Does Eating Organic Break the Bank?

Apr 18, 2020
Written by
Aliona Ciobanu
Photographed by
H

ave you ever wondered if eating organic could fit in your budget? The common belief is that eating organic is more expensive than eating conventional products.

Instead of depending on websites to look for an answer, I decided to investigate myself by visiting six different supermarkets in my area and conduct some good old research of my own. 

Before sharing with you my findings I invite you to reflect on the following questions:

1.     If organic produce was just slightly more expensive than the conventional produce, would that be enough for me to transition to organic food?

2.     What would it take (in terms of cost and convenience) for me to choose "organic" over "conventional?”

3.     Am I aware of the benefits of consuming organic fruits and vegetables

I have been eating organic fruits and vegetables for a year now and the transition wasn't the result of a lottery prize or a promotion. It all happened after joining a local CSA (Community Supported Agriculture). I knew they were a catch because they deliver veggies at my door every Wednesday and I am way too busy to shop around for deals on organic vegetables. So, I decided to try them out and I have been happily using them ever since.

My Basket of Fruits and Veggies

Since I was paying a fixed price for my veggie basket subscription (34$/week), I had no idea how much that basket would cost at the grocery store. So, I decided to investigate!

The Experiment

WHAT: take the contents of my weekly vegetable basket and find out how much the individual items would cost me in 6 different supermarkets and health food stores.

HOW: visit a total of 6 grocery stores (3 conventional and 3 health food stores) and crunch some numbers. The goal was to compare the cost of a conventional (non-organic) basket to an organic (pesticide-free!) basket.

WHERE: visit the supermarkets in my area.

I had to follow certain rules to ensure that I was being fair: I made sure to choose the exact type of apples and pears and if an item was on sale (broccoli was on sale everywhere that week), I made sure to record the sales price and not the regular price. What surprised me the most was the degree of variation in price from supermarket to supermarket.

Certain items like yellow peppers and apples varied tremendously in price depending on whether they were local or imported. The irony behind it is that local apples were cheaper than imported apples. Yet, local yellow peppers were more expensive than Mexican peppers! I am sure there is an explanation for that.

The price of the basket in a conventional supermarket varied between $18 and $26. If your local grocery store does price matching then you can get away with cheaper groceries - as long as you have time and energy to fiddle with flyers and do your research.

After visiting 3 different health food stores, the cost of the organic basket varied between $26 and $29. I picture some of you scratching your heads after reading this. And yes, I managed to find a health food store that is more expensive than Whole Foods when it comes to vegetables. I guess the joke about Whole Foods being called "Whole Paycheck" is no longer relevant.

Let's get back to the question I initially asked: does eating organic break the bank?

The answer is not necessarily. The bottom line is that you have to be a smart grocery shopper! There are many factors that affect the price of fruits and vegetables and listing those factors will require a separate article altogether (stay tuned!). 

However, I am glad that this week of research allowed me to re-visit and re-frame some of my old beliefs about organic produce. For example:

I used to think that organic produce could never match the price of conventional produce. I was wrong! I used to think that organic produce could never be cheaper than its conventional (non-organic) equivalent. Again, I was wrong!

Of course, we have to keep in mind that the price of produce can vary from province to province. I can only speak for the area surrounding the city of Toronto. Also, the research in itself was a small scale research project that involved only 6 supermarkets. Perhaps if I did the research 5 years ago, the result would have been drastically different. I do find that organic produce is far more accessible today than 5-10 years ago. Therefore, I am hoping that in the future, buying organic produce will become a norm, not because we are richer, but rather because it is more accessible altogether.

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