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Is Whole Foods as expensive as people in JP think it is?

Posted by Rob Anderson  January 21, 2011 01:26 PM

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wholefoods.JPGFamiliar battle lines were drawn this week after news broke that Hi-Lo Foods, an affordable grocery store in Jamaica Plain popular among the neighborhood's low-income residents and Latino community, will soon be replaced by a Whole Foods Market.

While some were happy they will soon have a new, organic-filled grocery store to frequent, others bemoaned the change and worried that it will speed up gentrification in the neighborhood. Hi-Lo shopper Ramona Gonzalez, for example, told the Globe she won't be able to afford to shop at Whole Foods, and that she feels like she's being pushed out of her own community. “I’m not being prejudiced or anything, but I think they just don’t want us Spanish people hanging around here.’’ Similarly, Boston.com commenter Dotti wrote: "Whole Foods is so over-priced it is ridiculous. The people who shop there walk around the store with their noses held high and are so obnoxious, I can barely stand to be in the same store with them."

But the assumption Gonzalez and Dotti make — that Whole Foods is, hands down, more expensive that other grocery stores — isn't always true. These two blogger-experiments show that Whole Foods sometimes provides similar or cheaper prices than its competitors:

Eric Faller, a software engineer and blogger in Palo Alto, California, compared the prices of bananas, a Budweiser six-pack, organic milk, orange juice, and Cheerios at his local Whole Foods and Safeway. When averaged out, his Safeway haul was marginally more expensive. Noshtopia blogger Stephanie Quilao carried out a similar experiment at her Whole Foods and Safeway stores, picking ten staple foods like ketchup and pasta sauce to compare. Her Whole Foods receipt came out cheaper by $3.40.

Now, this isn't to say that some items at Whole Foods aren't expensive. As this article in Slate shows, you can spend a lot on top-quality items in the store. (Grass-fed beef doused in truffle oil, anyone?) The key is this: Just because Whole Foods carries some expensive items doesn't mean everything it carries is expensive. To be sure, shopping economically at Whole Foods can take tremendous amounts of self-disciple: It's hard not to pick up that chunk of $10 dark chocolate on your way to a tub of on-sale cream cheese. But, in the end, shopping at Whole Foods can be as expensive or economical as you make it.

That may be cold comfort to residents of Jamaica Plain who see the closing of their favorite grocery store as a telling symbol about their place — or lack of one — in the future of the neighborhood. Those residents will surely lose a part of their community when the Hi-Lo closes. But those same residents shouldn't assume they will lose their extra cash if they shop at the Whole Foods when it eventually takes Hi-Lo's place.

Globe file photo: Apples for sale at a Whole Foods in Massachusetts.

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ABOUT THE ANGLE Online commentary and news analysis from the Boston Globe. The Angle is produced by Rob Anderson and Alan Wirzbicki. You can follow Rob on Twitter at @rcand.

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