Getting the whole picture


POSTED: Monday, July 27, 2009

There has been a long-running joke about Whole Foods Market as the supermarket that eats up your “;whole paycheck.”;

Now that the first store in Hawaii has been open for 10 months, it's time to take a look at what the store really has to offer. Whole Foods actually offers a weekly value tour, taking visitors through the store's aisles and pointing out how to save money.

Elyse Ditzel leads the tours at 1 p.m. every Saturday at the Kahala Mall store, drawing an average of 20 to 30 customers, many of whom are walking into the store for the first time.

Here's the deal: While you easily could blow a couple hundred dollars while browsing Whole Foods Market, you still can look for deals. Whole Foods can be for the budget-minded just as much as for those who can ring up truffle oil, imported cheese and Joseph Schmidt chocolates without blinking.

The Whole Foods Value Tours are free and open to the public. Simply show up and check in at the customer service desk, although it is also good to call ahead and sign up, given the popularity of the tour.

Ditzel starts the tour near the front entrance, explaining the Whole Foods philosophy of supporting all-natural goods (hormone-free beef, for instance), local produce and organic whenever possible.

Ditzel says Whole Foods Market's philosophy is, “;Access to healthy food is a right, not a privilege.”;

Let's add good food as a basic consumer's right. You're ultimately the one who will decide what you like, for what price, and what you want to buy. Shop and compare.

What you get out of the tour will depend on what you ask, so ask away.

Some tips from Ditzel's Whole Foods Value Tour:

»  Look for the red sale signs. Whole Foods offers sales on 1,500 items in the store every two weeks, beginning on Thursdays. Get a “;Deal-icious deal”; flier to see what's on sale.

» Know the seasons. When certain fruits are in season, they're typically priced lower. The supply for strawberries in summer, for instance, tend to go up and generate sales.

» Get half. If you only want half a watermelon or cantaloupe, you can ask for it and only pay for that amount. That way, you only get what you need.

» Go for 365 Everyday Value (Whole Foods' in-house brand). These are available at lower prices for basic, staple items for your pantry, which include olive oil, chicken broth, greens (bagged spinach this week is available for $3.99), orange juice, peanut butter, soy milk and even multivitamins.

» Buy in bulk. Bulk items cost less because they come without the cost of packaging. Whole Foods offers bins of items in one aisle, from azuki beans to cereals, rice and grains.

» Know when to go organic. If your budget limits the number of organic items you can buy, prioritize fruits and vegetables where you eat the skin or leaves — lettuce and apples, for instance.

» Manufacturers' coupons. Whole Foods accepts manufacturers' coupons. You can usually find these online.

» Save time. The seafood department will grill or bake your fish for no charge with a simple seasoning. It takes about 10 to 15 minutes. Perfect for anyone who's too busy or tired to cook.

» Get frozen seafood. If you want to spend less on seafood, go for the Whole Catch frozen section — everything from mahimahi to sole is available. Frozen shrimp is also available — you can save about $3 if you buy raw, frozen shrimp and cook it yourself (just watch for it to turn pink).

» Buy a case. Whole Foods offers 10 percent off if you buy a whole case (of yogurt, for instance).

» Want a deal on wine? Look for the under-$10 rack at Whole Foods. Chardonnays and merlots are available for anywhere from $4.99 to $7.99. OK, so it's not exactly the “;Two-Buck Chuck,”; but these are exclusive to Whole Foods, which also offers a 10 percent discount if you buy six bottles (buy five inexpensive wines to save on an expensive one, for instance).

» Bring your own bag. Whole Foods offers you 5 cents credit for every bag you bring at checkout.