Organic foods may be healthier for you, but they
can have a sickening effect on your wallet.
Produced without pesticides and other chemicals,
organic produce, meat and dairy products can cost
50% to 100% more than their conventional counterparts,
says Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy
analyst with Consumer Reports' Greener Choices1.
Despite those mark-ups, studies touting the health
and environmental benefits of organic foods have
made them more popular than ever before. More
than 70% of consumers have at least one organic
product on their shopping list, according to market
research firm Hartman Group.
Here are five tips for going organic for less:
Set some priorities
You'll get the most bang for your buck by buying
organic apples, beef and spinach. That's because
the conventional counterparts to these foods are
laden with pesticides and potentially harmful
additives (see chart below). Produce like papayas,
bananas and broccoli require less pesticide to
grow, thereby retaining little to no residue after
washing. (The peels on bananas and other tropical
fruits further reduce your exposure).
Also, read the label. Seafood, cosmetics and
cleaning products can be labeled "organic" without
having to face the same requirements that are
imposed on vegetables and meat. "There is no system,
no real oversight," warns Kimberly Stewart, the
author of "Eating Between the Lines: The Supermarket
Shopper's Guide to the Truth Behind Food Labels."
You'll pay premium prices with no guarantees.
Consider your alternatives
Prices on organic meats, eggs and dairy products
can be some of the most exorbitant. The culprit:
A lack of the organic feed for the animals, says
Stewart. So if you can't stomach prices for organics,
consider antibiotic- or hormone-free foods. While
the animals may have eaten regular feed, they
meet the other half of organic requirements -
no hormones or antibiotics. At online grocer FreshDirect,
a half-gallon of Horizon organic milk is $3.99,
while the same size Farmland antibiotic-free milk
Organic goes on sale, too
Conventional discount shopping wisdom also applies
to organic goods. Grocery stores frequently put
organic foods on sale, so keep an eye out for
coupons or discounts advertised in their circulars.
Shop Rite's July 15-21 circular, for example,
touts organic bananas for 69 cents per pound (the
same price as conventional ones) and organic Stonyfield
Yogurt at 10 for $6.99 (a break of 19 cents each
off the usual price of 89 cents).
Also, buy fruits and veggies that are in season.
Pricing becomes much more competitive during those
times. At Whole Foods,
a six-ounce container of raspberries is currently
$3.49 whether you go organic or not. Meanwhile,
a 16-ounce container of conventional strawberries
is $2.99; for organic, just 50 cents more.
Turn to local farmers
Your local farmers' market can be a great place
to buy organic food. That's because a combination
of seasonality and competition helps keep prices
down, says Rangan.
Another option: community-supported agriculture
programs, or CSAs. For a fee, you'll be supplied
with fresh, organic produce on a weekly basis
throughout the growing season. Quiet Creek Farm
in Kutztown, Pa., for example, charges $600, or
roughly $23 per week, for enough produce to feed
three to four people. Depending on the week, you
might get broccoli, peppers, zucchini, melons,
strawberries, herbs or any of the other 40-plus
organic items the farm produces.
Supermarket chain Meijer
has Meijer Organics, Giant Eagle has Nature's
Basket and Publix has GreenWise Market. Many supermarkets
are adding organic lines to their private labels,
a move that allows shoppers to buy organic at
significant discounts over big-name brands, says
Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game, a program
that helps consumers match manufacturers' coupons
with store sales. At Safeway,
a 20-ounce bottle of store-brand O Organics ketchup
is $2.45, a steal compared with the 15-ounce bottle
of Heinz Organic at $3.79. Considering price per
ounce, you'll save 49%.