Shoppers who prefer natural or organic foods usually have two choices in their neighborhood: Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods.
While grocery stores increasingly stock natural or organic foods, the selection can leave a lot to be desired. This means the field is wide open for these two national grocery store chains to scoop up a loyal following.
Trader Joe’s is widely seen as a neighborhood store and has cultivated a fun-loving vibe that focuses on discounted natural foods.
Whole Foods is the grocery industry’s flagship organic foods store with a reputation for expensive, niche brands. But is one store really more affordable than another?
We compared costs and the answer might surprise you.
Is Trader Joe’s More Affordable Than Whole Foods?
For this side-by-side comparison, we shopped the basics plus a little extra to get an idea of where each of these two natural foods stores shines. But keep in mind that when it comes to selection, Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods are not created equal. And there can be big swings in cost affected by sale prices and regional differences.
For each of these grocery categories, the cost reflects an item that is the same size and of similar quality. Trader Joe and Whole Foods 365 store brands were compared whenever possible.
Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods
|Item||Category||Trader Joe’s||Whole Foods||Winner|
|Bacon (uncured, 12 oz.)||Meats||$5.99||$6.99||Trader Joe’s|
|Ground beef (85/15, organic, 1 lb.)||Meats||$7.49||$7.99||Trader Joe’s|
|Chicken breast (organic, free range, 1 lb.)||Meats||$6.99||$8.99||Trader Joe’s|
|Salmon (wild, 1 lb.)||Seafood||$9.99||$12.99||Trader Joe’s|
|Butter (unsalted, 1 lb.)||Dairy||$3.69||$4.29||Trader Joe’s|
|Eggs (dozen, grade A brown)||Dairy||$4.29||$3.99||Whole Foods|
|Milk (2% organic, half gallon)||Dairy||$3.79||$3.99||Trader Joe’s|
|Mozzarella (fresh, 8 oz.)||Dairy||$3.79||$3.49||Whole Foods|
|Frozen corn (16 oz.)||Frozen||$1.79||$2.69||Trader Joe’s|
|Kiwi (organic, 1 lb.)||Produce||$3.49||$4.99||Trader Joe’s|
|Strawberries (organic, 1 lb.)||Produce||$5.49||$6.29||Trader Joe’s|
|Green onions (bunch)||Produce||$1.39||$1.19||Whole Foods|
|Mini sweet peppers (1 lb.)||Produce||$2.99||$3.33||Trader Joe’s|
|Spring & spinach mix (organic, 5 oz.)||Produce||$2.29||$3.49||Trader Joe’s|
|Black beans (organic, 15 oz.)||Canned goods||99 cents||$1.29||Trader Joe’s|
|Garbanzo beans (organic, 15 oz.)||Canned goods||99 cents||$1.29||Trader Joe’s|
|Bread (whole wheat, organic, 22 oz.)||Bakery||$1.99||$4.39||Trader Joe’s|
|Raw almonds (1 lb.)||Nuts||$4.99||$7.99||Trader Joe’s|
|Extra virgin olive oil (16.9 oz.)||Oils||$7.99||$5.99||Whole Foods|
|Oats (old fashioned)||Cereal||$2.99||$3.49||Trader Joe’s|
|All-purpose flour (organic, 5 lb.)||Baking||$4.49||$5.29||Trader Joe’s|
|Spaghetti (16 oz.)||Rice & pasta||99 cents||$1.39||Trader Joe’s|
|Rice (basmati, organic, 2 lbs.)||Rice & pasta||$4.49||$4.99||Trader Joe’s|
|Chicken noodle soup (24 oz.)||Prepared foods||$4.99||$8.49||Trader Joe’s|
Our comparison of basic food staples at Whole Foods Market versus Trader Joe’s shows a clear winner when it comes to cost. But Trader Joe’s money-saving victory comes with some caveats. The limited inventory means Trader Joe’s shoppers have far fewer choices and those with specific dietary restrictions may need to supplement with groceries from another store.
A regular grocery store will usually have much better prices on milk, eggs and bread than Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s can offer. However, some supermarket chains tend not to stock as many organic options. And your local store is unlikely to have low prices on niche products, like gluten-free veggie sticks, since they don’t have many customers shopping for them.
Comparing Trader Joe’s vs. Whole Foods
No comparison of Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods would be complete without a nod to the fundamental differences between the two stores. It’s worth acknowledging that while Trader Joe’s wins on low cost basics, Whole Foods has more to offer on several fronts.
5 Reasons to Shop at Trader Joe’s
1. Seasonal Flavors
If you’re a fan of all things pumpkin spice, Trader Joe’s products are your jam. This natural foods store has become a haven for foodies who want to experiment with new flavors and seasonal products. Some Trader Joe’s stores have even brought back free samples in several locations.
2. Packaged and Prepared Veggies
One of the downsides of being vegan or vegetarian is that there’s lots of chopping involved. Trader Joe’s makes this easy with inexpensive, pre-packaged veggies that are all cut up and ready to go for quick weeknight meals.
3. Cheap Meat and Seafood
As the cost comparison proved, Trader Joe’s offers certain cuts of beef, chicken, pork and fish at bargain basement prices. However the selection in the meat case is pretty limited. If you’re looking for something fancier, you might come up empty handed.
4. Wine, Beer and Liquor
One of the very first products that built Trader Joe’s cult following was a bottle of red Charles Shaw wine called Two-Buck Chuck. There may be some argument about the quality of Trader Joe’s alcoholic offerings but there’s no dispute about the mass appeal and affordability.
It’s not a very well-kept secret, but Trader Joe’s offers some of the cheapest and prettiest fresh flowers. Grocery stores usually have a few sad stems tucked by the register, but Trader Joe’s pays attention to creating vibrant bouquets that won’t cost you a bunch.
5 Reasons to Shop at Whole Foods
1. Bulk Foods
The real savings at Whole Foods can be found in the bulk section. If you need nuts, dried fruit, beans, rice or any other dry goods, fill a bag or container in the bins located in the bulk foods aisle. And if you’ve never shopped bulk at a natural foods store, Whole Foods has a guide to help.
2. The Hot and Cold Bar
If it’s late and you don’t have time for dinner or the budget for dining out, the hot and cold bar at Whole Foods is a lifesaver. It’s basically a buffet of prepared foods that can be bought and paid for by weight. Some stores also have sushi bars, made-to-order pizzas, cafes and sit-down options for the lunch crowd.
3. Speciality and Organic Foods
For some shoppers with restricted diets, Whole Foods is going to be the only bet in town to find specialty foods — like gluten-free items or products for those with food allergies — all in one place. And they have a much larger selection of organic foods generally (and organic produce specifically) than other stores.
4. Health and Beauty Products
Perusing the health and beauty section in Whole Foods is a pretty pleasant experience. The shelves are usually stacked with quality supplements and personal hygiene or wellness products. You’ll even find clothing, yoga mats and other fun splurges occasionally on sale.
5. The Grocery Shopping Experience
In contrast to Trader Joe’s cramped and sometimes chaotic stores, Whole Foods is a breath of literal fresh air. Open spaces, bright lighting and attractive displays make Whole Foods stores feel spacious and modern. And unlike Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods also offers online shopping and affordable grocery delivery or pickup.
How to Save Money Shopping at Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods
While Trader Joe’s will certainly save you on the basics, there are plenty of money-saving strategies to leverage at both stores.
1. Shop the Sales
Both stores have sales either monthly or weekly featuring discounts on selected products. For Whole Foods, you can find weekly sales updated on the website. However, Trader Joe’s website is difficult to navigate so you might want to stick to picking up the Fearless Flyer with weekly specials in-store.
2. Use the Whole Foods App
If you have an Amazon Prime membership, you get an additional 10% off at Whole Foods on most items. Simply download the app and scan your barcode at the register. You’ll also get significant savings if you have an Amazon Prime Rewards credit card, which gives 5% back on Whole Foods purchases.
3. Coupons, Coupons, Coupons
Both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods take manufacturer’s coupons. In the case of Trader Joe’s, this has limited usefulness since most of their products are the TJ store brand. But Whole Foods has plenty of natural brands on the shelves to choose from, so clip away.
4. Bring Your Bags
Want the store to bag up your groceries? It’ll cost you. To discourage the use of plastic and paper bags, both Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods encourage shoppers to bring their own reusable grocery bags.
Whole Foods provides a bag discount if you bring your own which can be applied towards your bill or donated to local charities. Some Trader Joe’s locations charge for bags or incentivize reusables by entering shoppers into a raffle if they bring their own bags.
While Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods both appeal to the same segment of the grocery market, they offer different advantages depending on what matters most to you.
Shopping Trader Joe’s for essentials and then swinging into Whole Foods to cross off the rest of the list may be the best bet for shoppers looking to balance cost with quality and selection.
Kaz Weida is a senior writer with The Penny Hoarder.