10 Secrets Most People Don't Know About Whole Foods

Before you shop, read up on the least-known secrets about America’s favorite health food grocery chain.

When Whole Foods began offering pre-peeled oranges, packaged in plastic and sold at $5.99 a pound, the world couldn’t help but notice. Keyboard warriors around the globe took to Twitter to call them out on just how bizarre this particular product was.

“If only nature would find a way to cover these oranges so we didn't need to waste so much plastic on them,” wrote Nathalie Gordon in a tweet that quickly went viral. It drew a massive amount of attention to this chain and the irony of a store known for healthy and environmentally responsible foods selling an orange in a plastic container.

Within hours, Whole Foods publicly responded to the Twitter firestorm by removing the product from their shelves and returning to selling oranges in the original packaging—their peels.

Of course, this isn’t the first time Whole Foods and their clientele have been noticed for their strange practices. They have a certain reputation for being unique and uniquely expensive.

With the recent buzz surrounding the purchase of Whole Foods by Amazon, we thought it would be interesting to dig into a few secrets most people don’t know about Whole Foods. Here's the inside scoop.

1. How to Get the Most Bang for Your Buck

It’s no secret that shopping at Whole Foods isn’t exactly budget friendly. In fact, one popular nickname for the store is Whole Paycheck, a nod at how easy it is to blow most of your money in a single trip.

Still, there are ways to save money on your organic produce and specialty supplements, and it is all about when you shop. The sales cycle at Whole Foods begins and ends on Wednesday.

This means that every Wednesday you can shop both the previous week’s sales and the sales of the upcoming week. So next hump day, hightail it to Whole Foods for the best deals this store has to offer.

2. You don’t have to put up with rotten food.

There is nothing quite as frustrating as returning home from a grocery trip only to find that a mold-covered berry was hiding in the middle of your pint or the new product you grabbed on a whim is actually disgusting. The good news about shopping at Whole Foods is they have a no-questions-asked return policy.

There doesn’t actually need to be something wrong with the food you bought; just not liking it is enough. If you aren’t satisfied with your purchase they will either give you cash back or give you store credit.

3. Whole Foods has a “never” list.

The founding principle of Whole Foods was that food that is free from less-than-healthy ingredients should be accessible to everyone. So Whole Foods has pretty strict rules about what can never be found in their products.

Specifically, anything you buy at Whole Foods will be free from artificial sweeteners, preservatives, and colors and won’t contain any hydrogenated fats. Outside of this rule, they also carry a wide variety of organic and responsibly sourced foods and other household goods.

4. You still need to use discretion.

It is easy to assume that just because you’re shopping at a store known for their nutritious foods, anything you buy there will be good for you. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

Not everything there is high quality or even healthy, according to one anonymous employee interviewed by Thrillist. Asking employees’ advice isn’t enough, either, since they’re not allowed to be up front about the uselessness of certain products.

Any time you plan on going for a shopping spree at Whole Foods, be prepared to spend some time reading the labels of any packaged products you buy or do a quick Google search on the actual health benefits of certain supplements.

Let’s face it, Whole Foods is simply too expensive to spend money on something that doesn't deliver what is promised.

5. You’re going to need a list.

The age-old budgeting advice of creating a list and sticking to it religiously is a necessity if you’re going to be making a trip to Whole Foods.

They may have killer organic produce, and they might be the only grocery store in miles selling grass-fed beef, but they also have a lot of products you really don’t need to buy if you’re living on a budget.

Prepare yourself to be tempted to try gimmicky products like store-brand kombucha or a $5 bag of organic marshmallows. 

Make your list ahead of time, stick with it, and leave with money still in the bank.

6. If you don’t love it, leave it behind.

It is hard to shell out your hard earned cash for products you aren’t certain you will love, so it’s important to know that Whole Foods has a policy that allows customers to try before you buy.

Even if you are interested in taste-testing a packaged product, they will open up a box for a free sample before you commit to the purchase. It’s a good way to avoid unnecessary spending on things you won’t eat, and it almost beats the free samples at Costco.

7. Don’t waste your money on these items.

Rumor has it the organic produce available at Whole Foods is far better quality than any available at most box stores and supermarkets, but there are some items you are better off not buying at all.

Specifically, buying conventional (i.e., not organic) products at Whole Foods is a waste of money. Regular produce, for instance, is likely to be the exact same choice available at a less expensive supermarket, according to one insider article written by a former Whole Foods employee.

8. A free perk you probably missed.

Before you head toward the checkout line, make sure you’re not missing out on this little-known free perk offered by the butchers at most Whole Foods locations. Apparently, if you pick up a cut of meat, they will also dress it for you.

Their butchers can do specialty cuts; some even have rubs and seasonings and will get your meat totally ready to be cooked. Additionally, if you are looking for a creative way to prepare your meat, ask the butcher for tips. They’re the experts on the meat and on how it tastes best.

9. It pays to be healthy. (At least if you’re an employee.)

Employee discounts are a fairly common practice among grocery stores, but Whole Foods takes their employee perks to an entirely new level. 

The percentage employees receive off their grocery purchases is actually based on how healthy they are perceived to be.

The store’s Get Healthy plan is based on employees’ body mass index (BMI), and those with a lower number get a better discount on their groceries.

This hasn’t been the most popular incentive program, that’s for sure. Whole Foods has faced criticism for discriminating based on BMI, since this measurement has been deemed ineffective at determining a person’s overall health.

10. The company works hard to prevent waste.

When you run a big box grocery store, wasting food seems inevitable. However, Whole Foods works hard to prevent unused food from being thrown away. Their first approach is to serve fresh food that is near expiration on their salad bar, according to an anonymous employee interviewed by Thrillist.

Additionally, Whole Foods is known for donating expired food to food pantries and other nonprofit organizations, which led to the company being awarded to the 2013 Outstanding Food Donor Award from Food Lifeline.

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