Which is the Best Vegan Grocery Store? (Plus a Price Comparison!)
Few things are as overwhelming as finding a vegan grocery store to shop at.
There are hundreds of chains, thousands of aisles, and millions of different products… where’s do you even start!?
Here’s the deal:
I’ve worked a combined 5 years in grocery stores.. all as a vegan!
I know the ins-and-outs of a good vegan grocery store better than the average customer, if ya’ know what I mean 😉
That’s why I’m here today, fellow vegans!
- dispel the myths,
- clarify misconceptions, and
- figure out which vegan grocery store is the best!
First, I’ll break it down into the benefits and drawbacks of each store. Best of all, I’ll have a giant price comparison at the end to help you decide which store is the best!
Disclaimer: The information provided in this post is meant to be purely educational. I do not claim to represent any of the companies, I can only make observations from the outside. Furthermore, I don’t guarantee the prices or data represented in this post, as the grocery industry is constantly changing.
Is Whole Foods the Best Vegan Grocery Store?
It almost seems illegal to not shop at Whole Foods as a vegan! With their 8 feet of Kombucha, endless meat-alternatives, and enough dessert to last a lifetime, any vegan is in heaven!
Reasons I Love Whole Foods
One step into a Whole Foods and you feel like a celebrity. No joke! This is pretty much their entire business model; “Make Organic, Local, and Green Living “Cool”“. They totally succeed!
Their Customer Service
Employees at Whole Foods are paid some of the highest wages is the industry.. and it shows! Very rarely have I ever gotten attitude from a Whole Foods employee. They are some of the kindest, helpful, and most knowledgeable I’ve experienced.
Whole Foods donates thousands of dollars to local communities through programs such as Whole Planet, Whole Kids, and Whole Cities.
These are aimed to:
- Support and develop partnerships with third-world communities
- Provide education to improve children’s heath and wellness
- Improve access to fresh food and wellness education in underserved communities
Strict Ingredient Control
Whole Foods is also very strict about what ingredients they’ll sell in their stores, which is awesome! You can find the complete list of banned ingredients here.
Things That Bother Me About Whole Foods
You feel like a celebrity… and you’re gonna pay like one too! That’s just the name of the game. If you expect elegant, trendy, chic realness, you’re gonna pay for it at checkout.
No Refrigerated Bulk
Although their bulk department is righteous, it is not refrigerated. I’ve never had an issue, but nuts and other products with natural oils will go rancid faster for this reason.
Sprouts – The Best Vegan Grocery Store?
Oh, Sprouts.. you crazy cross somewhere between Albertsons and Whole Foods. Pick a side, why don’t ya!
Reasons I Love Sprouts
Cheap Organic Produce
Sprouts kills it with their consistently cheap organic produce selection. Over half the department is on sale at any given time!
Sprouts has “Extravaganza sales” about 4 times a year for each department. During each sale (ie: “Vitamin Extravaganza”), the entire department is 25% off! This kind of sale can’t be beat!
(With this, you also get disgusting sales like the “Buffalo Stampede”.. As if the buffalos stampeded themselves to death just for the 15% off sale. GAG!)
Easy to Find
With 269 stores across the US, chances are there’s a Sprouts near you!
Things That Bother Me About Sprouts
Sprouts caters to too wide an audience, in my opinion. This clogs the aisles with agitated moms, the local soccer club, and every other Tom, Dick, and Harry in town. Most of which don’t give a rat’s ass about veganism, organic, natural or green living..
If Whole Foods pays it’s employees the highest, someone’s gotta be the lowest, right?
My guess is Sprouts lands somewhere fairly low on this scale.. and it shows through their employees. Perhaps this is why they’re constantly hiring?
Let me reiterate: I worked grocery retail for 5 years.
People have bad days, I get it. What I don’t get is consistently horrible customer service.. not just from employees, but management too!
On the other hand, I have had extremely wonderful interactions with Sprouts employees.. it’s just few and far between.
No Ingredient Control
Sprouts does not have a list of ingredients they promise not to sell, like most other health food stores.
What does this mean?
You’ll end up with Nutella next to the organic maple syrup and MSG in your deli meat.
In fact, the only information on their website are vague references to “Responsible Retailing”, “Gluten Free” and “Natural Living”.
Plastic Bags at Checkout
While countless stores (and even states!) have all banned plastic bags, Sprouts is still happily giving them away by the truckload. Worst of all is the eye-roll you get from the cashier when you ask for paper instead.
Unsanitary and Unrefrigerated Bulk
Just like Whole Foods, Sprouts uses unrefrigerated bulk as well. Even worse, sprouts doesn’t use gravity bins like most other stores (the tubes with a lever on the bottom). Instead you have a giant bin with a scoop inside to grab your stuff.
Most people aren’t bothered, I guess.. I’m really just not a fan of hoards of people fingering my food before I buy it.
Too Many Locations
Even though they might be easy to find, Sprouts is expanding at an alarming rate. 269 locations might not sound like a lot, but Sprouts is only 15 years old. Compare this to Whole Foods, running for 36 years, who has only 400+ stores.
I found a quote (I loved) about Sprouts’ rapid expansion:
“[Sprouts’] growth may already be some combination of too much, too soon — with too little thought as well“.
For instance, I’ve noticed stores seem to have broken equipment for ages.. maybe we should sort out the stores you do have before expanding? 🤔
Supports Autism Speaks
UGH! This grab for a tax-write off makes my blood boil every year.
If you weren’t aware, Autism Speaks:
- Funds animal testing,
- Refuses to allow people with Autism on their board of directors,
- Compares Autism to AIDS, and
- Their highest-earning executive was paid more than $600,000 in one year.
Who knows why Sprouts chooses to support such a company, when plenty of humane alternatives exist.
Natural Grocers – My New Favorite Vegan Grocery Store
To be honest, I just discovered Natural Grocers this year.. I’ve fallen in love!
Reasons I Love Natural Grocers
100% Organic Produce
That’s right! With completely organic produce there’s no fear of cross-contamination.
Cheaper Grocery Items
I was blown away at how much cheaper the Natural Grocers grocery department is! Everything is at least $.50 cheaper than the alternative.
Refrigerated and Sealed Bulk
Like I mentioned earlier, nuts and other bulk items have oils that go rancid. Not at Natural Grocers! All of their heat-sensitive bulk is kept in a cooler so spoilage isn’t a problem. Definitely helpful here in the desert!
While most health food stores have at least banned plastic (*cough* get with it, Sprouts!), Natural Grocers has bagless checkouts!
Don’t worry if you forget your reusable bag, though! They give away used shipping boxes to help get your groceries home.
🎶 Reduce, Reuse, and Recyyyyyyyyyycle!! 🎶
Free Cooking/Health Seminars
Every month, Natural Grocers offers 4-6 health or cooking related classes. They even have a huge Demo Kitchen in every single location, talk about a dedication to education!
Independent Lab Testing on Supplements
If you look at their logo closely (go ahead, I’ll wait!), you’ll notice the little “Vitamin Cottage” logo up top.
This isn’t a coincidence, they actually started as a supplement company! Staying true to their roots, they now conduct independent lab testing on the supplements they sell.
This means you can know the product:
- Is what the label says it is,
- Has the correct dosage listed, and
- Isn’t contaminated with weeds/other cheap matter to save a buck
Natural Grocers is the only health food store I’ve found that offers a rewards program, just for shopping! You enter your phone number at checkout, and the program tracks all of your points. Certain levels get you discounts off of your entire cart, so shop up!
Thankfully, Natural Grocers has a long list of ingredients they will not allow in any of their vitamins, health and beauty products, or grocery aisles. This saves you from the nightmare of accidentally buying something with artificial colors or formaldehyde (yikes!).
Things That Bother Me About Natural Grocers
No “Real” Bulk Section
Unfortunately for the zero-waste vegans, Natural Grocers is not the place for you! Their bulk section is refrigerated (yaaay!) in sealed packages (nooo!). It really depends on what you’re buying, but sometimes the cost savings are worth it.
100% Organic Produce
In the same way that the bulk has a drawback, the produce department does too. Having 100% organic is astounding. I love not having to worry about cross-contamination!
Small Private Label Selection
I’m not quite sure why, but Natural Grocer’s private label is seriously lacking! Most health food stores at least have their own brand of organic canned beans, non-dairy milks, and pasta sauce.. but not Natural Grocers.
A Word About “Private Label” Products
Have you ever thought that the Whole Foods and Sprouts store-brands were the same company?
Spoiler: They totally are!
One of the biggest misconceptions in the industry revolves around Private Label (or Store-Brand) products. That jar of Sprouts brand peanut butter? Chances are, it’s the same company that makes the Whole Foods 365, Kroger, and Natural Grocers product.. that’s just how private labels work!
Grocery chains purchase the pre-made product, slap their label on it, and call it theirs.
Is it misleading? Kind of.
Do I buy it anyways? HELL YES!
Once you see the price comparison, you’ll quickly notice a lot of products that are the same exact price at each location. Most of these are the private label products!
Unfortunately, Natural Grocers has a much smaller selection.. That’s when they get obliterated by Sprouts’ and Whole Foods’ prices.
Okay, okay! But Which Vegan Grocery Store is the Cheapest!?
Let’s get all sciency about this! Here’s a helpful scatter graph to help digest the information.
Graphs are fun, and all, but where does this leave us?
Well, for this mock shopping trip:
- Natural Grocers cost $129.77
- Sprouts cost $124.71
- Whole Foods cost $135.95
As you can see, each store varies in price dramatically. What I’ve found is Natural Grocers is usually the most cost-effective (especially if you already buy organic produce), but they can’t compete with Sprouts and Whole Foods private label.
Don’t Get Treated Like a Criminal
I cannot even tell you how many times I was stopped by grocery employees while making this price list. “Who do you work for!?” “Are you from Whole Foods!?” “Whatcha doin’ there? Homework from your boss?”
“Uhhhh, nope. Workin’ for myself, dude!”
It isn’t fun being treated like a criminal for wanting to find the cheapest prices. I was interrogated four times in three stores… really!?
Finally, I found the solution (and it’s online!).
Meet: Thrive Market
Think Costco meets Whole Foods.. Online!
Thrive is a huge online grocery store that specializes in organic/natural food!
After this entire fiasco, I’m loving the idea of doing my shopping online. They don’t have produce (for obvious reasons), but what they do have is heavily discounted.
Skip the lines, skip the attitude, and get your groceries delivered right to your door!
Check out their amazing online store, and get free shipping here!
Now, I have some questions for you lovelies:
- Did your favorite vegan grocery store make the list?
- What do you love/hate about grocery shopping!?