Let’s go look at Whole Foods’ new discounts


I traveled about 10 blocks this morning to go see the future of the grocery business.

That, at least, is what Amazon’s hoping to prove with its purchase of Whole Foods. And today for the first time, those two worlds, online and brick-and-mortar, began to morph into one single experience as the Seattle-based digital-retail king’s official residence in the grocery sector began.

Marking the occasion, of course, were the super-hyped lowering of some of the food prices that helped Whole Foods earn its moniker of Whole Paycheck.

I decided to go look for myself at what all this morphing looks like.

Stepping into the shining new Whole Foods on The Alameda near downtown San Jose, the first thing I noticed were bright-yellow stickers that said “SALE.” They were on the organic cantaloupe just outside the door, on the bouquets of fresh flowers, on the strawberries, Hawaiian Pear juices, figs, yellow peaches and green curly kale, all of it wonderfully knocked down in price by the chain’s new and magnanimous new owner.

Or so I thought.

After talking with one of the butchers about the Northern Halibut Fillet, on sale for $22.99 a pound, down from $28.99 a pound, I learned that these discounts had nothing to do with Jeff Bezos’ company. “These are our normal sales,” she said. “They start on Wednesday and run until Tuesday and we rotate the products on sale each cycle.”

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The special Amazon discounts, which started across the chain for the first time today, were the ones marked with the little orange-colored stickers. And while these were outnumbered probably 50 to 1 by the regular “yellow” sales, I did start to find items that were now like little icons representing the marriage of between the online behemoth and its organically-minded grocery conglomerate.

The orange stickers were few and far between, though a cashier told me that each day customers would see more and more of these so-called “WHOLE FOODS + amazon” stickers popping up around the stores.

Poking around, I found specials on the New York Strip ($13.99 a pound vrs. $16.99), the boneless Rib-Eye (ditto) and the organic gala apples ($1.99 vrs. $2.99 with a note that said “More to come!”)

Nationwide, Amazon.com Inc. spent its first day as the owner of a brick-and-mortar grocery chain cutting prices by as much as 43 percent. At one store in Manhattan, organic Fuji apples were marked down to $1.99 a pound from $3.49 a pound; organic avocados went to $1.99 each from $2.79; and the price of an organic rotisserie chicken fell to $9.99 each from $13.99.

As Amazon put it on its website: “STARTING TODAY, Whole Foods Market is offering lower prices on a selection of best-selling staples across its stores, with much more to come. Customers can enjoy lower prices on products like Whole Trade bananas, organic avocados, organic large brown eggs, organic responsibly-farmed salmon and tilapia, organic baby kale and baby lettuce, animal-welfare-rated 85 percent lean ground beef, creamy and crunchy almond butter, organic Gala and Fuji apples, organic rotisserie chicken, 365 Everyday Value organic butter, and much more.”

Everybody, the Amazon marketing team wrote, “should be able to eat Whole Foods Market quality—we will lower prices without compromising Whole Foods Market’s long-held commitment to the highest standards. To get started, we’ve lowered prices on a selection of best-selling grocery staples, including Whole Trade organic bananas, responsibly-farmed salmon, organic large brown eggs, animal-welfare-rated 85 percent lean ground beef, and more.

“And this,” said the website, “is just the beginning—we will make Amazon Prime the customer rewards program at Whole Foods Market and continuously lower prices as  we invent together. There is significant work and opportunity ahead, and we’re thrilled to get started.”

So was I, as I slowly made my way up and down the aisles of a nearly deserted store this Monday morning at 10:30 a.m. While on some aisles (coffee, bread, beer, wine, refrigerated smoked salmon) I couldn’t find a single orange-colored sale sign, they did pop up here and there, though you had to be eagle-eyed to find them.

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I spotted “42 percent Cacao Semi-Sweet Chocolate Chips” on sale for $5.79, down from $6.99. I saw reduced-price Almond Butter but not a single salad dressing with the Amazon-sale sticker. Same with the dog and cat-food section, the tuna aisle and the spice shelf. None of the detergents were marked down, but in the cereal aisle I found Honey Nut Cheerios for $2.99 versus the pre-Amazon price of $3.99 a box.

There were orange stickers on some of the bottled water, on eggs and milk and the Antipasti Bar where you’d get a buck off any order weighing one pound or more. And I found packaged cheddar cheese on sale for $6.99 for 12 ounces.

From there, I traveled 12 more blocks and walked into a deep-discount Grocery Outlet. Not only was it filled with shoppers this morning, but every single item in the entire store as far as I could tell sported a little SALE sign of its own. The store was practically glowing with these little bright-yellow labels. And many of the discounts made the Amazon markdowns seem almost like a joke.

There were bottles of Martinelli’s Blood Orange juice priced at three forIMG_4820

a buck, with the sticker adding “Elsewhere Price: 99 cents,” just in case you doubted this was a killer deal. There were other ludicrously low prices on Trix breakfast cereal and Folgers coffee and Heinz Gravy.

And while Whole Foods was offering organic Gala apples for $1.99 a pound, versus the normal price of $2.99, I found Grocery Outlet selling Red Delicious apples for $2.99 – for three pounds!

And while some of those Red Delicious didn’t look so red or so delicious, they were still a lot cheaper than the Galas being sold by Amazon, er, Whole Foods, up the street.



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