There are two major players (I am talking big-box type stores) in the “Natural” and “Organic” game in Portland–New Seasons and Whole Foods. From the outside they do not seem too much different, and I bet for most people, the assumption is that they sell the same stuff and are around the same price. That is what I thought too, but there are differences. I feel lucky to be able to even have this conversation–comparing 2 very large stores that cater to natural foods, where most cities in this country would be lucky to have one of these companies represented. The focus of this post is on fruit and vegetables at each of the stores, and some overall thoughts on the shopping experience. Beyond fruits and veggies, of course, are all the other items you may need, but I will only focus on the fresh produce here.
Vegetables: I get stressed out in the salad area at New Seasons (the one on 12th and Dvision, and the one on Hawthorne). It seems cramped and small, and inevitably there is an employee stocking the greens, a lady with a kid in her cart trying to get in there, and a very large moose grazing his way through the greens. OK, no moose, but its still a tight area. NS stocks organic loose leaf greens (salad mix and spinach) in the plastic containers, $4.99 for a pound. We decide to go with the self service greens, to try something new. They are $6.99/lb. Expensive, but the freshness is obvious, and they are nice and clean, so no need to wash. Other greens on offer are Green leaf, romaine, iceberg, and red butter lettuce…all $1.99 each. We tend to not buy them very often just for the inconvenience of cutting and washing. We bought some kale (great sautéed on the stove, cut up, with some sea salt) for $2.49. Broccoli is $1.49 a lb, that’s about right. Bell peppers in all colors are $3.99/lb, we got 2 big peppers and it was $4.54! A bit too expensive for my liking. fat cucumbers are 99cents each, very reasonable. Small mushrooms are $4.99lb, they have packaged oyster mushrooms for $4.99 a package. Asparagus is in season right now, for some fat stalks, it is $4.99lb. We like the cherry tomatoes for convenience, they are $2.99 a small container. Carrots are $2.50 a bunch. Beets ($2.99/lb), cabbage ($1.99 each), rutabaga ($2.49/lb) and celery are all available of course. All of the vegetables are organic.
Fruit: The fruit is well presented at New Seasons but is spread out in such a manner that makes it easy to forget something. There are tables that need to be walked around, and a figure 8 approach seems to work best to make sure that nothing mis missed. The way they stack it here, every nook and cranny is filled, so it would be easy to miss an obscure fruit. A 2lb container of strawberries is $7.99. Pineapples from Maui are $1.49/lb. I was disappointed in the price of the apples at NS, all are $1.99 a lb, but the flavor is better, no doubt. You could buy a large bag of apples for $4 if the loose ones are too much money. Grapefruit are $1.79/lb. and bananas are 89cents a lb. The bananas are noticeably meatier, fatter, and tastier, I must admit. We bought some small yellow peaches from California, $2.99 a lb. They are great. Nice fat oranges are $1.29 lb. They are very good. Canteloupe is $1.29/lb and mini watermelons are .79cents/lb. All this stuff is organic, too, except the melons.
Cost: we bought 1 weeks worth of fruit and vegetables at New Seasons, and it came to $105.02. Compared to Fred Meyers and Costco, the fruit and veggies here taste much much better. It is a noticeable difference buying all organic produce, in flavor, and in cost haha
Vegetables: Shopping in the fruit and vegetable department is easier at Whole Foods. Well lit and spread out, plenty of room for many people and logically organized. To compare with New Seasons, we bought the loose leaf salad mix again (from California), I think its fresher tasting, no doubt. $6.99/lb. They also have the plastic tubs of salad mix for $4.99lb (all from OrganicGirl), same as NS. All other greens are represented, $1.99 a bunch for spinach, romaine, red leaf lettuce, etc. Some nice looking organic baby broccoli are 2 for $4. Regular broccoli crowns and $1.99/lb. Bell peppers are $2.50 each. Organic ones from Mexico are $3.99 each!?!?! crazy. Loose mushrooms are $4.99/lb (brown), $3.99/lb (white). Avacodos are in season! 2 for $3. Carrots from California are 99cents/lb.Asparagus was $3.99/lb. Large, nice looking celery is 99cents/lb. Tomatoes are sold in many sizes, we like the cherry tomatoes, they are $3.99 for a container. we bought an artichoke, $2 each. Many items are available organic, or not. This made shopping a little more difficult because I am a cheap ass, so I tend to go with whatever is cheaper. At New Seasons, there was no choice, only organic, and I didn’t even think about it. Interesting.
Fruit: As with the veggies, there is a choice between organic and non for many items. We tried to get organic for most things so to do an adequate comparison. They had 2lb containers of strawberries for $5.99 each (from California). They are fat and juicy. Not organic. California oranges (also non organic) are $1.99/lb. Organic apples range from $2.49/lb (Pink Lady) to 3.99/lb (honeycrisp). Organic pears from Argentina range from $1.99/lb to $2.99/lb. Red graperfruit is $1.99/lb. The pineapples are from Costa Rica, $4.99 each. Non organic bananas from Ecuador are 69cents/lb, organic are 89cents/lb. Small watermelons are $5.99 each, thats a bit spendy.
Cost: we bought 4 days of groceries or so (I would say) for $82.33 at Whole Foods. It felt like we missed a few things and we will need more greens, so another trip mid-week will be necessary. In that respect, I would say that NS and WF are very similar in price.
Neither of these stores is cheap, and if you are on a tight budget, shopping at these places may be impossible, except in small amounts. But what you spend in money, unfortunately, means it will taste better. This seems wrong. Why should good food be so expensive? How come you can find a hamburger for $1 but a salad at the same place is 5 times that price? It doesnt make any sense, and the complications of the topic are beyond my knowledge. I feel fortunate to be able to shop here, but we could not do it every week without going broke. If I was to choose, I would say that the shopping experience at Whole Foods is better–more spacious, better lay out and more comfortable. But for produce, I would choose New Seasons. I like not having so many choices—you know that what you get at New Seasons will be quality, no need to think twice.