Whole Foods 365 (essentially Whole Foods’ version of Trader Joe’s) recently opened in Brooklyn at 292 Ashland Place (near BAM). This is a store opening I’d been looking forward to for A LONG TIME, because all my California friends kept talking about how great and cheap it was. Yesterday I finally went to see for myself whether or not the shopping experience would live up to all the hype.
Short answer: It did not.
More elaborate answer: When I arrived at the store, I have to admit I still felt very excited and optimistic. Everything was shiny and new, and the upstairs (where you enter) had things like Next Level Burger (for 100% plant-based burgers) and the “PourIt Authority”, which looked like it belonged at a space-age 7-11, and was a self-serve beer, wine and cider bar. The market is located downstairs, though, so that’s where I headed.
The overall layout of the market felt slightly less congested than other Whole Foods stores I’ve been, but the amount of humans roaming around with shopping carts kind of canceled out the breathability factor. I investigated the produce section first, and quickly noticed that things didn’t seem that much less expensive than regular Whole Foods, it’s just that a lot of the signage looked different (lots of yellow and red to display psychological pricing), and I imagine that’s where they get you a lot of the time. The quality of the items available was fine, and there seemed to be a decent selection, but overall not a groundbreaking department.
And while I’ve cut way back on the amount of meat and fish I eat lately, ye olde proteins section was next, so obviously I was sure to check that out. The main difference is that there’s (at least as far as I could tell) not a butcher or fishmonger doing front-of-house work, so everything comes pre-packaged. The prices seemed decent enough, but when I was eating more fish and meat, regular Whole Foods was my go-to spot for affordable, quality product, and if anything, this Whole Foods 365 section seemed like it had taken a step back due to its strictly grab-n-go vibe. And not everything looked great – there were Atlantic salmon fillets available in the $3 range, but they were sad-looking, and there was no info that I could find re: place of origin. (Yes, that matters.)
Next I hit up the dairy section, which was well-stocked, but again, not groundbreakingly different in terms of price or selection when compared with normal Whole Foods. The refrigerated vegan products were also housed in this area, and I was impressed that they carried a few Miyoko’s products (no butter, though, WTF!), but many of the items available could be sourced at a normal Whole Foods.
The bulk section was unimpressively small when compared with the ones that exist in the regular Whole Foods I frequent.
The frozen section seemed to carry several items that I don’t typically see (whether it’s because they’re not routinely stocked, or are frequently sold out) at regular Whole Foods, like bagged blue curled kale and riced cauliflower, both priced at $1.99 each. Other than that, fairly similar offerings – WF365 brand pastas, meatless meats, burritos, pizzas, etc., plus things by brands like EVOL, Amy’s and Daiya.
The snacks, sweets, cereals, condiments and canned goods didn’t seem very different to regular Whole Foods offerings, though they did carry Tony’s Chocolonely bars, which I haven’t seen anyplace else. (I will admit, WF365 scored some points there, ’cause those things are GOOD.)
The prepared foods department was ultra-lacking. It also costs the same as regular WF, so if you’re looking for an affordable, quality grab-n-go meal, head elsewhere.
Now, don’t get me wrong – some of their products were available for $0.20-$1 less than what you’d find in a regular Whole Foods store. Examples: the multigrain O’s cereal that I usually buy at regular Whole Foods for $2.99 was priced at $2.79, a package of tofu that would ordinarily cost $1.99 was priced fifty cents cheaper, and jars of almond butter were a dollar less at WF365 than at regular WF. But unless you’re willing to do some serious research into what you’ll save money on if you shop at WF365 vs. regular WF, my guess would be that your bill ends up marginally less (if not the same, or maybe even more since your brain is fooling you into thinking “DEALS!”) at WF365 than it would at regular WF, or, dare I say it, Trader Joe’s? (The greatest supermarket on the planet?)
I think the main issue is that, when it was announced WF365 would be headed to NYC, the Amazon takeover hadn’t yet occurred – of COURSE the prices would have seemed drastically cheaper to me back then, but now, especially since things like avocados, salad mixes, bananas and other things that I routinely eat have taken a price dive, shopping at regular Whole Foods can be as cheap (if not cheaper) for me than elsewhere.
In sum: If you live someplace that is still waiting on a store to open, or someplace where a store will likely NEVER open, rest assured – the Whole Foods 365 experience is not all it’s cracked up to be, and you’ll be perfectly fine at other budget-friendly grocery store chains. And if you live someplace like I do, where there is access, I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to shop at Whole Foods 365, either. (Take heed, DC. I would be PISSED if I made the trek out to Fairfax just to realize that WF365 is more or less the same as WF.) WHAT A LETDOWN! On the plus side, I stopped at Target on the way home to compensate for the lack of shopping I did, and I discovered they sell Maranatha almond butter for $3.99 a jar, and also they sell TIM-TAMS (!!!), AKA AUSTRALIA’S BEST EXPORT THIS SIDE OF KYLIE MINOGUE! I think our run-of-the-mill supermarkets deserve rediscovering, rather than placing our bets on lofty promises from John Mackey joints. (I, for one, will not be headed back to 292 Ashland Place anytime soon.)
Do you think I’m way off base? PLEASE LET ME KNOW WHY SO THAT I MAY LEARN FROM MY MISTAKES!