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Discount Diva: When it comes to Whole Foods, shoppers are divided

Samantha Christmann

Whole Foods will open in Amherst this week, and Western New York shoppers could not be more divided in their opinions of it.

On one side, there are the die-hard fans extolling the Texas-based grocer’s selection, quality and commitment to healthy food; declaring it a gem too astonishing for Tops, Wegmans and ALDI shoppers to appreciate.

On the other side are those convinced the store is nothing but overpriced hype, and that its highfalutin organic, non-GMO, gluten-free nonsense will die a fast death in our local market.

The company’s problems have been well documented. Though Whole Foods was an organic-food pioneer, its sales began to slip as traditional grocery stores began upping their organic game. Then came a scandal showing the store was mislabeling the weights on its pre-packaged foods, overcharging by as much as $14.84 per package, and the store has been struggling ever since.

The declining chain seemed to be in big trouble – until ecommerce juggernaut Amazon stepped in and bought it last month. Now, predictions are much rosier.

I have lived my life without Whole Foods and have personally never felt that my life was lacking anything in the way of grocery options.

But then I found out my friend Jess just bought an actual Venus Flytrap at a Whole Foods store in Albany.

And it was only $6.99.

OK, Whole Foods, I’m listening.

So, what’s the big deal about this place? I’ll be able to tell you more once I visit the store Friday. Everything I know about the company so far has come from the Wall Street Journal and that episode of “Broad City” where Abbi hallucinates her way through the Brooklyn location after a dental appointment. But here’s what I can tell you so far.

“Whole Paycheck.” The store’s high prices seem to be people’s number one complaint. But if it’s the prices that bother you, you might have to find something else to grouse about. Amazon said it would lower prices at Whole Foods when it took over and it did. While some prices didn’t change, others dropped by as much as 43 percent. And that was just on the first day.

A paradise for shoppers with food allergies. You think back-to-school snack shopping is hard? Just imagine if putting the wrong kind of food in your child’s lunch could be fatal. That’s why lots of local parents of children with life-threatening food allergies, and sufferers themselves, are excited about Whole Foods. They have a big variety of products that are free of the top 8 allergens (milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shelfish, soy and wheat). They were a sponsor at this year’s Food Allergy Research and Education fundraising walk at LaSalle park, and some walkers reported going gaga over the free, safe food samples Whole Fools shared.

When companies compete, consumers win. All our grocers are going to be forced to step up their game, so you can expect higher quality, more healthy choices and lower prices.

Improved property values. Northtown Plaza has already changed, but it could affect real estate prices in another way, too. Homes near Whole Foods stores have been found to benefit from the “Whole Foods effect;” increasing in value and doing it faster than homes in other, similar areas.

The new Whole Foods store, at 3097 Sheridan Drive in Amherst, will open at 9 a.m. Friday.

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