We shopped at both Whole Foods and Trader Joe's, and the Amazon-owned chain was disappointing in comparison

veggie sticks trader joes

  • Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are two nationwide grocers that specialize in the health-conscious consumer. 
  • Whole Foods, which was acquired by Amazon for $13.7 billion in 2017, is known for its healthier food products. The nautical-themed Trader Joe’s also boasts healthy options and is focused on eco-friendly packaging alternatives.
  • We went shopping in both stores to see which offered a better shopping experience overall.
  • From prices to store branding, Trader Joe’s took the cake. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

The grocery market has a lot of options. And when it comes to organic and healthier brands, the competition can be fierce.

Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s both occupy a similar segment in the grocery market. Both have a wide range of healthy options — including vegan and organic products — and both have eco-friendly policies that find favor in the eyes of the environmentally conscious. 

Read more: We went grocery shopping at Walmart and Whole Foods and saw how Amazon’s $13.7 billion bet is failing to beat the superstore in price and selection

When Amazon acquired Whole Foods in 2017 for $13.7 billion, the e-commerce giant went on to expand online delivery and deals for Amazon Prime members. With 500 stores in North America and the United Kingdom, Whole Foods has found a niche in health-conscious shoppers as well as Prime members looking for deals.

Trader Joe’s doesn’t have the Amazon advantage. But with 488 stores across the US, the nautical-themed grocery store is a worthy competitor for Whole Foods.

Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s have a lot in common. But in this health-focused grocery store showdown, there can be only one winner. 

We visited both grocery stores to determine which was better.

SEE ALSO: 10 of the best lunches to get at Trader Joe’s for under $7

First, we stopped by the Amazon-owned Whole Foods Market location in New York’s Tribeca neighborhood.

We were swiftly informed that Prime members would be offered special deals in the store that would be indicated by blue signs.

The interior of the store was darker than we expected, which was probably a result of the lighting and dark color scheme.

We started our shopping experience near the spices, where we found an overwhelming wall of different herbs and seasonings.

We also found a section for customers to fill their own bags with different beans, spices, and dried fruit.

Not too far away, this charming collection of barrels was bursting with coffee beans waiting to be scooped up by customers.

The store seemed to be going for a rustic look, as seen in these display shelves that had a dark wood finish.

We made our way over to the produce section, where we found a large selection of fruits and vegetables.

Though everything looked fresh, we couldn’t help but be put off by the prices that seemed to be higher than average. The prices plus the chic store atmosphere made the shopping experience seem more high-end and not tailored to the average customer.

And some sections of the store carried food items that seemed a bit too elaborate for a grocery store, like this cheese display.

There were, however, a lot of organic options. That factor is definitely a draw for the more health-conscious buyers.

It wasn’t long before we started noticing the deals for Prime members. We quickly found this cart filled with Amazon electronics.

Later on, we ran into this array of protein shakes and cold brew drinks on sale for Prime members.

When it came to snacks, we were somewhat disappointed. Whole Foods has a list of unacceptable food ingredients that includes hydrogenated fats, high-fructose corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. The result was a lot of healthier options on the shelves …

… but little variety. Also, many of the brands were unrecognizable to us.

Source: Whole Foods

The store was a lot larger than we initially expected. After making our way through various aisles, we found ourselves in the middle of a hot food buffet that smelled delicious.

The options here seemed endless. Customers could choose from a smorgasbord of salads, desserts, and meats.

Nearby, there was a seafood section and a place to buy sushi platters …

… as well as a place to pick up some meat and poultry to make at home.

A wall in the buffet room outlined the “higher purpose” of Whole Foods. The motto of the store — to provide natural and healthy food — was certainly evident in our journey thus far.

Though it didn’t look that healthy, we found a delicious-looking bakery section.

Before we left, we saw yet another advertisement for a Prime member perk. This 2-hour free delivery was probably the best Prime member deal in the store.

We left Whole Foods feeling like we wanted more. The healthy options and large hot food selection didn’t negate the overall higher prices and austere store environment. The Whole Foods experience was a little too high-end for us — even for the upscale neighborhood of Tribeca.

Next, we headed over to Trader Joe’s on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

The store was markedly smaller than Whole Foods, but the wide aisles and open design made it feel spacious, even during the post-work shopping rush.

The soft tone of the blue walls and light wood finish on the shelves contributed to an overall laid-back atmosphere in the store.

Some of the walls even had murals that seemed to be painted by hand.

Plus there were gorgeous embellishments like this every so often that beautified the space even more.

All Trader Joe’s stores are nautical-themed — and this store was fully committed. The rooms meant for employees were labeled “Crew Quarters” and every so often, we heard the toll of a ship bell signifying a customer in need of assistance.

And many of the shelves and boxes for food were designed to look like something we might find at a coastal trading post.

We made our way to the produce, where we found some eye-popping signs with cute plays on words.

The produce section looked good overall. But the prices were what really caught our attention.

The regular avocados were $1.79 each, but we went with these mini avocados for about $5 a bundle.

Trader Joe’s recently announced that it would stop selling certain items in plastic packaging as part of its plan to reduce its overall plastic footprint. This made the price of garlic slightly drop, which is a huge boon for shoppers — and we saw the effect firsthand.

Source: Trader Joe’s

In the food aisles, we were surprised to find so many items that were from the Trader Joe’s brand. Trader Joe’s claims it keeps its prices low by eliminating the middleman and buying products directly from suppliers.

Source: Business Insider

This is how it is able to have a huge variety of in-house products that are similar to other brands, but generally cheaper.

We found some vegan, gluten-free veggie sticks here for $1.99, which were basically half the price of the gluten-free veggie straws we found at Whole Foods.

However, the variety was slightly limited. Like in Whole Foods, it was hard to find name-brand products here.

Luckily, there were appealing Trader Joe’s-brand alternatives.

There was no bakery or hot food station on-site at Trader Joe’s, but we did find a large selection of packaged cupcakes that looked delicious.

We also found a corner bursting with different types of bread.

The store kept finding new clever ways to charm us with cuteness at every corner. From the artwork …

… to the more unique additions. We found this food demonstration station called “93rd Street Nibbles” near the back of the store.

We also found a sizable meat and poultry selection, which even had some kosher options.

The check-out line seemed long at first glance, but it moved rather quickly. Many registers were open and each crew member had a wooden oar to let customers know they were ready to check them out.

We also found the source of the bell sounds we had heard earlier.

From start to finish, Trader Joe’s offered the better grocery shopping experience. Its low prices and endearing nautical charm made it the better option overall.