The specialty shopper — at Trader Joes + Whole Foods.

Trader Joe's vs. Whole Foods in specialty shopping

She giggles.

Clutching a pink balloon, that she hasn’t released for a split second, Paisley’s blue eyes come alive. She knows. Tonight, she’ll help make dinner — with that perfectly, red-ripe tomato she picked out, all by herself.

It’s a little girl’s dream, come true.

Drinking in this moment with her tastes that much better, because her fresh veggies were also on sale. Family time is always great, and you can’t wait to cook with her tonight. 

So, which specialty store did you go to…

Trader Joe’s, or Whole Foods?

We asked.

And, if you’re like our consumer panel, there’s a 72% chance you just left Trader Joe’s. Why? Well, across both groups — those leaving Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods, 59% said the prices are lower. 

Stick around, and you’ll see why I can almost guarantee it’s Trader Joe’s, based on this image alone.

Here’s your hint: it has to do with family.

Consumer choose Trader Joe's for low prices.

Let’s dive in.

At Trader Joe’s, 76% of shoppers say the prices are lower and 63% say the products are more unique. Meanwhile, at Whole Foods, the products are seen as higher quality at 56%. Trader Joe’s is telling a pretty compelling story — and it sounds a lot like loyalty. 

Maybe it is…

A full 58% get all their groceries at Trader Joe’s, while only 42% shop for specialty items. Whole Foods is the exact opposite, 72% buy specialties inside, and only 28% get all of their groceries there.

Whole Foods is a real specialty store.

But, to truly differentiate, we’ll need more data.


When they shop.

Pretty often, actually.

In fact, 51% shop at Trader Joe’s once a week, or more. Meanwhile, at Whole Foods 36% shop once a month — to every few months. And, that’s where the two chains diverge.

This shopping behavior means one thing.

Whole Foods is probably seen as a true specialty store. That makes sense. The chain tends to sell more high-end items. Trader Joe’s on the other hand, is well known for its low-priced options.

Two-buck Chuck anyone? 😉

So, while both stores have seen more shoppers lately — Trader Joe’s is seeing a few more. 

The Hawaiian-shirt-loving brand is getting 49% to shop more in the past 6 months. Meanwhile, Whole Foods has seen 33% more in the same time frame. Trader Joe’s wins by 16 points.

Trader Joe's is shopped more often than Whole Foods.

What are they shopping for?

Great question.

What they buy.

First, here’s what they don’t buy. 

Turns out, 54% can’t find all of their groceries in just one go. So, when they’re missing key items from their lists, where do they go?


That’s right, 41% go to Costco — when they can’t get it at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. 


So, while you chew on that possible co-marketing option, let’s see why people shop at Trader Joe’s.


Yup, snacks is the top thing they’re buying at Trader Joe’s. In fact, 74% bought snacks on their most recent visit. Followed by frozen foods (69%), then fruits and vegetables (66%).

Not surprisingly, Whole Foods had a different story to tell.

At Whole Foods, fruits and vegetables reign supreme (51%). And, snacks come in second place at 44%. They’re followed fairly closely by bakery items at 37%.

Clearly, consumers see these stores differently. 

Fruits + veggies reign supreme at Whole Foods.

Which means, now it’s time to look into…

The shopper experience.

Each store is easy to navigate.

But, that’s where the similarities end. Whole Foods wins in better quality (61%), selection (61%), and variety (67%). And, that adds to the idea that consumers see it as a specialty store. They’re coming to Whole Foods for specific items — and they’re willing to pay a little more.

Whole Foods fans are also less likely to have children.


Well, Trader Joe’s wins in customer service (84%), deals (64%), value (91%) and a family-friendly environment (78%). Everything they excel at lends itself to families. People who choose to grab groceries at their locations want a quick, easy experience — one where they can also pay less for good products.

So, did you guess right?

The people leaving the store were most likely to come from Trader Joe’s — because they’re a family.

And, there you have it.

We’re looking at two different kinds of consumers. That’s why it’s so important to understand your target market – especially when you make a living on serving a niche. Whole Foods needs a high-end consumer who wants top-quality products. And Trader Joe’s? They’re looking for the family next door.

Need your own data? Send us an email

By Maksym Minin

Reviewed by Avani Patel

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