How To Steal From Whole Foods

Sodanie Chea

I have probably stolen more from Whole Foods markets than any living person; I’ve also probably spent more money there. Whole Foods is the only place I spend money. When I look at my bank statement, it is Whole Foods, Whole Foods, Whole Foods…as far as the eye can see.

When I started working on, Whole Foods was our first “angel investor” – without stealing all the food I stole from the Berkeley Whole Foods [1], I would never have been able to spend a year bootstrapping, working on the site full-time.

When got funding, I demanded comped Whole Foods before I asked for a paycheck. During Y Combinator we would get about $500 of groceries a week delivered [2] (I was addicted to gluten-free muffins at the time…).

As grew, so did my Whole Foods appetite. When I resigned, I was in the habit of expensing $100 A DAY at Whole Foods; my co-founders would yell at me and I would get all defensive and say “well I need protein and protein costs money!”

The day before I left the company, I went to Whole Foods for one “last expense” – I got a $100 tub of probiotic green powder and 2 bottles of Veuve Clicquot. I also made 2 giant salads and went crazy at the bulk bins. It was May, but I was stocking up for the Winter of Discontent…
I got home and I had a crisis; I was like “holy shit! How am I going to survive without unlimited free Whole Foods?!”

In fact, losing my unlimited free Whole Foods is the best thing that ever happened to me. It is the main reason I am glad I’m no longer with the company. I am a lot less fat now, and I feel like an animal living in the jungle [3]. Free company meals are a bad thing – food is a pharmakon [4] and it ought to be scarce.

I’ve now cut down my Whole Foods budget to about $30 dollars a day, and I’ve been able to do this largely because of a return to stealing. $30 might sound like a lot, but I eat about 4,000 calories a day, so it is no easy feat…

Last week, some friends sent me an article on about “How to Hustle Whole Foods” – the dude who wrote it is a fucking chump. His advice is to buy an avocado separately and add it to your salad. Gee, that’s great! Brilliant idea! That way I can get green avocado juice all over my hands and shit…

His article was so stupid that I decided to write my own guidebook on “How To Steal From Whole Foods,” and here it is:


The code for almonds is 6269. Really, that is the code for conventional almonds ($7.99/lb) – but for me, it is the code to All Almonds. Organic ($10.99/lb). Italian ($16.99/lb). Sprouted ($19.99/lb). If it is an almond, it is 6269.
That is “bulk bin hustle 101” – the more advanced techniques take code abuse even further. In the Bay Area, because they love the environment, they only let you put bulk bin items into paper bags. You can’t see through paper bags, so – if you go to the right cashier (MORE ON THIS LATER) – in the Bay Area, your code for EVERYTHING in the bulk bins is 1819 (the code for popcorn, $1.99/lb).

Back in my bootstrapping days in Berkeley, I would always fill up bags with 2-3 pounds of $19.99/lb pistachios – or sometimes even macadamia nuts! – and 1819 it…that’s how I built [5].

But now that I live in LA, I stick to 6269ing, and you should too. If you are using other almond codes, you’re just throwing money away, plain and simple…


Very simple rule. Not even a rule, more an aspiration: for every pound you buy at the salad bar, you should be eating a pound while you make the salad.
In fact, I’d say best practice is to buy a pound and eat a pound. Simple. As the rapper Drake famously said, “Buy a pound, eat a pound, that’s the motto n**** YOLO.”

Get a napkin when you enter the store and stick it into your pocket – you will use this later to clean your hands before you dress your salad and head to the register.

The KEY to this technique is to eat the bite-sized items at the salad bar: I stick to felafel balls, dolma, rosemary potatoes, beets, plantains and hard-boiled eggs [6].

You should obviously try to eat fast, but never put so much in your mouth that you can’t just stop chewing and feign normalcy if the security rolls up.


You can put anything into the soup container and pay for a soup. Think about it….
This seems like an opportune section to introduce a sub-theme to everything related to the salad bar: be mindful of weight! Don’t ever buy beets, or tomatoes – think of the weight/calorie ratio! The reverse is true as well: cilantro at the salad bar is in fact a tenth of the price of cilantro in the produce section [7].


There are two kinds of Whole Foodses: those in which the security guard is a homie, and those in which the security guard is not a homie at all. Unfortch, the best Whole Foods tend to have asshole security whereas the more “ghetto Whole Foods” (especially “college town / college campus” Whole Foods) have friendly security.
RULE OF THUMB: the younger the security guard, the more he is your homie. I used to roam around LA, going to all of the different Whole Foods, because variety is the spice of life (see my article “Review of Every Whole Foods in Los Angeles” – the fruits of my Whole Foods wanderlust). Nowadays, as I get more desperate, I am sticking to my home base, WHOLE FOODS WESTWOOD, because the security guard is my homie and he’ll let me do whatever I want…


Since I am paleo, I have an important rule: I never pay full price for fruit! It is sweet poison. The Ur-fruit of thieves is the grape. Every Whole Foods has grapes year-round, and it is an unspoken rule that you’re allowed to eat the grapes without paying. The only thing is: other customers get mad if you make the bushel look untidy, and they will rat on you, so it is better to simply take a whole cluster of grapes, and cleanly sever it from the mother, rather than pluck your grapes one-by-one.
Figs are pretty easy to steal too, when the season is right. Apricots are also doable, but you have to split them down the middle, so it works much better with unripe apricots.

Apples and pears are pretty much impossible to steal – but – if you’ve noticed, most Whole Foods put apples and pears in a complimentary “kids’ bin” at checkout. I figure I am a “child at heart,” so I always take one of those [8].

If a certain kind of apple is on sale, you can also change tags to get the cheaper price on other apples. If you want to be really aggressive, you can put a cheap apple sticker on an expensive organic peach (you’ll only get away with this if the cashier is truly a homie, however…)


the worst thing in the world is a Nazi cashier! They have the power to thwart certain hustles…
I don’t care if I have to wait in a long line, I will bide my time for a sympathetic cashier [9].

Sorry to get all sexist/racist here – I love all people, I swear it – but, in case you’re at a new Whole Foods and you don’t know who the cool cashiers are yet, the most sympathetic cashiers are young, male minorities. Women, old-timers and whites are far, far more likely, in my experience, to fuck with your shit.


Olive bar is more expensive than salad bar. If you ever get anything from the olive bar, you’re a chump. Just put the olives in your salad dogg!


I didn’t state the most important rule, which is you should never leave Whole Foods hungry! What you ate while you were shopping: that was your meal. What you bought is your next meal. Makes sense, no?

I call it “The Whole Foods Diet.”


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