Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFM) recently made news when one of its stores sold something called "Asparagus Water" for $6 a bottle. The product, which was literally a bottle of water with three asparagus stalks in it, outraged the Internet, and served as an example of some of the overpriced, silly things the chain sells.
Those bottles were "a mistake," spokeswoman Liz Burkhart told USA Today. "It was meant to be water with the essence of vegetables and/or mushrooms, which is typically made over a long period of time soaking in water," she said. "It was made incorrectly and has since been removed."
for $5.99, that asparagus water from Whole Foods better be straight from God's tears— Omar Munoz (@rvinman_) August 3, 2015
That may have been a mistake, but there are other items being sold by Whole Foods that should be avoided by consumers almost as much as they should steer clear of asparagus water. The upscale supermarket chain has lots of great deals, unique items, and a distinctive selection, but the products below are ones that should be avoided.
Toys, gift items, and yoga supplies
In the same way that regular supermarkets have a row of cheap, but overpriced toys, in case you're running late for a birthday party -- or need to bribe your child -- Whole Foods sells a range of toys, gift items, and even yoga products.
These items are there purely for convenience. They're meant for the person on the way to yoga class who realizes he or she doesn't have a mat, or a mom who thinks that a well-packaged baby rattle -- item selection varies by store, market, and season -- is worth more than it costs elsewhere. It's not, and the products are not unique in most cases.
Buying these items at Whole Foods is like buying groceries at a convenience store. You can do it, but you'll pay dearly for the privilege.
Avoid most produce
The only produce that makes sense to buy at Whole Foods are organic items or products that can't be found at traditional stores. Those items are more lifestyle choices than value plays, so price is not really the point. When it comes to conventional produce, however, you'll almost certainly want to look elsewhere.
Supermarkets' regular prices on conventionally grown produce tend to be cheaper, and sales are better, Teri Gault, CEO of The Grocery Game, told The Today Show website.
Today also warned against buying pre-cut produce, which can be convenient, but costly. "Precut produce at Whole Foods is like a piece of art and oh-so-tempting as a time-saver, especially the way it's neatly arranged," CouponCabin.com president Jackie Warrick told the morning show's website. "While there are definitely times you may want to splurge, try to resist the lure of perfectly cut peppers -- they're way overpriced. The markup is typically 40% or more."
Avoid milk almost always
If you want organic milk where the cows are read to while being milked, Whole Foods probably has it. The chain also stocks soy milk, almond milk, and a handful of other things called milk, which are not, in fact, dairy.
A few years ago, in many markets, just stocking carefully produced cow milk and its various alternatives made Whole Foods unique. Now, however, regular grocery stores stock these items, and almost always at a better price.
Healthier eating and being lactose intolerant have become something that are simply part of the greater consciousness. It's no longer exclusively the domain of upscale chains, so buying these items at Whole Foods is usually about status, not value.
The bottom line
It was actually somewhat difficult to come up with a list of items to always avoid at Whole Foods. The company can be pricey compared to most chains, and you would also be wise to be wary of prices on nuts, meats, fish, and prepared foods -- always sold at a premium, but sometimes absurdly high at WFM.
It's important to remember that, in most cases, the groceries you buy taste the same no matter what store they come from. Shop Whole Foods for its unique selection, and so you can feel a little superior to your neighbors -- most of us need to do that some time. Realize that there are some good deals -- especially on the house brand -- but be careful, and don't pay more for perception of quality rather than actual quality.
John Mackey, co-CEO of Whole Foods Market, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Daniel Kline has no position in any stocks mentioned. He shops at Whole Foods a lot and is not savvy most times. The Motley Fool owns and recommends Whole Foods Market. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.