Whole Foods Produce

Affordability: Shopping at and Living Near Grocery Stores

Whole Foods Produce

Whole Foods in Downtown Minneapolis. Photo: Author

I consider myself a savvy shopper. I check prices online and in-store and tend to avoid expensive places unless I need a few things I would have to drive to get elsewhere.

The year is 2019, and we don’t have to be tied to our neighborhood geography when choosing where to buy groceries. With services like Instacart, Target’s new Shipt, and Amazon Prime Now, we can now have groceries from area grocery stores that may have been out of reach for delivery fees around $4 to $6, plus tip. Always tip well, and tip your driver in cash.

With this world of new options, I set out to expand my shopping horizons. I chose a basket of goods (from price index economics speak), and compared prices at nine stores in the Minneapolis area. Seven stores (Aldi, Costco, Cub Foods, Fresh Thyme, Lunds & Byerlys, Wedge Co-op, and Whole Foods) were priced on Instacart, and two stores (Target and Trader Joe’s) were priced in-person because they were not on Instacart.

The locations for the in-store prices were the Target in the Quarry (1650 New Brighton Blvd) and the Trader Joe’s in Downtown East (721 S Washington Ave). All prices were from April 1, 2019 and do include some sale prices. This was before Amazon will lower some prices at Whole Foods, which is slated for Wednesday, April 3.

In my research, I noticed that prices sometimes varied between online and in-store. For example, Target’s Market Pantry™ Skim Milk was priced at $1.99 online, but in-store it was priced at $1.75. More research would be needed to price items both online and in-store.

Savvy Shopper Apples

Aldi has the lowest price on apples. Check out all the data.

When I was growing up, we bought apples by the pound, adding to plastic film bags and tying with wire twist ties. Now apples are mostly packaged in bags with a set weight. Some stores do not have scales, such as Trader Joe’s. It can be confusing for the shopper when some large-sized apples are priced per each and small apples are priced per bag of three pounds or so.

I looked at prices per pound. For three stores, this meant that I had to stick with a three-pound bag, but Cub and others have regular prices per pound. I often found the cheapest variety of apples was the humble Red Delicious, but some stores didn’t offer that variety, and for those I include the cheapest price available.

Aldi comes out the winner, where you can pick up a three-pound bag of Red Delicious for $1.06 per pound. Cub, Lunds & Byerlys, and Whole Foods tied for the most expensive apples, at $1.99 per pound for Red Delicious.

Savvy Shopper Navel Oranges

Fresh Thyme has the lowest price on Navel Oranges. Check out all the data.

Navel Oranges was an unexpectedly different ranking than apples. Fresh Thyme appears to have a firesale on them because you can pick up a four-pound bag for $0.75 a pound. Compared to Wedge Co-op, where the price is $2.39 a pound, more than three times the price.

Savvy Shopper Chicken Breast

Aldi has the lowest price on Chicken Breast. Check out all the data.

Chicken breast can be dicey for finding comparable items. Most chicken is raised without antibiotics, but there can be vegetarian-fed, free range, animal welfare-rated, and other differentiators. For this index, I went with the lowest price the store offered for chicken breast.

Whole Foods Chicken Closeup

Whole Foods in Downtown Minneapolis. Photo: Author

Aldi again had the lowest price, with their five-pound package priced at $1.89 a pound. Wedge Co-op was the most, where Kadejan Boneless & Skinless Chicken Breast was a whopping $7.99 a pound. I looked up the company, and it appears there is nothing special about the chicken. It’s antibiotic-free, all-natural, “air chilled” meat from chickens raised in a feedlot.

Kadejan Chickens

Chickens feeding at a Kadejan facility. Photo: Kadejan Inc.

Savvy Shopper Milk

Target has the lowest price on Skim Milk. Check out all the data.

For skim milk, I was very surprised by Fresh Thyme. They only offer a half gallon of skim milk from “certified pasture grazed cows”, which increased the price to $3.99 for a half gallon, $7.98 per gallon. If you are a shopper at Fresh Thyme, I would be interested in your comments on milk. Do they offer different options in-store versus what is available on Instacart?

One of the in-store prices I found was for Target’s skim milk. A very basic gallon runs at $1.75 in-store, but a nearly-identical gallon online runs for $1.99. I wonder if online prices are attempting to recoup the losses on the low delivery fees for ordering. What is your experience?

Savvy Shopper Eggs

Target has the lowest prices on eggs. Check out all the data.

Finally, we have the all-American dozen eggs. Target has the lowest price on eggs, at $1.49 for a dozen extra large eggs. Aldi is just $0.10 more, while the Wedge Co-op is tops out at $4.99 for conventional eggs that are not organic.

Indexing the Index

I had all my data in a spreadsheet, so I set about creating a simple equally-weighted average of prices. I first weighted each price by that category’s lowest option, then added and normalized to a scale of 100 for the lowest price. You can see this in the formula in the Index column on the All Data sheet.

And without further ado, the final results:

Store Index
Aldi 116
Target 141
Costco 142
Trader Joe’s 143
Cub Foods 153
Lunds & Byerlys 186
Fresh Thyme 197
Whole Foods 216
Wedge Co-op 297

Aldi came in as the lowest-cost store, with prices on average only 16% more than the lowest price. Whole Foods came in as the second-highest price, with the average item more than double in cost as its lowest-price competitor, but the high-cost crown goes to the Wedge Co-op.

Of course this is a very basic index with an arbitrary basket of goods. But it provides a starting place for you to think about your own shopping habits and where you could save on your basket of goods.

Whole Foods Aisle

Whole Foods in Downtown Minneapolis. Photo: Author

If you are so inclined, check your last big grocery receipt. Make a list of easily comparable items like the ones we used and make your own spreadsheet comparing prices on Instacart, Amazon Prime, or in-person in-store. If you want to weight to create an index of your basket, I would recommend weighting by how much you spent in each category on your last receipt. If you bought 20 pounds of oranges and 1 pounds of apples, you will likely want the index weighted more towards oranges.

Living near the grocery store

One critical issue for many renters is the cost of living near a grocery store. Food deserts like North Minneapolis make it difficult to buy affordable food without a personal vehicle.

To study the relationship between apartment rents and grocery store locations, I collected data for 36 grocery stores in or just near Minneapolis or St. Paul. The store brands were the same as those I researched for price data, and the apartment rent averages were from Rentometer.com, with searches set at 1-bedroom apartments within 2.00 miles of the grocery store street address. You can access all the data here.

Grocery Store Map

Map of 36 grocery stores in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area. Check out all the data here.

From the average rent for a 1-bedroom within 2.00 miles, I averaged the average rent across locations of a store brand to give an average for that store brand. When we compare this data to the price index data collected earlier, there is a weak regression between the two sets of data.

Store Brand Rentometer Average Rent Cost Index
Aldi $967 116
Costco $1,117 142
Cub Foods $1,069 153
Fresh Thyme $1,136 197
Lunds & Byerlys $1,275 186
Trader Joe’s $1,229 141
Target $1,081 143
Wedge Co-op $1,237 297
Whole Foods $1,168 216
Cost Index Vs. Rentometer Average Rent

The cost of housing generally increases with the cost of groceries. Check out all the data here.

This is of course a chicken-and-egg problem, where grocery brand locate where they can capture more of the market for their wares, but also rents increase near popular shopping.

The bottom line: if you both are looking to save on groceries and save on rent, locating near an Aldi is a good proposition. If you have a personal vehicle, you can commute from a low-rent area to a Costco or a Trader Joe’s.

If you are inclined to spend the most on groceries and rent, then you could move to 2015 Lyndale Ave S, where the average rent for a 1-bedroom is $1412, and you are within a short walk to the Wedge Co-op.

Where do you shop for groceries? What’s the best local deal that you have seen recently? What do you pay for rent near your grocery store? Share your finds in the comments!

23 thoughts on “Affordability: Shopping at and Living Near Grocery Stores

    1. Monte Castleman

      My sister will drive to multiple stores a week (Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Fresh Thyme, and Festival) depending on what they have on sale or which item is “better at that store”. I’ll drive to Walmart once a week and buy everything for the next week at once. I checked the prices at Walmart to compare to the article, and they’re not the lowest for anything but they’e in the bottom 2 or 3, they’re close than Aldi, and I can get socks, light bulbs, pens, etc the same trip if I need them. We’ve given up trying to understand each other’s grocery shopping philosophy.

  1. J

    Trader Joe’s in St. Paul is my go to.

    I own a duplex and rent out a 2/1 unit for $1020 that is a 1.5 mile round trip from TJs, so it’s moderately walkable but not great. TJs is not a friendly walk if you live north of Randolph because your only option is Lexington to cross Ayd Mill. This stretch lacks a median or any type of decent buffer from the traffic, and it’s also steep.

    Biking to TJs isn’t too bad.

    I also visit the Aldi on Ruth St. quite a bit on my way back from work. Big savings – I notice quite a few of my colleagues shop there as well. My workplace is a major employer very close to this Ruth St. Aldi.

  2. Karl

    With Whole Foods allegedly lowering prices this month and an Aldi under construction 4 blocks away, I do not envy the challenges staring down the Wedge right now. Would be really cool to see them partner with a developer to put a 5+1 in that spot and have a nice cash boost.

  3. Serafina ScheelSerafina Scheel

    After having lived in a food desert for a long time, I’m happy to have Fresh Thyme nearby (and yes, I can verify they have reasonably priced milk, around $2.49 for a gallon of whole milk).

    There’s not a great way other than the “basket of goods” to compare grocery store prices, and that has its limitations. At least for shoppers like me who buy different things at different stores. Aldi = staples. FT = produce. Seward Coop = bulk and specialty. Aldi also wins for speed.

    I don’t get the whole grocery delivery thing. I like picking out my own groceries and wouldn’t pay someone to do it. Then again, I don’t often pay anyone to cook for me, either.

  4. Rosa

    We end up shopping at a lot of different stores, because they carry different things.

    I tend to buy some stuff wherever it’s cheapest but a lot of things literally only come from a few places. I keep trying to keep shopping trips down to one a week but I’ve never achieved it – in the last two weeks we’ve shopped at Aldi, United Noodle, Seward Coop, and would have ended up at one of the neighborhood corner stores except an actual neighbor had brown sugar on hand and gave us some. Oh and probably my husband went to the Lunds near his work for breakfast or lunch supplies at least once.

  5. Mark

    I’m in Northeast Minneapolis and shop primarily at Eastside Food Co-op and the Quarry Cub for different things, as several others have noted. I haven’t done a specific price comparison, but both are close enough for me to walk to (about 3/4 mile each) and I can usually make trips to both in under two hours.

  6. Janne

    I’m a long-time Wedge member and shopper. Admittedly, I’m not the most price-sensitive one.

    My grocery goals are 1) walking distance from my home, 2) supporting the growth of local and secondarily organic food production, 3) produce that tastes good enough it’s worth spending money on a.k.a. no Red Delicious apples, 4) food in quantities that a single person can consume them before they go bad.

    The list of things you got bears almost no resemblance to my carts. I primarily buy bulk goods and produce. I’m curious how bulk items (spices, beans, rice, flour, sugar, nuts, coffee) would compare across these stores.

    A former roommate always kept a notebook and spreadsheet of prices at the two groceries within 5 blocks of our place. He found that on about half of things, Wedge was less expensive, on the other half Kowalskis was. And on most things, the price differential was substantial.

    1. Janne Flisrand

      And… I’m highly skeptical of that “average rent” number. The sources of those numbers typically over-represent new large buildings, and under-represent older walk-up buildings. New buildings are disproportionately located in Downtown/Uptown (and the Wedge captures both those zones). Older walk-up buildings are also disproportionately located in Whittier, the Wedge, Stevens Square, and Loring Park (and again, the Wedge captures all those zones).

      I’d never say this is the most affordable corner of town – it’s NOT – and I’m often stymied by the mismatch between what data says about the costs of this corner of town and what I see as I research the market for renting out my own older walk-up building.

    2. Jeb RachJeb Rach

      As someone who often shops at Mississippi Market Co-op (on the other side of the river) I’ll agree that the prices listed here (which come from Instacart, based on the article) aren’t the best reflection on what you can get at the store or for what prices.

      Bulk food I’ve found to be decently priced at the co-op. Coffee is often an especially good deal, as is honey (we use a lot of honey in our apartment, and Mississippi Market has some of the best deals on honey I’ve found, and it’s locally-sourced as well.) I’ve also found their fresh produce selection is higher-quality. I also like that I can buy eggs “in bulk” (we often don’t get quite through a 12-pack before it starts to go bad, so I can buy 8 at 30c/egg instead of a 12-pack that gets 2-4 eggs thrown out.) Their pricing on other items is generally competitive in the category it competes in – it’s not going to have the absolute cheapest eggs, or ground beef, or cheese, but they’re usually in line with other grass-fed/locally raised/etc. options, which I value.

      Certainly the bulk of my shopping is at Aldi due to price, especially on shelf-stable items (their organic selection is increasing as well, which is nice) but the co-op has other factors that have me purchasing certain items there instead.

      1. Rosa

        spices and perishables like salad mix are often cheapest at the coop just because you can buy very, very small amounts. Aldi has gotten amazing for produce, though.

        1. Jim B

          We end up shopping throughout the week at a few different stores. I like The Wedge because they have a drop off for organic waste. I suspect their prices are very good on bulk items such as flours, coffee and spices. I appreciate buying bulk items without the extra packaging and marketing. Lastly, I trust that they choose suppliers who are having a positive impact on our regional economy and ecology.

  7. Rosa

    we talk a lot about food in terms of walk/bikeability and affordability, but what about clothing? The Lake Street Savers closing is going to force me to drive at least once every couple months, depending how fast my kid outgrows his clothes. The Lake Street Target seems to have committed to just not carrying plus sized clothes for women, too. We’re going to end up out in New Brighton or Brooklyn Park for all our clothes shopping.

  8. Andrew Evans

    That map is missing the HyVee’s in New Hope and Robbinsdale, as well as the SoLow in North Mpls.

    That said for what we cook and where we are economically, we usually go to HyVee in Robbinsdale, Hackenmueller meats, and then others as needed or as convenient. I think my partner is a member at some local co-op place, or at least shops at one on their way back from yoga or whatever they do.

    For me it’s way easier to keep trips down to one place, and right now HyVee seems to have enough of what we need. I do enough with data and spreadsheets at work, and it doesn’t sound fun at all to spend time tracking differences between different stores, then go on to make two lists and make two trips. Just not my thing at all.

    1. Cay See

      HyVee Robbinsdale is a disgusting taxpayer subsidized store that never should have been built. #ThanksReganMurphy

      1. Andrew Evans

        It’s a great benefit to the area and to North Minneapolis and is giving more options for people to shop than only Cub or smaller neighborhood stores. Way more useful than the large empty parking lot and buildings that were there.

  9. d

    1) You are at times comparing regular prices with organics. Comparing apples and oranges so to speak, and the taste is totally different. Good chicken almost melts in mouth, factory chicken is like rubber. Try in-season organic sweet corn versus non-organic, and you’ll taste the diff.
    2) As someone’s pointed out, expensive fancy new apartments skew the data. There’s older, funkier places to balance rent out averages.
    3) The psychological and physical difference of shopping at Cub’s vast realm of flourescent lights and packaged processed goods gives me a migraine, versus a trip to the co-op where it’s human scale, know people, recognize staff, or even smaller to places like Guse’s Green goods on Bryant, or Bill’s Imported Foods on Lake, or Midtown Market or farmer’s market vendors. If I’m short a quarter, I’m good for it, as opposed to the bored checkout gal who impatiently waits for me to choose something to subtract from my purchases.
    4) Follow the money—Aldi’s money goes where? Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods? Why do we want to give Amazon more of our money? Food grown here for them goes where to get processed and then shipped back here for purchase?

    1. Monte Castleman

      Assuming that the boutique stores don’t stock regular chicken or regular apples, I think it’s a fair comparison. The point of the article is “how cheap can I buy chicken and apples at X store” not “is the extra cost of organics worth the money”. Not everyone wants to pay for organic or can even taste the difference. Honestly I can’t tell the difference between the “super deluxe local organic free-range sustainable farmer-reads-a-bedtime-story-to-them” chicken t that my sister buys at Whole Foods vs the “chicken” that I buy at Walmart.

      Whole Foods found that out when they expanded into low income areas and tried unsuccessfully to try to teach poor people that they should be buying expensive food because “it’s a better value” People wanted the best price on food, not the best price on expensive food.

      1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

        There are lots of reasons to buy local and/or organic, but no one should fool themselves into thinking they can taste the difference at equivalent freshness or prepared the same.

  10. Ralf Thompsen

    About all I took away from this article is that affluent people often choose to spend more money on rent and groceries. I think I might have already known that.

  11. Wilj

    I would actually be really curious to see this same exercise done with organic food – and especially curious to see which retailers simply do not have organic choices for many of the items at all..

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