Whether you’re an occasional Whole Foods shopper or have been making trips to the store for decades, you probably know a thing or two about this ubiquitous supermarket chain. Its claim to fame: stocking scads of high-quality and organic foods, like fresh produce, pantry staples, scores of vegan options, and plenty of prepared dishes.
Recently purchased by Amazon, Whole Foods definitely has a reputation for being pricey (it picked up the nickname “Whole Paycheck” for a reason). But their ever-growing 365 Everyday Value line of products tend to be more budget-friendly, and every store offers some nifty specials week to week.
Still, there’s always something new to learn about even the most familiar grocery store. So I recently slowed down and spent some quality time around a few Whole Foods Markets in New York City and Washington D.C. to see if I could pull out a few more savvy shopping tips and secrets. Here’s what I found:
The Whole Foods Market app has some extra coupons and special weekly deals you won’t necessarily find in the store. Just download it before you go, and check in to your Whole Foods location as you walk in. You might find some unexpected savings on a product you were planning to purchase, or discover something fun on sale to add to your cart.
Since Amazon owns Whole Foods, they give additional perks to Amazon Prime members. Look for signage around the store during your next visit (and pay attention to the colors).
Yellow sale signs mean you’ll save an extra 10% on all sale items if you're a Prime member. Blue signs indicate deeply discounted sale prices for Prime members only; on a recent visit, all frozen pizzas were a whopping 50% off, Muir Glen tomato products were 35% off, and several tomato brands were on sale for $3.99 (down from $5.99) for a 24-ounce container. You can also order 365 Everyday Value items for delivery through Prime Pantry. Just make sure to log in to your Prime account on the Whole Foods app and scan it when you check out.
Local products are represented throughout all the stores. Some examples I discovered over the last few months are Checkerboard Cookies and (just before Halloween) Spooky Pumpkin Cookies in the bakery section of an N.Y.C. store which came from Teterboro, N.J., plus fresh mozzarella from Union, N.J.
In Washington D.C., Michele’s Pumpkin Spice Granola from Timonium, M.D. was on sale and there was a selection of small-batch dips and spreads (like a spicy feta dip and eggplant and roasted red pepper dip) from Cava, a Mediterranean fast-casual restaurant that got its start in the area. The bakery also carried several beautiful loaves from Bread Furst, as well as an appealing line of frozen biscuits from the Mason Dixie Biscuit Company (that just so happened to be on sale).
In the produce department in a D.C. Whole Foods, organic kale, mixed hot peppers, and heirloom tomatoes were from nearby Pennsylvania. In N.Y.C., there were russet potatoes from New Jersey, an assortment of mushrooms from Pennsylvania and New Jersey, and apples from New York.
Did you know that the team at the seafood counter will prep and season any fish for free? I had heard the rumor so I went up and asked at the Upper East Side Whole Foods in N.Y.C., and the nice guy behind the counter confirmed it. He said that I could not only pick any of the 365 Everyday Value seasonings and rubs near the fish department, but also that he would filet and season anything I wanted. “And if anyone gives you a hard time about it,” he said, “just tell them to ask for me.” (I will hold back his name so he doesn’t get swamped with deboning requests!) It’s an awesome perk for those of us who love fish, but aren’t all that handy at filleting things.
I was also pretty surprised to find out that almost all of the fish was fresh and never frozen. Fresh choices included domestic monkfish, catfish, yellowfin tuna steak, flounder, Arctic char from Iceland, and tilapia from Ecuador. As for local options: In D.C. there were littleneck clams from Willis Wharf, V.A. and whole black bass from Hampton Roads, V.A.
The fresh and dried pasta offerings are wildly expansive at Whole Foods. In the fresh pasta department alone, there were tons of options: gluten-free pasta from Manini’s, like Roasted Garlic Fettuccine; dairy-free Mushroom Ravioli from Kite Hill; artisanal pastas from Nuvo, such as Four-Cheese Sacchetti and Crab and Lobster Ravioli; ravioli from Artisola; and a whole bunch of in-house offerings from classic gnocchi and fettuccine to vegan vegetable ravioli.
The dried pasta aisle holds even more choices: Sfoglini Organic Hemp Radiators; Greek Couscoussaki from Loi Pasta; Jovial Organic Brown Rice Farfalle; Ancient Harvest's Pow! Green Lentil Power Pastas; Red Lentil Gluten-Free Spaghetti from Whole Foods; and the list goes on and on.
One N.Y.C. store also carried several fresh, local offerings from Severino Pasta in Westmont, N.J., including Spinach Pasta Sheets, Cheese Ravioli, Pumpkin Ravioli, Orecchiette, Trofie, Sweet Potato Gnocchi, plus a whole bunch more. In D.C., there was Tricolor Cheese Tortelloni, Asparagus and Gruyère Ravioli, and more from La Pasta in Silver Spring, M.D.
The hot food and salad bars at Whole Foods are ever evolving, and if you think you have their offerings memorized make sure to swing by the section marked “Seasonal.” This area showcases new options reflective, as the name suggests, of the season. Triple-Cheddar Macaroni and Cheese, Tomato Lemon Hoki, Chicken Breast with Apple and Bacon, Mushroom and Herb Beef Meatballs, Roasted Garlic Broccoli Rabe, Harvest Slaw, and (making a note to try and recreate this one at home) Pickled Pear Brussels Sprouts were some of the seasonal offerings in N.Y.C. this past month. As far as the price goes, my local hot bar was $9.99 per pound.
I don’t think I’ve ever seen an ice cream selection quite like the one at Whole Foods, packed with brands and flavors that I’ve never heard of. In the 365 Everyday Value section, I found flavors like Chocolate Valencia Orange, Cinnamon Graham Cracker, Berry Chantilly Cake, Toasted Coconut Black Sesame, Coffee and Donut, Banana Foster, and more. Organic flavors are also available, like Toffee Caramel Swirl and Coffee Chip.
And then there are dozens and dozens of pints to choose from, some vegan or plant-based, some lactose-free, some organic. Choose from brands like Jeni’s, vegan Oatly, Ciao Bella, Mammoth Creameries, Dolcezza, plant-based SorBabes, Talenti (their new gelato layers line includes the dreamy-sounding Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake), and Mr. Green Tea Ice Cream. Important note: This doesn’t even scratch the novelty and frozen pop sections of the frozen desserts area.
There is, of course, a bonanza of local ice creams to choose from, as well. In an N.Y.C. store, I found Malai Ice Cream from Brooklyn (try their Masala Chai flavor), lactose-free Beckon Ice Cream from Warwick, R.I., L’Arte del Gelato from Long Island City, OddFellows from Brooklyn (their Burnt Marshmallow flavor sounds delish), and Ample Hills Creamery (also based in Brooklyn).
Sure, you can find flours, flax seeds, and a variety of beans in the Whole Foods bulk aisle, but there are lots of other ingredients and treats on offer that you might not necessarily expect. Think: goji berries, oat groats, coconut flour, tamari almonds, sprouted pumpkin seeds, mango pomegranate coconut chews, gummy candies, and dark chocolate sea salt caramels.
And of course, the beauty of bulk is that you get just the amount you want—no more, no less.
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