Why Whole Foods Isn't Likely to Back Down on Its Overpriced Prepared Foods

Eat the rich.

Photo Credit: Sorbis / Shutterstock

Days after its $8 chopped cheese controversy, Whole Foods Market received a wakeup call from the financial analysts at Barclays: Slash prices or risk being unable to compete. 

“Whole Foods Market is significantly overpriced in the commoditized center store and frozen foods categories relative to Kroger and Thrive,” Barclays analyst Karen Short wrote in a research note. “Whole Foods will continue to lose share in these departments until prices are lowered."

Whole Foods' stock plummeted 4.5% in 2016. The company some have dubbed "Whole Paycheck" is notoriously more expensive than similar retailers, including Trader Joe’s and Costco. 

Case in point: Its $8 chopped cheese sandwich sold at a food cart curiously titled "1492" at its Columbus Circle, New York City location. The price, normally $4-5 at a Harlem bodega, left New Yorkers enraged, or at the very least, bewildered. 

Was this peak cultural culinary appropriation? Not even close. 

"Grab a seat, preferably a park bench. This is a story about how in a country in the midst of a roiling debate about race and class, a sandwich is not just a sandwich," Eli Rosenberg wrote in the New York Times profile of the famous sandwich. 

"As with many food dishes, the chopped cheese’s origin is obscured by rumor. Perhaps it was an attempt at a Philadelphia cheesesteak without the right ingredients, or the result of a creative flurry in the hands of an inebriated chef. Whatever it was, it seems to have been born at the intersection of taste and necessity," Rosenberg wrote. 

But as YouTuber ReyRoSho points out, a $4 chopped cheese isn't necessarily a "steal," as those purchasing the Whole Foods version would describe. 

"it's exactly what we can afford," he explained in his epic takedown of Insider's ode to the sandwich. 

"We live in this neighborhood," the Harlem native continued. "That's like me going to the Dominican Republic and getting a pastelitos for 10 pesos, which is like, what, 30 cents and saying, Oh this is so cheap."

Which is exactly why Whole Foods sees a demand for the product. In fact, Buzzfeed is currently producing a video series in which millennials search for the most expensive version of different food products, from pasta to burgers to Korean BBQ. The $169 hot dog is sprinkled with caviar and must be ordered weeks in advance. 

But get ready: The $600 Mexican popup dinner is premiering next year on the Yucatán Peninsula. And you thought Neiman Marcus' $66 collard greens were outrageous. 

Alexandra Rosenmann is an AlterNet associate editor. Follow her @alexpreditor.

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