Is Whole Foods Really Whole Paycheck? | The Cheapest Place to Buy Organic

One of the most common objections I hear to eating organic and non-GMO is that it costs too much. We’ve all heard Whole Foods called “Whole Paycheck”, but is that really true? Does it really cost more to buy organic than conventional? I’ve claimed for years that I saved money when I switched to shopping only at Whole Foods and for years people have thought me crazy for saying so. To settle this dispute once and for all, I went to three grocery stores in my area of downtown Atlanta to compare prices of shopping conventional, strictly organic, and a combination of organic and non-GMO to show you what it really costs to eat real food.

The list of grocery items I compared were items you would commonly find on a list of grocery staples and can easily be used to make multiple meals for at least a week. (List with itemized prices at the bottom of this post.) My criticism of other articles that have done similar grocery comparisons is that they often compare conventional to organic as if they are the same. And the items they compare are not items you would find on a normal grocery list, like coconut water, which I consider luxury items. (For real though, if you are bougie enough to be stocking up on single serve coconut waters every time you go grocery shopping, you probably don’t care about how big your grocery bill is anyway.)

Here’s what I found:

Shopping Conventional Only

Kroger: $55.10
Whole Foods: Not Possible
Aldi: $37.32

Shopping Organic Only

Kroger: Not Possible
Whole Foods: $99.39
Aldi: Not Possible

Shopping Organic and non-GMO

Kroger: $77.96
Whole Foods: $67.21
Aldi: Not Possible


While shopping conventional is clearly the cheapest, it also is the least nutrient dense (meaning you need to eat more for your body to feel full) and most likely to contribute to health issues later in life (meaning you will ultimately spend more on healthcare). Shopping strictly organic is clearly the most expensive, with it costing twice as much to shop strictly organic at Whole Foods versus shopping strictly conventional at Kroger. With those numbers, it is easy to see why Whole Foods gets a bad rap as being Whole Paycheck. But comparing conventional to organic prices is not a fair comparison. And while organic does not automatically equal healthy, the nutrient density and risk for health issues are the major difference between conventional and organic even more than the price difference.

So how can you shop organic and not break the bank?

About four years ago my husband and I made the switch from eating a healthy but conventional diet to eating healthy and organic. When we first made the switch it was hard. We had been shopping only at Kroger and found the organic options limited and expensive. Kroger has gotten better in recent years about carrying their own store brand organic (Simple Truth Organic). But even with Kroger expanding their store brand, it is hard to find a Kroger that carries everything in their store brand organic instead of an expensive national organic brand. For this comparison post I went to the largest Kroger in our area (maybe the world) which we lovingly refer to as Krogzilla. While Krogzilla has a large selection of store brand organics the other Krogers in our area have a small Natural Market section that is limited in their selection of store brand organics.

natures marketThe Natural Market section of another beloved Atlanta Kroger. Five aisles of organic, non-GMO, and “natural”. About a billion square feet less selection than our local Whole foods. 

When we made the switch to Whole Foods we found that our grocery bill dropped significantly. The 365 Whole Foods store brand allows us to buy organic without having to buy the expensive name brand organics. Their list of “Unacceptable Ingredients for Food” also allows us to shop freely without having to obsessively checking every ingredient label. While there are  a lot of advantages to organic, especially for certain foods, non-GMO and real-food are usually all my family needs to feel good about what we are eating. Which is why, switching to shopping at Whole Foods has saved me and my family money. With the comparison list it only costs $12 more to buy organic/non-GMO at Whole Foods than it does to buy all conventional at Kroger and $10 less than it would cost to buy all organic/non-GMO at Kroger.

Another option to spend less on organic groceries is to shop a combination of Kroger and Whole Foods. I have tried this approach on and off over the years and always end up going back to just shopping at Whole Foods. While you do save a bit on produce, the time and transportation cost of shopping both stores just haven’t been worth it.

I was disappointed in doing the research for this post to find how limited the organic selection is at my local Aldi. I know they have worked hard to expand their organic selection so you may find that your local Aldi has a better selection than mine did.

How do I know what to shop for?

The past six months I’ve been doing some market research, working as a personal shopper for groceries at Whole Foods. The biggest thing I learned in those six months is that people do not know how to shop for groceries. Buying lots of convenience foods like frozen dinners and pre-cut fruit as well as luxury items like single serve coconut water and gourmet cheese and meats add up quickly! You’ll save money and avoid wasting food if you meal plan and shop for meals instead of just random items. The dirty dozen and clean fifteen lists can also help navigating when organic is really necessary. If you find yourself stuck not knowing how to shop for groceries check out this blog post about how to grocery shop and meal plan.

My Itemized List

GroceryKrogerWhole FoodsAldi
     Conventional$3.99 5 oz clamshellDoes not carry$1.79 8 oz bag
     Organic$3.00 5 oz clamshell$3.99 5 oz clamshell$2.49 5oz bag
       Conventional$ .99-1.99 per lb$1.99 lb$2.79 3lb bag
       Organic$1.98 lb$2.79-$3.99 lb$4.99 lb
       Conventional$.55 lb$.69 lb$.44 lb
       Organic$.65 lb$.79 lb$.59 lb
       Conventional4 for $52 for $4$1.69 each
       Organic$2.39 each2 for $5Does not carry
Gallon of Milk   
       Conventional$2.79Does not carry$2.39
       RBGH free/Non-GMO$4.85 Mayfield RBGH free$2.99Does not carry
       Organic$5.99$5.99$5.90 gallon
Butter unsalted 16 oz sticks   
       Conventional$3.69Does not carry$2.99
      RBGH free/Non-GMODoes not carry$3.49Does not carry
       Organic$4.49$4.99Does not carry
Dozen Eggs   
       Conventional$1.79Does not carry$.99
       Antibiotic Free/Non-GMO$2.99$3.29Does not carry
       Organic$4.49$3.99Does not carry
Block of cheddar cheese   
       Conventional$3.59Does not carry$1.89
       RBGH Free/Non-GMODoes not carry$3.29Does not carry
       Organic$5.99$4.99Does not carry
1 lb deli Turkey   
       Conventional$7.99 lbDoes not carry$4.42 lb
       Antibiotic free/nitrate free$8.99 lb$11.99 lbDoes not carry
       OrganicDoes not carry$7.49 6 ozDoes not carry
1 lb ground beef   
       Conventional$4.99 lbDoes not carry$3.49 lb
       Antibiotic free/hormone free$5.99 lb$4.99 lbDoes not carry
       OrganicDoes not carry$9.99 lbDoest not carry
1 lb Chicken breasts   
       Conventional$5.19 lbDoes not carry$3.49 lb
       Antibiotic free/hormone free$6.99 lb$4.99 lb$4.29 lb
       Organic$6.99 lb$9.99 lbDoes not carry
Box of spaghetti 16 oz   
       Conventional$1.00Does not carry$.79
       Non-GMODoes not carry$1.29$1.29
       Organic$1.49$1.99Does not carry
Jar pasta sauce 24-25 oz   
     Conventional$1.89Does not carry$.99
      Non-GMO$4.99$1.99Does not carry
Box mac-n-cheese   
     Conventional$1.00 7.25 ozDoes not carry$.33 7.25 oz
     Non-GMO$1.39 6 oz$.99 7.25 oz$1.29 oz
     Organic$1.89 6 oz$1.79 6oz  $2.99 12ozDos not carry
Loaf of whole wheat bread   
     Conventional$1.69Does not carry$1.39
     Non-GMO$3.39 Nature’s Own$3.39 Nature’s OwnDoes not carry
Peanut Butter 16oz   
       Conventional$2.69Does not carry$1.49
       Non-GMODoes not carry$2.49Does not carry
Grape Jelly   
     Conventional$2.49 18ozDoes not carry$1.49 32oz
     Non-GMODoes not carry$2.99 10ozDoes not carry
     Organic$3.39 10oz$3.99 17.5 ozDoes not carry
Oreo style cookies   
     Conventional$2.99Does not carry$1.69
     Non-GMO$2.99 Kroger

$4.29 Back to Nature

$2.99Does not carry
     OrganicDoes not carryDoes not carryDost not carry
Cheezit style crackers   
       Conventional$2.50 $1.59
       Non-GMO$3.59$3.99Does not carry
       OrganicDoes not carry$3.69Does not carry
Frozen Broccoli   
       Conventional$2.49 2lb$1.99 lb$1.19 12oz
       Organic$1.69 10oz$2.79 lbDoes not carry

*No grocery stores or brands asked me or paid me to do these comparisons. I wrote this article to share what I have learned shopping organic for my own family. 

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