Even after the Amazon buyout, Whole Foods is still more expensive than other chains. Does it matter?

By Mike Pomranz
September 09, 2019

Whole Foods Market has long held a reputation for being more expensive than other major grocery chains. Part of the reason is that Whole Foods never claimed to be like other chains: To this day, the company bills itself as “America’s Healthiest Grocery Store,” stating, “We seek out the finest natural and organic foods available, maintain the strictest quality standards in the industry, and have an unshakeable commitment to sustainable agriculture.” Many people speculated that the Amazon buyout might bring prices — and some of these lofty goals — down to earth, but as an analysis last month found, though prices have come down a bit, Whole Foods is still 12 to 13 percent more expensive than other regional grocery chains.

So what does Whole Foods have to say about all of this? Well, though not a specific reaction to the above, today, Whole Foods has released a new survey looking at what millennials want in a grocery store — and the summary might as well be: If you can’t beat them in prices, don’t join them; explain why you’re worth it.

With the help of the research company YouGov, last month, Whole Foods polled 1,006 U.S. adults aged 22 to 37 and determined that, actually, not only do millennials want what Whole Foods is selling — like well-sourced, quality products — but they’re also willing to pay more for it.

Eighty percent of those surveyed said they consider quality when making a purchase, and 68 percent of these millennials said they were willing to pay more for higher quality products. Meanwhile, over 65 percent of those polled said they prefer to buy from brands and products that are responsibly sourced, with — once again — more than half saying they’d pay more from products with animal welfare standards in place.

Furthermore, Whole Foods’ poll found a lot of other stats that played into their ethos: A majority of these millennials were concerned about additives and hormones and were purchasing more organic products than five years ago; they are conscious of the impact their choices have on the environment and look for products with less packaging and plastic. And 45 percent of those surveyed said they’d tried a special diet in the past year, while a whopping 52 percent said they restrict ingredients for health reason. Those numbers certainly bode well for specialty food stores, especially when over half said they’d pay more for ready-made meals that make their diets more convenient.

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Whole Foods Market’s Chief Marketing Officer Sonya Gafsi Oblisk hammered home these similarities between younger customers and her company in announcing the polls results. “Millennials don’t settle for just any food in their shopping carts, and neither do we,” she said. “The stories of how food is produced and grown matter to them — and to us. That is why we ban more than a hundred ingredients in the food we sell. Going beyond the USDA requirements, we prohibit antibiotics and added hormones for all meats in our meat department, and we only sell sustainable wild-caught or Responsibly Farmed seafood. Our standards drive the work we do and if products don’t meet our standards, we don’t sell.”

Of course, since Whole Foods was behind the poll, critics can call it a self-fulling prophesy. And frankly, some of these questions are a touch loaded. For instance, who doesn’t consider quality when making purchases? And without a non-millennial control group, it’s hard to say for certain whether millennials hold these opinions more so than other age groups.

Still, the fact that Whole Foods even bothered to put this survey together could be good news for the brand — or at least good news for any Whole Foods customers who were worried that Amazon might undermine the ideals the market has always stood for. More than a survey of millennials’ grocery shopping habits, this is Whole Foods leaning in to still being Whole Foods. And if all you care about are prices, hey, Amazon has plenty of other ways to sell you stuff.

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