How many times have you heard that eating a vegan or plant-based diet is expensive? When people think of a vegan-friendly grocery store, they often think of Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, or small organic specialty stores with high prices.

When it comes to being plant-based on a budget, it can be as inexpensive or as extravagant as you make it. A recent study found that those who eat vegan or plant-based spend on average 40 percent less than meat-eaters on groceries. The bulk of a plant-based diet is fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes, and grains, and when you shop exclusively organic or get produce shipped to your home, it can ring up at a premium.

We wanted to know, where's the most affordable grocery store to buy produce? So I swung by Costco, Walmart, and Target to compare prices and see which retailer gives you the most bang for your buck when buying vegan staples.

Here are 15 plant-based must-haves and how they compare prices at Costco, Target, and Walmart stores.

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1. Spring Mix Lettuce

I always have spring mix on hand. Pre-washed lettuce is great for a quick salad or sandwich, but my absolute favorite way to use spring mix is to blend it into smoothies and chilled soups. You can pack in the lettuce in without changing the flavor of the soup or smoothie, which is a great way to get in an extra dose of micronutrients.

Costco: $4.99 (1 pound package / $0.31 per ounce)
Walmart: $3.86 (1 pound package / $0.24 per ounce)
Target: $4.58 (2 5-ounce packages / $0.46 per ounce)

2. Organic Bananas

I go to Costco once a month just to get their organic bananas. For $1.99, you can get 3 pounds of pristine, organic bananas that ripen so nicely. I let mine get really spotted and sweet before removing them from their peels and freezing them. They are amazing in smoothies but even better in banana “nice cream.” You could, of course, just eat them.

Costco: $1.99 (3 pounds / $0.66 per pound)
Walmart: $1.51 (2.43 punds / $0.62 per pound)
Target: $1.19 (2 pounds / $0.60 per pound)

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3. Mangos

Mangos are one of my favorite fruits. Aside from being delicious, they are easy to digest and have a laundry list of health benefits. Fresh fruit is a no-brainer when it comes to a quick breakfast or snack in a healthy kitchen.

Costco: $5.99 (6 mangos / about $1.00 each)
Walmart: $5.88 (6 mangos / $0.98 each)
Target: $4.99 (1 pound package of ripened mango spears)

4. Seasonal Vegetables

One of the most exciting things, when following a plant-based diet, is eating with the seasons. With the start of spring, all of the beautiful, green vegetables start popping up in all of the stores. I found fresh asparagus at Costco and Walmart and fresh sugar snap peas at Target. Either vegetable is delicious sautéed in a little oil, until crisp-tender, and finished
with salt and plant butter.

Costco: $3.99 (2.25 pound package / $0.35 per serving)
Walmart: $3.96 (2 1-pound bunches / $0.39 per serving)
Target: $5.58 (2 8-ounce packages / $1.05 per serving)

5. Avocados

Avocados deserve to be their own food group. Whether it’s with fruit, on toast, in a sandwich or salad, as a creamy addition to dressings or sauces, or simply, on its own, I eat at least one per day. I adore the small avocados from Walmart. They are great because you can use up the whole avocado, at once, instead of having to save the other half for later (and worrying about it turning brown).

Hot tip: Let your avocados ripen up on the counter until they are just about ripe and then store them in the refrigerator. This slows down the ripening process and keeps them near-perfect for much longer.

Costco: $6.49 (6-count bag / $1.08 each)
Walmart: $2.47 (4-6-count bag / about $0.49 each)
Target: $3.40 (4 avocados / $0.85 each)

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6. Raw Sauerkraut

I was really impressed with all three of these stores for carrying raw sauerkraut, especially at such a good price. Fermented foods are often very pricey. If you’re not eating fermented foods yet, you need to get on it. As a natural probiotic, one serving (a few bites right out of the jar) can seriously boost the good bacteria in your gut. If you’re not on straight-from-the-jar level yet, adding some to a salad or sandwich works, too.

Costco: $8.69 (50 ounce jar / $0.35 per serving)
Walmart: $4.88 (16 ounce bag / $0.61 per serving)
Target: $5.99 (16 ounce bag / $0.75 per serving)

7. Deglet Noor Dates

Dates contain both soluble and insoluble fiber as well as amino acids that help to regulate the digestive process. They are great to eat on their own or to sweeten just about anything. Most often, I use them to create quick and easy desserts. All three stores offered both Medjool and Deglet dates. I opted for the Deglet dates which are firmer, making them more versatile in the kitchen. Aside from dessert preparations, they are a nice addition to salads and salsas.

Costco: $7.49 (40 ounce package / $0.18 per ounce)
Walmart: $2.88 (8 ounce package / $0.36 per ounce)
Target: $4.59 (8 ounce package / $0.57 per ounce)

8. High-Quality Cooking Oil

Butter substitutes are great, but every plant-based kitchen needs a few butter alternatives, too. At Costco, I found a good deal on avocado oil cooking spray. This is a great replacement for that cooking spray that we all grew up with. Both Walmart and Target had really good buys on cold-pressed, organic olive oil. I use cold-pressed oils for my dressings and for drizzling overcooked vegetable and pasta dishes.

Costco: $5.99 (2-count 13.5 ounce bottles / $0.22 per ounce)
Walmart: $4.48 (17 oz bottle / $0.26 per ounce)
Target: $6.39 (16 oz bottle / $0.40 per ounce)

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9. Quinoa

Tired of pasta and rice? Quinoa is a gluten-free powerhouse. Although it’s classified as a grain, it’s really a seed that’s related to the chard and beet family. It’s great on its own and serves as a perfect landing pad for brothy dishes. With warm weather on the horizon, it really shines in a premade cold salad
preparations.

Costco: $9.99 (4.5 pound bag / $0.14 per ounce)
Walmart: $2.97 (16 ounce bag / $0.19 per ounce)
Target: $3.59 (12 oz bag / $0.30 per ounce)

10. Chickpeas/Garbanzo Beans

Garbanzo beans, also known as chickpeas, are a budget-friendly item that you should always have on hand. They have endless possibilities in the kitchen. They can be used in savory applications like hummus, falafel, chickpea “tuna” salad, soups, creamy sauces, and stews. Or, they can be utilized in sweet applications, like edible cookie dough, cookies, brownies, and puddings.

Costco: $3.29 (6 pound 14 ounce pound can / $0.03 per ounce)
Walmart: $1.84 (2 15-ounce cans / $0.06 per ounce)
Target: $1.98 (2 15-ounce cans / $0.07 per ounce)

11. Chia Seeds

Chia seeds are a great source of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids. They are a good source of energy and last in the pantry forever. Aside from sprinkling them in recipes, chia seed pudding makes for a satisfying breakfast or as an easy, healthy dessert. Chia seeds are a great thickening agent and can even be used to make an egg replacement when converting non-vegan recipes.

Personally, I like to make a pre-workout drink called Chia Fresca by soaking about 1 tablespoon of chia seeds in water or coconut water (depends on what I have at home) and adding some citrus juice and a little sweetener.

Costco: $6.99 (3 pound bag / $0.15 per ounce)
Walmart: $7.56 (2 pound jar / $0.24 per ounce)
Target: $7.99 (8 ounce bag / $0.99 per ounce)

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12. Himalayan Pink Salt

Sodium is necessary for both nerve and muscle function. It also helps balance fluids in the body and helps maintain healthy blood pressure. This kind of salt contains a variety of beneficial, natural minerals. I’ve always been a firm believer that if you don’t season your food, you’re not going to enjoy it. So go ahead, sprinkle on the pink salt. And, let’s be honest, Himalayan pink salt is, by far, the cutest salt in the game.

Costco: $6.69 (5 pound jar / $0.08 per ounce)
Walmart: $3.98 (1 pound bag / $0.25 per ounce)
Target: $4.99 (4.4 oz grinder / $1.13 per ounce)

13. Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is an absolute must in a plant-based pantry. It is hands down, my favorite sugar substitute. It’s very sweet and has a very subtle flavor, making it the perfect swap for granulated sugar. I use it in all of my salad dressings and to balance the flavors in different sauces. It’s also the laziest (and best) hack for simple syrup in just about any beverage or cocktail recipe. Walmart stocks my favorite brand, Madhava. It’s worth the extra money, in my opinion.

Costco: $8.99 (2 32-ounce bottles / $0.14 per ounce)
Walmart: $10.92 (46 ounce bottle / $0.24 per ounce)
Target: $5.79 (23.5 ounce bottle / $0.25 per ounce)

14. Almond Milk

Plant-based milk is an essential item in just about every household these days. Whether it’s in coffee or a matcha latte, in cereal, overnight oats, or chia pudding, I find that unsweetened, vanilla almond milk adds a little something special to all of them.

Costco: $7.99 (6 32-ounce cartons / $0.04 per ounce)
Walmart: $2.97 (64 ounce carton / $0.05 per ounce)
Target: $2.19 (32 ounce carton / $0.07 per ounce)

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15. Frozen Fruit

Unlike frozen vegetables, frozen fruit is not blanched before it goes through the freezing process, which leaves you with a bag of perfectly ripened, raw fruit. These fruits are packed with micronutrients. It’s nice to have vitamin-rich food, on hand, that you don’t have to be in a rush to eat. It can stay in the freezer until you’re ready to consume it. Frozen fruit is an ideal, affordable alternative to fresh fruit for making natural popsicles and smoothies, or for making jams, cobblers, pies, muffins, and cookies.

I always have a stash of frozen cherries. They, literally, make any smoothie taste delicious. They blend up so smoothly. And, with these in the freezer, I’m always ready to throw together a last-minute crumble.

Costco: $9.99 (4 pound bag / $0.16 per ounce)
Walmart: $10.00 (3 pound bag / $0.21 per ounce)
Target: $4.98 (2 12 ounce bags / $0.21 per ounce