Five Smart Buys for Frugal Shoppers at Upscale Whole Foods

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whole foods exteriors - deals at whole foodsConsidering that people love to joke about "Whole Paycheck," it may surprise you to learn that there are at least a few smart buys over at Whole Foods Market that will save you.

These make sense, especially if you're a reluctant cook in a one-person household and prefer organic foods. The key is to concentrate on bulk foods and house brands.

Here are five examples:1. Canned organic black beans or pinto beans sold under the "365" house-brand label: five cans for $5, or a buck apiece. By contrast, the Trader Joe chain's house-brand organic canned beans sell for $1.19. At Safeway, we saw only name-brand Westbrae Natural organic beans, which is nice but budgeters may prefer house brands. Cost: $2.29.

2. Ground organic cardamom seed (spice) sold in the bulk section: $2.79 per ounce. This is convenient for when you need just a tablespoon of cardamom for a recipe you may never use again -- just scoop a little into a plastic bag and pay a lot less than a buck. Many spices are sold in bulk at Whole Foods, so the same principle applies for them. By contrast, Safeway sells cardamom -- indeed, all spices -- only in prepackaged bottles. So at Safeway you'd be forced to buy a non-organic 1.75-ounce bottle of McCormick Gourmet cardamom for $10.69 or a two-ounce non-organic bottle of Spice Island cardamom for $15.29. Ouch!

3. Organic black pepper, medium grind; scoop as much or as little as you want from a bulk container for 87 cents per ounce, then take it home to refill your pepper shaker. By contrast, Safeway charges much more -- it sells a 1.9-ounce prepackaged "O" brand organic ground black pepper for $5.79.

4. Organic Thompson seedless raisins sold in the bulk section: $2.99 per pound or currently on sale for $1.99. This is far cheaper than the prepackaged Thompson raisins sold at the same store ($2.69 for eight ounces). That reinforces a point: At Whole Foods or any store that offers food for sale in bulk bins, go to the bulk section first to check prices; prices stand to be lower (but not always). Safeway sells non-organic Sunmaid raisins in a slightly smaller 15-ounce box for $3.29.

5. Organic flour sold in bulk bins: $1.49 per pound. If you rarely use flour, those five-pound bags of prepackaged flour sold at regular supermarkets are a royal waste. Why spend money on flour you don't need? Safeway's "O" brand organic flour sells in five-pound bags for $5.49.

Bottom Line:

For spices and cooking ingredients you need in only small amounts, it makes sense to save the purchase for the next time you're near a Whole Foods Market or some other store that sells such items in bulk. After all, chefs advise rotating spices every six months for best flavor; who can use up that much obscure spice within six months? But by no means are we trying to say that Whole Foods is overall a bargain place to shop. It's the Macy's of grocery stores. Our M.O. is to walk in and strategically go for the bulk areas and house-brand items and try to avoid the rest.
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