Trader Joe’s Versus Whole Foods: It’s Not Just About The Money. Wait. What?

It’s rare for a day to pass when someone doesn’t crack wise about Whole Foods and the bullet holes it leaves in one’s wallet. Especially if you buy something. Heroin addicts and their dealers typically maintain healthier financial relationships. Alright, fine: maybe it’s not that bad. But let’s pretend that it is.

For those that like to eat healthy and/or organic food but aren’t willing to jeopardize their chances of buying a home or following the financial path of Greece, their obvious alternative is Trader Joe’s. Being single and owning a microwave is also a contributing factor. For those who remain unclear as to the relative merits, consider the following:

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An economic comparison in fifteen rounds.

1. A trip to Trader Joe’s (TJ’s) doesn’t require a credit check. Whole Foods (WFs) has been known to charge points and closing fees. A cover charge has even been considered in some cities. Drink minimums may also be on the way.

2. Many of WFs’ products are cruelty-free. Their prices, however, are not.

3. WFs sells loose, individual onions, unlike TJ’s. It’s merely a coincidence that the price of a whole bag won’t fit on a price card.

4. TJ’s doesn’t sell candles that cost more than sixteen dollars. WFs doesn’t sell candles that cost less than sixteen dollars.

5. At TJ’s, you can return a product without a receipt. At WFs, you can return a product without your lawyer. Usually.

6. When people say that New York is expensive, they secretly mean WFs.

7. Chocolate at TJ’s is sold in 3.5-ounce bars. At WFs, gold is.

8. No one’s ever been cutoff at TJ’s. That may be because they sell wine. But they don’t serve it. However, people are free to do whatever they like next to the dumpster behind the store on 14th Street. Such are the blessings of Two Buck Chuck and on-premises corkscrews (Hey! A non-economic slam. One-point penalty).

9. Receipts from TJ’s usually include “Have a nice day!” Receipts from WFs usually include their annual report and cash flow statements.

10. TJ’s sells salamis by the pound. WFs sells pork belly futures.

11. TJ’s now offers interest-free credit cards. WFs offers the same, however, they require a minimum balance of $1500 or three bags of groceries – whichever comes first.

12. At checkout, TJ’s offers children free** stickers. WF’s offers to rebalance their portfolios.

13. In 2009 WFs considered changing its name to “One Percenters ‘Я’ Us.”

14. TJ’s charges $3.99 for organic blueberries. WFs charges $3.99 for organic blueberry.

15. A sign posted recently at TJ’s reads “We now accept personal checks.” A similar sign posted at WFs reads “We now accept derivative-secured credit swaps and synthetic collateralized debt obligations.”   

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And the winner, by a 14-to-1 decision, is Trader Joe’s. They’re clearly the most consumer-friendly, at least in this grossly slanted telling of the story. In an unslanted telling, Whole Foods has a $14.9 B market cap versus TJ’s anemic 12. So as far as they and their stock-holders are concerned, they’re still the winners. But let’s pretend that they’re not.

*Note to WFs execs: don’t ban me from your stores. You should see the version that I wanted to publish.

** To be clear: they offer free stickers to children, not children-free stickers. Although they probably are. In fact, I’ve seen them marketed that way. “Our stickers are now 100% children-free!” TC mark


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