Walking into a Whole Foods Market without a shopping plan is like willingly entering a fugue state and re-emerging very confused an hour later and $200 lighter, with a $20 bag of maca powder in one hand and a $6 kombucha in the other. But if you know what to look for, you’ll find it’s possible to shop and save a few bucks in the process.
We spoke with Kate Neu, the company’s Global Sales & Supplier Marketing Manager, about six little-known, smart-shopping hacks that will keep your wallet fuller when you come out on the other side (spoiler alert: none of them involve maca powder).
1. Ask to Try Anything (Anything!)
Whole Foods has a “try before you buy” policy that you can and should use to your fullest advantage—and it’s not just relegated to the bulk bin aisle. Ask an employee for a sample of just about anything in the store, from a box of cereal to a bottled drink, and they’ll let you try it right in the store. If you’re really lucky and/or persuasive, they might even offer to let you take the full product home.
2. Ask for Items Hand-Cut
The cheese, meat, and seafood counters at Whole Foods are great because you can buy exactly the amount you want and no one will blink an eye if you ask for “four shrimp.” And just the same way, you can also ask for half a cabbage (or squash, or watermelon) and a team member will hand-cut it for you in the store. It’s a nice option to have when your alternative is to let half a cabbage low-key rot in your fridge because you only used half of it for that one recipe that one time. We should note this is on a case by case basis (i.e. they’re not going to let you buy half an apple), but it’s definitely worth asking about if you don’t want to lug home a monster squash.
3. Hack the Salad Bar
Look past the sea of colorful grain salads (and those weirdly addictive potato samosas) at any Whole Foods salad bar and you’ll find a section of plain ingredients like sliced bell peppers, celery, and cherry tomatoes. This section of the salad bar is your secret best friend when you need to buy just a little bit of an ingredient for a recipe, so you don’t end up buying a whole head of celery you don’t need just so you can use ¼ cup in a dish. Just remember you pay by the pound, so this is probably not the place to pick up something like cooked rice, which is heavy.
4. Cash In on Bones and Shells
Ask the butchers and fishmongers if you can take home bones or shells, which many locations can give to customers for free. That means you can make liquid-gold Toasted Garlic-Beef Stock or Back-Burner Stock from literally nothing. And some Whole Foods butcher and seafood counters sell cheap, pre-packaged bones and shells for a tiny fraction of the cost of a steak or a whole fish.
5. Go for the Case
Whole Foods will automatically give you a 10% discount on most anything you buy by the case, from a pack of Larabars to a case of wine (fun fact: 350 out of 439 stores nationally sell wine). If you’re buying something you know you love and will restock in the future, spring for the case.
6. Be a (Digital) Coupon Clipper
So you’re never going to sit down with a stack of coupons and clip away on a weekend afternoon. That’s where the Whole Foods Market mobile app comes in. The app shows you what’s on sale at your local store, but it also shows you coupons you might otherwise miss out on for things like $5 off $20 of produce, or $5 off fresh or frozen meat. All you need to do when you’re shopping is pull out your phone and scan an app-generated barcode at the register to cash in on all of the sales and coupons being offered at that moment. Neu says the app will become more personalized to individual shoppers in the future—so if you’re someone who likes to hit up the salad bar three times a week, you might start seeing more salad bar deals.