Price check: Is Whole Foods now the most affordable grocery store in Vancouver?

We investigate if rising grocery prices has caused a shift among chains. | Brendan Kergin/V.I.A.

Whole Foods has always had a reputation for having the most expensive groceries—its nickname "Whole Paycheque" speaks for itself. But the rising cost of food might be levelling the playing field when it comes to the Amazon-owned chain.

These days, grocery prices likely feel unaffordable no matter where they're purchased.

In December 2022, Statistics Canada revealed that while inflation had slowed to 6.8 per cent and costs for gasoline and furniture had cooled, grocery prices continued to climb at a faster annual rate. Overall, Grocery prices were up 9.8 per cent last year compared with 2021, the fastest pace since 1981. People have even resorted to shoplifting food.

We investigated three Vancouver grocery stores to see if this trend was affecting all stores equally. Does the Amazon effect allow Whole Foods to keep its prices consistent while competitors raise prices or announce freezes on house brand items (after price hikes and record profits)?

Sort of.

Price comparison: Whole Foods, Save-On, No Frills in Vancouver

We visited Whole Foods, Save-On, and No Frills stores, all located in the Broadway-Cambie area, to compare prices on 13 commonly purchased grocery items and were surprised to discover that in a few areas, Whole Foods was actually cheaper.

As is the case with most grocery items, it depends on what you're buying and where. No Frills was consistently the cheapest place to buy groceries and the No Name branded items were more affordable than any other brand.

Save-On was middling across the board, at times more expensive than Whole Foods and sometimes on par. Only once (for eggs) was it the cheapest place to shop.

Whole Foods was the most affordable when it came to produce. Iceberg lettuce, red bell peppers, and cauliflower were the same price, if not cheaper, than at No Frills and appeared to be bigger (in the case of iceberg lettuce) or in better shape (in the case of cauliflower).

It's also worth noting that while the final "bill" for Whole Foods was cheaper than Save-On it's only by a difference of $8.90.

That said, there are a few caveats. The first is the difference in weight of certain products. For instance, spaghetti is $3.99 for a 500g bag at Whole Foods and the same price for a 900g bag at Save-On (No Frills is $1.79 for 900g). Your bill might look the same but you're getting less at Whole Foods for this item. 

Additionally, there are fewer brand options at Whole Foods which limits the affordability of certain items. 

The second caveat is price matching.

No Frills and Save-On both offer in-store price matching on competitors' flyer prices. If you're willing to line up at customer service or spend more time talking through your purchases at the till you can get iceberg lettuce for $2.99 at Save-On. Whole Foods does not offer price matching. 

If you're not keen on price matching, the best way to get affordable groceries in Vancouver is to shop around. Do your research, make a list, and be prepared to hit up multiple stores.

The grocery list breakdown

Iceberg lettuce

  • Whole Foods - $2.99
  • Save-On - $5.99
  • No Frills - $3.99

Red bell pepper

  • Whole Foods - $4.99//lb
  • Save-On - $5.49/lb
  • No Frills - $4.99/lb

Cauliflower

  • Whole Foods - $5.99
  • Save-On - $6.99
  • No Frills - $5.99

1L 2% Milk

  • Whole Foods - $2.79
  • Save-On - $2.79
  • No Frills - $2.69

1lb Salted butter

  • Whole Foods -  $7.99
  • Save-On - $7.49
  • No Frills - $8.19

500g Peanut butter

  • Whole Foods - $5.99
  • Save-On - $5.29 (Western Family was $5.89)
  • No Frills - $3.49

Dozen eggs*

  • Whole Foods - cheapest $5.99
  • Save-On - cheapest $5.29
  • No Frills - $7.49

*Whole Foods and Save-On had the same brand of eggs available but priced at $7.49 and $6.29 regular respectively.

Whole wheat bread

  • Whole Foods - $4.99
  • Save-On - $2.99
  • No Frills - $1.99

Spaghetti

  • Whole Foods - $3.99 for 500g
  • Save-On - $3.99 for 900g
  • No Frills $1.79 for 900g

Annie’s boxed mac and cheese*

  • Whole Foods - $3.69
  • Save-On - $3.79
  • No Frills - $2.99

*Kraft Dinner isn't available at Whole Foods but it is priced at $1.99 at Save-On and $1.59 at No Frills.

1kg Flour

  • Whole Foods - $7.99
  • Save-On - $5.89
  • No-Frills - $2.49

Rice

  • Whole Foods - $8.99 for 907g
  • Save-On - $3.49 for 907g
  • No Frills - $4.49 for 2kg

Chicken Breast

  • Whole Foods - $11.99/lb
  • Save-On - $9.99/lb
  • No Frills - $7.22/lb

Totals:

  • Whole Foods - $78.37
  • Save-On - $69.47
  • No Frills - $57.80

With files from Canadian Press.