When you think about descriptors for Whole Foods, the word that pops to mind probably isn’t “cheap.” But that’s the image the pricey organic supermarket is hoping to project, and that’s, according to an investigation by Bloomberg Intelligence, what it has become. The Bloomberg report assessed Whole Foods as “one of the cheaper chains for grocery shopping in Manhattan,” based on their survey. This headline was passed around New York media on Thursday as evidence of the overwhelming expense of Manhattan and the price-slashing strategies of While Foods. But no, Whole Foods is not cheap. It is only cheaper than the chain grocers that Bloomberg selected—a strategy that ignores the way that most people who live in New York City actually shop.
The Bloomberg survey was based on a basket full of 97 items, rung up at various New York City grocers to compare the overall price. In a line-up against D’Agastino, Gristedes, and Fresh Direct, Whole Foods was the cheapest. But really what this survey meant was that Whole Foods is the cheapest luxury grocery store. And that’s an important distinction. When compared to Fairway, Whole Foods was still much more expensive. And the Bloomberg investigation didn’t even look into resident chains like Key Food or Compare Food or Costco, which are, no doubt, much less expensive than the gluten-obsessed Austin megachain. Whole Foods is not cheap, it’s just cheaper than, say, the caviar, gold, and fur coat emporium. Sure.
Also: New York is a walking city. That means most of us, particularly if you live in Manhattan, are limited by what we can carry or stuff into one of those wheeled carts. The cost of transportation is something that is also important to consider. One-stop shopping for the week is less common than picking up what you need gradually, stopping at the local fruit and vegetable stand or bodega or Duane Reade, collecting as you go. It’s harder to compare the cobbled-together nature of grocery shopping here to a big national chain. So take the Bloomberg survey with a slab of pink Himalayan sea salt.