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Whole Foods vs. Trader Joe’s

There’s no doubt that Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods appeal to a similar clientele.  I’ve heard the Whole Foods vs. Trader Joe’s debate many times and the “right” choice depends on your values.  Here’s a brief overview of each company’s practices, so you can make an educated decision:

Issue Whole Foods Trader Joe’s
In the beginning Austin, TX:4 people wanted a store that offered natural foods (unprocessed, not artificial) Pasadena, CA:1 guy wanted a more fun and engaging shopping experience at his local store
Sourcing Typical grocery store carrying a huge array of products; emphasis on organic but they admittedly use GMO ingredients (and they don’t advocate for labeling) Sell about 80% of their private label brand (so they avoid a “middle man”; though they lack transparency of their business practices, they have guaranteed non-GMO sourcing
Price High Low.  Check out the Two-Buck Chuck (Merlot for $1.99)
Quantity and Quality Very diverse quantity and quality Limited varieties but very high quality
Shopping Experience Like a grocery store, but with many samples of products, bells and whistles (literally, they have bells) Personalized experience in a low-key atmosphere (the dress code for all staff is a Hawaiian shirt)
Environmental Responsibility Decentralized distribution promotes locally sourced items; however, some practices (i.e. their Alaskan fish procurement) is costly – monetarily and environmentally.  However, don’t mistake “sourcing locally” for “supporting small farmers”, small farmers cannot meet the Whole Food demand Centralized distribution means Trader Joe’s (generally) isn’t sourcing locally, but in recent years they have signed a Fair Food agreement for tomato sourcing and have committed to improving their seafood sourcing practices
Today Whole Foods is improving their inventory systems, expanding rapidly, and are committed to decreasing their energy consumption by 25% before 2015 Trader Joe’s limits their expansion (only 5 stores opened in 2011)  to choose small, out of the way locations with low rent – so savings are passed on to consumers
Bonus Points WFs treats staff well (no one makes less than $12.50/hour), except the CEO, who makes $1/year; Whole Foods offers education classes and workshops unlike other grocery stores  TJ is culturally sensitive and have designed product lines to meet the needs of Americans from around the world*plus, Trader Joe’s has the best, non-sugared dried fruit I’ve ever eaten

Clearly, both stores have advantages.  They are both more environmentally responsible than other supermarket chains and they offer different, high quality products.  Who comes out on top?!  I honestly don’t know, there are so many factors to consider that it’s truly a personal decision.  And you don’t have to choose one or the other.  So where do I shop?  Fairway.

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2 Comments to "Whole Foods vs. Trader Joe’s"

  1. Karen Dolins says:

    Thanks for this, Kate. A nice summary! Any idea where their meat comes from? I’ve asked but no one seemed to know, so I assume it’s factory meat.

    • Kate Gardner says:

      Thanks Karen! Whole Foods procures from a variety of vendors, but one of the largest is Panorama Meats; Panorama sources from farms in 11 states. Other than that, information is scarce…if you come up with others, I’d be very interested to hear who they are!

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