nor Ralphs can rival. All of their produce is either organic, or locally grown, or both. Their meat is graded by a 5 step system and clearly labeled from steps 2 through 5. They don’t carry step 1, as it falls below their minimum standard. I know this is largely marketing, but I like that they state clearly what they will and won’t carry, something Spouts alludes to but isn’t specific about, and something that Ralphs doesn’t acknowledge at all. They also have a much larger selection than either Sprouts or Ralphs. There’s a reason they are so much more expensive than either of the other stores. Even though they don’t illustrate it as clearly as Whole Foods, Sprouts does have a minimum standard for their products and it is respectable to me. You’ll find a majority of organic and local products on the shelves, and at least one cut each of red and white meat that would be considered step 4 in Whole Foods. Sprouts also refrains from stocking anything that Whole Foods would consider Step 1.

I do wish Sprouts had more organic foods. As it stands, their organic produce section is only slightly larger than Ralphs, although their other products look better than Ralphs non-organic selection. They don’t wax their fruit, they tend to have farm info in plain sight, and they tend to look a lot like what you’ll find at the farmers market compared to the mutant fruits on offer at chains like Ralphs. Out of the entire store, the Ralphs products I would feel comfortable buying would easily fit on a single isle. As you can see in the table above, there are some very significant items that Ralphs doesn’t carry. Out of the entire meat section, there was one brand of chicken breast that looked like it might pass muster at Sprouts, but it cost the same as Sprouts’s most expensive brand, Petaluma Farm’s Rosie Chicken, and didn’t come even half way to inspiring the same confidence I have in Rosie, even if the brand has been criticized by slow food guru Michael Pollen.

My response to that criticism is we can’t all be famous authors, and at $8.50 a pound Rosie is already on the edge of affordable for us. Since I don’t personally know anybody who raises chickens, and I can’t raise my own, I’m just glad that they’re as far above the industry standard as they are, and am happy to pay for that difference.

CONCLUSION:

If money were no object, Whole Foods would win hands down, but Sprouts offers as humane, organic, free range, and reputable foods, just not as many options. Their selection is much smaller, they are also much cheaper, and for our purposes at this time I don’t feel like the things this extra money buys Whole Foods shoppers are necessary for our daily lives. In all honesty, Ralphs was never in the running. I only added them because I suspected they weren’t much cheaper than Sprouts, and I proved myself right. It’s nice that they’re trying to be more organic for the people that already shop there, but having switched to Sprouts a long time ago, I’m not interested in moving backwards.

A NOTE ON THE NUMBERS:

These prices are for as similar an item as I could possibly find in three entirely different stores. In the “Total Cost” field, I calculated it as if I were buying only one unit (lb, oz, box, etc.) which is sometimes accurate, and sometimes ridiculous (as in 1 oz of cheese), but for the purposes of accuracy in pricing, I wanted to stick to as reliable a measurement as possible. In the instances where there is a price range (yogurt, eggs) I chose the cheapest price for each store.

SHOUT OUT TO TRADER JOE’S:

I love Trader Joe’s. I know for a fact that they are cheaper than any of the three stores I listed here. I shopped there when I was on food stamps, and I could easily feed both Ben and myself on what was supposed to be a single person’s food stamp allotment. However, I did not include them on this list due to their store size. First, they are so small, they don’t stock a lot of the things on this list. Second, it was already a challenge navigating the midsized Sprouts. The idea of attempting this in the small and crowded Trader Joe’s made me break out in a cold sweat. Trader Joe’s is an amazing store, I suggest you visit them as often as possible.

8 comments

  1. Jason

    Why dont you go to a farmers market? Some produce might be more expensive, but i would trust the integrity and proximity far more of local farmers than supergiant chains when sourcing local meat choices.

    • marina

      Farmers markets are far more expensive in my experience, and that extra expense is just too much for us. Although now that you mention it, I think it would be a good follow up to this post to check prices at local farmers markets against Sprouts to see just how much they differ.

  2. Oz

    To be fair, many TJ’s have upsized. Two in my area are now quite literally twice the size they were a year ago. They are not crowded – aisles are wider. Selection is excellent. Absolutely everything on the first list is there. Many of those on the 2nd list as well, although some of the items I’m unfamiliar with.

    • marina

      I wish I could say the same for the TJs in my area. They are still as small and crowded as ever. One of the reasons we didn’t feel so bad switching from TJs to Sprouts is that we knew they wouldn’t miss our business. The number of people who shop there has more than doubled in the 5 years since we moved to the area.

  3. Phil

    Thanks for doing this! My girlfirend and I generally start at Trader Joe’s and supplement the things we are unable to find at Whole Foods, but maybe Sprouts will be a better alternative for the second trip.

  4. a. byers

    I also like TJ’s a lot. One day I was reading an article about organic X not created equal. Trader Joes is one of those companies that keeps everything a secret. For good or bad, I really don’t trust their organic dairy, a lot of which comes from this: http://www.cornucopia.org/dairysurvey/index.html

    Take it or leave it, I just wanted to share a possibility as to why TJ’s can “lower their prices” on certain products…

    • marina

      I wish they would be more specific on that list about why the rate TJ’s so low. Also, their “industry sources” sound nebulous.