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Comparing Grocery Store Chains (From A Vegan Perspective)


Sedona, Arizona

January 23, 2021


I'll admit that finding a Whole Foods on my walkabout is a big deal for me. While their prepared food selection is significantly reduced due to Covid, they still have a wide enough selection to make my taste buds and waist happy. Their nickname of "Whole Paychecks" is well-deserved; I usually supplement my WH purchases with staples from Wal Mart or Target.

My observation is that there are more grocery store chains in the West that are targeting health-conscious customers. Two chains that I've seen out here are Sprouts and Natural Grocers -- in addition to Whole Foods.

I'm surprised that a town the size of Sedona has both a Whole Foods and a Natural Grocers. Today, I browsed through the Natural Grocers, the first store of theirs that I have been in. It reminded me a bit of a Aldi -- smaller footprint than most grocery stores and a very basic interior, e.g., concrete floors. It seemed as though 1/4 of the store was dedicated to vitamins and supplements. I never can decided whether I should believe those things are good for me or whether they are a racket. I did buy some multi-vitamins.

I found this interesting article from a Google search. While the article is focused on vegans, I still found the discussion to be informative.

The title of the article is "Which Grocery Store Chains Are Best For Vegans."

Few things are as overwhelming as finding a good grocery store for all your vegan needs. Hundreds of chains, thousands of aisles, and a million different products… where do you even start!? I’ll tell you: with this guide to finding the best grocery store for vegans! We’ll go over the pros/cons of each store plus a giant price comparison!

Here’s the deal:

I’ve worked a combined 5 years in health-food stores… all as a vegan. I know the ins-and-outs of a good vegan grocery store better than the average customer.i

Let’s:

Dispel the myths,

Clarify misconceptions, and

Figure out which grocery store is best for vegans.


First, I’ll break it down into the benefits and drawbacks of each store. Best of all, I’ll have a giant price comparison at the end to help you decide which store is the best!

Today we’ll be comparing:

Whole Foods,

Sprouts Farmers Market,

Trader Joe’s,

Natural Grocers,

Albertsons,

Kroger,

Target,

Costco,

Walmart,


To find the best grocery store for vegans.

To make everything easy, I’ll break this huge post into two sections: “The Health Food Stores” and “The Normies”. After all, everyone deserves to eat healthy, no matter what stores you have access to!

Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is meant to be purely educational. I do not claim to represent any of the companies, I can only make observations from the outside. Furthermore, I don’t guarantee the prices or data represented in this post… The grocery industry is a constantly changing beast.

The Health Food Store Comparison:


Whole Foods- The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


It almost seems illegal to not shop at Whole Foods as a vegan! With their 8 feet of Kombucha, endless meat-alternatives, and enough vegan dessert to last a lifetime… Any foodie would be in heaven!

Reasons I Love Whole Foods

The Atmosphere

One step into Whole Foods and you feel like a celebrity. No joke! This is pretty much their entire business model; “Make Organic, Local, and Green Living “Cool”. They totally succeed!

Whole Initiatives

Whole Foods donates thousands of dollars to local communities through programs such as Whole Planet, Whole Kids, and Whole Cities.

These are aimed to:

Support and develop partnerships with third-world communities

Provide education to improve children’s health and wellness

Improve access to fresh food and wellness education in under-served communities


Strict Ingredient Control

Whole Foods is also very strict about what ingredients they’ll sell in their stores, which is awesome! You can find the complete list of banned ingredients here.

Things That Bother Me About Whole Foods

Prices

You feel like a celebrity… and you’re gonna pay like one too! That’s just the name of the game. If you expect elegant, trendy, chic realness, you’re gonna pay for it at checkout.

No Refrigerated Bulk

Although their bulk department is righteous, it is not refrigerated. I’ve never had an issue, but nuts and other products with natural oils will go rancid faster for this reason.

What to Get at Whole Foods

Specialty, hard-to-find items

Bulk

Things to Avoid at Whole Foods

Overpriced grocery items


Where to Find Vegan Options at Whole Foods

Whole Foods is (thankfully) only health-foods… So you won’t have to dig through garbage to find your product.

Vegan products are integrated throughout the store, in their respective departments.



Sprouts – The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


Oh, Sprouts.. you crazy cross somewhere between Albertsons and Whole Foods. Pick a side, why don’t ya!

Reasons I Love Sprouts

Cheap Organic Produce

Sprouts kills it with their consistently cheap organic produce selection. Over half the department is on sale at any given time!

Great Sales

Sprouts has “Extravaganza sales” about 4 times a year for each department. During each sale (ie: “Vitamin Extravaganza”), the entire department is 25% off! This kind of sale can’t be beaten!

(With this, you also get disgusting sales like the “Buffalo Stampede”… As if the buffalos stampeded themselves to death just for the 15% off sale. GAG!)

Easy to Find

With over 250 stores across the US, chances are there’s a Sprouts near you!

Things That Bother Me About Sprouts

ALWAYS Busy

Sprouts caters to too wide an audience, in my opinion. This clogs the aisles with agitated moms, the local soccer club, and every other Tom, Dick, and Harry in town.

(Most of which don’t give a rat’s ass about veganism, organic, natural or green living.)


No Ingredient Control

Sprouts doesn’t have a list of ingredients they promise not to sell, like most other health food stores.

What does this mean?

You could end up with Nutella next to the organic maple syrup and MSG in your deli meat.

In fact, their website only has vague references to “Responsible Retailing”, “Gluten-Free” and “Natural Living”.

Plastic Bags at Checkout

While countless stores (and even states!) have all banned plastic bags, Sprouts is still happily giving them away by the truckload. Worst of all is the eye-roll you get from the cashier when you ask for paper.

Unsanitary and Unrefrigerated Bulk

Just like Whole Foods, Sprouts uses unrefrigerated bulk as well. Even worse, sprouts doesn’t use gravity bins like most other stores (the tubes with a lever on the bottom). Instead, you have a giant bin with a scoop inside to grab your stuff.

Most people aren’t bothered, I guess… I’m really just not a fan of hoards of people fingering my food before I buy it.

Supports Autism Speaks

This blatant grab for a tax-write off makes my blood boil every year.

If you weren’t aware, Autism Speaks:

Funds animal testing,

Refuses to allow people with Autism on their board of directors,

Compares Autism to AIDS, and

Paid their highest-earning executive more than $600,000 in one year.


Who knows why Sprouts chooses to support such a company when plenty of humane alternatives exist.

Worst of All: Price Shadiness

Remember those sales we mentioned earlier?

Keep an eye on the prices before and after: Sprouts has a habit of raising all the “base” prices the morning of a sale to make it seem like a better deal.

Shady Sprouts!

What to Get at Sprouts

Cheap produce

Bulk


Things to Avoid at Sprouts

Overpriced grocery items


Where to Find Vegan Options at Sprouts?

Vegan products are integrated throughout the store, in their respective departments.


Trader Joe’s – The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


Reasons I Love Trader Joe’s

Employee Friendliness

Trader Joe’s employees are hands-down the kindest I’ve experienced.

Why is this?

TJ’s purposefully over-staffs their stores… This eliminates the excuse of being “too busy” for customer service.

For example, see something new you want to try? Ask, and the employee could rip the bag open right there for you.

The customer truly is #1 at Trader Joe’s.

Clean, Organized Stores

Because of this over-staffing, TJ’s stores always seem to be tidy. When other stores are scrambling to recoup after a rush, Trader Joe’s has the extra hands to cover it.

Things That Bother Me About Trader Joe’s

Almost 100% Private Label

Now, don’t get me wrong: we love a good private label deal (more on that later..).

What don’t we like?

Being tricked into buying Pepsi Co. products simply because Trader Joe’s slapped their label on the bottle.

I love private labels, but I don’t like unknowingly supporting companies I don’t agree with.

Stores Too Small

Now, this doesn’t seem to be an issue in states like California.. But here in Arizona?

Our stores are tiny, corner shops… And that would be fine if they weren’t packed wall to wall.

Good on ya, TJ’s for being so popular, but good lord! I’ve walked in just to turn right around because of the crowds and lines.

What to Get at Trader Joe’s

Cheap grocery items


Things to Avoid at Trader Joe’s

Overpriced produce

Heavy reliance on plastic (especially for produce)


Where to Find Vegan Options at Trader Joe’s? Vegan products are integrated throughout the store, in their respective departments.



Natural Grocers – The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


To be honest, I just discovered Natural Grocers in 2018… and I’ve fallen in love!

Reasons I Love Natural Grocers

100% Organic Produce

That’s right! With completely organic produce there’s no fear of cross-contamination.

Cheaper Grocery Items

I was blown away at how much cheaper the Natural Grocers grocery department is! Everything is at least $.50 cheaper than the other stores.

Refrigerated and Sealed Bulk

Like I mentioned earlier, nuts and other bulk items have oils that go rancid. Not at Natural Grocers! All their heat-sensitive bulk is kept in a cooler so spoilage is never a problem. Definitely helpful here in the desert!

Bagless Checkout

While most health food stores have at least banned plastic (*cough* get with it, Sprouts!), Natural Grocers has completely bagless checkouts!

Don’t worry if you forget your reusable bag, though! They give away used shipping boxes to help get your groceries home.

Reduce, Reuse, and Recyyyyyyyyyycle!!

Free Cooking/Health Seminars

Every month, Natural Grocers offers 4-6 health or cooking related classes. They even have a huge Demo Kitchen in every single location, talk about dedication to education!

Independent Lab Testing on Supplements

If you look at their logo closely (go ahead, I’ll wait!), you’ll notice the little “Vitamin Cottage” logo up top.

This isn’t a coincidence, they actually started as a supplement company! Staying true to their roots, they now conduct independent lab testing on the supplements they sell.

This means you can know the product:

Is what the label says it is,

Has the correct dosage listed, and

Isn’t contaminated with weeds/other cheap matter to save a buck

Rewards Program

Natural Grocers is the only health food store I’ve found that offers a rewards program, just for shopping! You enter your phone number at checkout, and the program tracks all your points. Certain levels get you discounts off of your entire cart, so shop up!

Ingredient Control

Thankfully, Natural Grocers has a long list of ingredients they will not allow in any of their vitamins, health and beauty products, or grocery aisles. This saves you from the nightmare of accidentally buying something with artificial colors or formaldehyde (yikes!).

Things That Bother Me About Natural Grocers

No “Real” Bulk Section

Unfortunately for the zero-waste vegans, Natural Grocers is not the place for you.

Their bulk section is refrigerated (yaaay!) in plastic packages (nooo!). It really depends on what you’re buying, but sometimes the cost savings are worth it.

No “Real” Departments

Natural Grocers is definitely a unique grocery store… That’s for sure!

Their stores lack any real departments, ie: meat (thank goodness), bakery, deli, etc.

This means your selection of ready-to-go foods is limited, and freshly baked bread isn’t a thing.

100% Organic Produce

In the same way that the bulk has a drawback, the produce department does too. Having 100% organic is astounding. I love not having to worry about cross-contamination!

Why would this bother me?

We eat more of a “Dirty Dozen” vs “Clean Fifteen“ diet, rather than strictly organic… Especially when comparing price differences.

In short, if you want a cheap, non-organic avocado, you’re out of luck at Natural Grocers.

Small Private Label Selection


I’m not quite sure why, but Natural Grocer’s private label is still pretty lacking! They’ve finally added their own brand of beans, pasta sauce, etc.. But compared to other store brands these seem a bit expensive.

What to Get at Natural Grocers

Cheaper private-label grocery items

Cheap bagged “bulk”

Specialty items not sold at other health-food stores (Raw cocoa butter, anyone?)


Things to Avoid at Natural Grocers

Name-brand, marked-up grocery items


Where to Find Vegan Options at Natural Grocers?

Vegan products are integrated throughout the store, in their respective departments.


“The Normies” Vegan Grocery Store Comparison:


Albertsons – The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


With over 2,200+ locations, there’s bound to be an Albertsons near you!

Reasons I love Albertsons

With plenty of locations, and a generous offering of organic and natural products: Albertsons is definitely a competitor to watch out for.

Things That Bother Me About Albertsons

You’re gonna see this time and time again: but plastic bags are the default choice for Albertsons.

Am I surprised?

Not really, but I’d be over-the-moon with whichever mainstream grocer takes the leap first.

Another thing that bothers me?

If you compare prices, you can tell Albertsons definitely charges more per item than competitors. This includes health-food stores and the normies alike!

What to Get at Albertsons

Anything you have to


Things to Avoid at Albertsons

Anything you can avoid. Albertsons was the most expensive option out of the 10 stores.


Where to Find Vegan Options at Albertsons?

Unfortunately, natural and vegan products aren’t segregated in Albertsons. This means you have to wander down every aisle, sorting through junk products to find what you’re searching for.


Kroger – The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


Frys, Ralphs, Smiths… You name it, it’s probably a Kroger store!

Reasons I Love Kroger

Accessibility

If you thought Sprouts had a lot of locations, hold on to your britches. Kroger has a whopping 3,010 stores.

You read that right: over 3,000.

What does this mean?

Even when you can’t find a single health food store, chances are there’s a Kroger nearby.

Are these considered health food stores? No.

That being said, they’ve done a really good job of incorporating vegan and organic options throughout the stores. You won’t have to sacrifice much of your grocery list at Kroger!

Things That Bother Me About Kroger

Plastic bags,

Way too mainstream,

Sorting through garbage products and ingredients


What to Get at Kroger

Cheap produce

Decently priced grocery items


Things to Avoid at Kroger

Overpriced specialty items


Where to Find Vegan Options at Kroger?

Luckily, Kroger segregates its natural products within one section of their stores. This makes it extremely easy to get in, find what you need, and get out.


Target- The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


If we keep mentioning locations; Target cannot be forgotten. Coast-to-coast, there are over 1,800 locations.

Reasons I Love Target

One-stop-shop for more than just groceries; this is Target we’re talking about!

Locations around the US

Getting to avoid the chaos usually associated with Walmart


Things That Bother Me About Target

They’ve been recently called out for raising wages (pleasing the media), but turning around and dramatically cutting hours.

Blastic bags galore, in fact: I don’t believe paper is even an option

Usually too big of a store to walk through when all you need is groceries


What to Get at Target

Just like Albertsons; anything you have to


Things to Avoid at Target

Anything you can avoid. Sure you’ll save time shopping at a one-stop-shop, but you’ll certainly pay more for the convenience.


Where to Find Vegan Options at Target?

Unfortunately, natural and vegan products aren’t segregated in Target. This means you have to wander down every aisle, sorting through junk products to find what you’re searching for.


Costco- The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


Ah, Costco… Some think it’s just for giant families, but it’s worth it when you eat as much peanut butter as we do!

Reasons I Love Costco

Bulk Amounts of the Food You Eat!

We’re talkin’:

Peanut butter,

Organic tortillas,

Hemp seeds,

Chia seeds,

Organic Flour & sugar,

etc. etc.

You can practically get it all at Costco… For a fraction of the price!

Things That Bother Me About Costco

Not Enough Vegan Options

Now, while Costco has some incredible savings on the foods we love… You definitely couldn’t make Costco your one-stop-shop.

The reason?

They simply don’t have enough of the vegan staples to keep our pantries full.

Specifically: anything even vaguely less-mainstream won’t be found.

Is this enough for me to cancel my membership?

Absolutely not. We save so much money on organic frozen fruit alone that Costco pays for itself.

What to Get at Costco

Peanut butter

Frozen Fruit


Things to Avoid at Costco

Anything you don’t need a bulk supply of! You aren’t saving money if it all spoils because you couldn’t eat 50 pounds of oats.


Where to Find Vegan Options at Costco?

Unfortunately, natural and vegan products aren’t segregated in Costco. This means you have to wander down every aisle, skimming past the junk products to find what you’re searching for.


Walmart- The Best Grocery Store for Vegans?


You know ’em, I know ’em… But how does it compare for vegans?

Whether you love or hate Walmart: you can’t deny they’re everywhere.

In fact, I didn’t include Walmart in the original vegan grocery store comparison because of how much I disagree with their business practices.

Why did I include them now?

Someone shattered my naivete by pointing out: Walmart is sometimes the only source of food people have.

I realized some people may not, unfortunately, have a choice in supporting Walmart.

Reasons I Tolerate Walmart

With 4,692 locations in the US: it’s almost guaranteed you have a local wally-world.

Surprisingly large selection of vegan and gluten-free options

Being known for price gouging, Walmart is also one of the cheapest options for a vegan grocery supplier.

In fact, both of these facts prove: veganism is within reach of anyone!


Things That Bother Me About Walmart

I’ll keep it short and sweet,

Walmart is known for:

Killing local businesses

Its disregard for the environment

Poor wages, worker conditions, and animal welfare


What to Get at Walmart

Anything you absolutely have to


Things to Avoid at Walmart

Anything you can avoid.


Where to Find Vegan Options at Walmart?

Unfortunately, natural and vegan products aren’t segregated in Walmart. This means you have to wander down every aisle, skimming past the junk products to find what you’re searching for.

And since it’s a Walmart, bring a map and cell phone in-case you get lost for days.

A Word About “Private Label” Products

Have you ever thought that Whole Foods and Sprouts store-brands were the same company?

Spoiler: They totally are!

One of the biggest misconceptions in the industry regards Private Label (or Store-Brand) products.

That jar of Sprouts brand peanut butter?

Chances are, it’s the same company that makes the Whole Foods 365, Kroger, and Natural Grocers product… that’s just how private labels work!

Grocery chains purchase the pre-made product, slap their label on it, and call it theirs.

Is it misleading? Kind of.

Do I buy it anyway? HELL YES!

Once you see the price comparison, you’ll quickly notice a lot of products that are the same exact price at each location. Most of these are private label products!

Unfortunately, Natural Grocers has a much smaller selection… This is where they really get obliterated by the competitors.


But Which Vegan Grocery Store is the Cheapest!?


Well, our faux shopping trip would cost us:

$68.02 at Albertsons

$67.96 at Kroger

$55.70 at Natural Grocers

$53.97 at Sprouts

$69.06 at Target

$47.18 at Trader Joe’s

$35.35 at Walmart (minus a few items), and

$54.00 at Whole Foods


As you can see, each store varies in price dramatically. What I’ve found is Natural Grocers is usually the most cost-effective (especially if you already buy organic produce), but they can’t compete with Sprouts and Whole Foods private label.

Why is Costco missing a total?

They didn’t have enough on the list for the total to be fairly compared. Just assume for the things you can find it’s gonna be cheaper.


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