When I lived in Portland we shopped at Whole Foods for fish, and a few other items. They have the best labeling anywhere. Yes, it was more expensive.
I've had the same experience with meats: WF is the best place to buy them usually, because they have great selection, including grass-fed beef which shitty grocery stores don't usually carry, and free-range chicken. The meats at regular stores are really lousy.
And no, the specialty cheese shop will be much, much cheaper.
I'm not a big cheese eater, so I don't know much about this. I've only noticed that WF has a far, far better cheese selection than regular grocery stores.
That said, most shoppers will find everything they buy at WF at Trader Joes for 20%+ less money, and often higher quality. But there is no fresh fish.
I have to disagree with this one. TJ is simply a much, much smaller store than WF, at least at every location of each that I've been to. There's no way for it to have a comparable selection. And for things I've looked for, it usually doesn't. They certainly don't have a comparable selection of hot cocoa IME. This isn't to say that TJ sucks: it's a great store, and usually cheaper than WF, but this comes with the disadvantage of a more limited selection. Also, I don't believe TJ has a butcher department at all.
Another thing that's nice about many WF locations is the deli department, and the prepared food tables next to it (not at all locations). At the one I used to go to in New Jersey, they had a huge hot-bar buffet section, so you could just go get your lunch there and eat it in the large open area in front with free WiFi. Or you could get something made for you at the deli. TJ's doesn't have any of that. The hot-bar stuff is a bit pricey ($8.99/lb I believe), but generally good and lets you pick and choose what you want. Deli sandwiches and wraps are actually pretty well-priced IME, compared to the King's grocery store that it competes with in that area, which is even more expensive than WF.
As a side note, WF is not the most expensive grocer around. In NJ, they have King's which is rather pricey, and in AZ they have AJ's. At least at WF, they have a policy forbidding anything with HFCS and trans fats, so the foods all have to meet a certain quality level; the other fancy stores will happily sell you mass-market junk from Coca-Cola, at an inflated price, and with really nice tile floors in the aisles.
On the west coast, there are a variety of stores that offer these types of higher-quality items without the extra premium that WF charges. ... In places without a strong health-food culture, WF might be the only game in town for things like organic fair trade cocoa in a glass jar; on the west coast you can actually find that almost anywhere.
So basically I need to move to the PacNW?