One of my readers asked this question the other day – Where is the most economical place to buy organic produce? A very good question, and one that I keep in mind since I do shop around. Not one store has the all around best prices, 100% of the time.
The generally higher price tag of organic produce can be daunting. It’s hard to balance your monthly budget with politically ethical food choices, especially in the winter. Right now, we are out of season. Winter farm shares are few, farm stands are closed, and most of the produce you see in the grocery stores are shipped from far away. All of which increases the cost of fresh food.
To be completely honest, I do not buy 100% of my groceries organic. I am forced to pick and choose week to week, but I try to allocate a percentage of the amount I spend to buying fresh food, rather than canned or frozen. A good guideline to go by, is the “Dirty Dozen and Clean 15” list, or consider what produce has the thinest skin is better to buy organic. However, when I do items at rock bottom prices, I tend to buy a lot, and freeze or dry what we wont use that week. Also, when I do see canned or frozen items go on sale and can get them free or cheap, especially organic, I tend to stock-pile those items. Doing this lowers our bill week to week. It loosens our budget a bit, and I’m able to do more of our shopping at the Co+Op and farmer’s market, and also purchase a share of Crazy Diamond Beef, which lasts us the whole year.
However, when the question popped up, I asked myself, “What price points do I watch for when I buy produce?” When I first started using coupons, I did find quite a few coupons for fresh produce – Earthbound Farm had just started a newsletter that featured a weekly $0.75/1 Earthbound Farm product coupon, which got me a lot of free cooking carrots at Tops after it doubled, and very cheap salad greens. I was spoiled, and they don’t offer many coupons anymore.
Here is a list of the highest unit price I will pay for basic produce, organic prices vs. conventional:
To answer the question of where the most economical place to buy organic produce, I went to four different grocery stores here, compared prices based on the chart above, and weighed in on the company’s sources for their produce and their overall selection. Here is what I found:
BJ’s actually had a pretty good selection for organic produce. Understandably, big box stores and wholesale clubs pay attention to what consumers want. They also offer a “Farm to Club” program which brings fresh local produce to members, but I’m still waiting to hear back from the manager for more information – I couldn’t find much on their website. However, when comparing their prices to Wegmans, which offers bulk sizes as well, they fell short:
Aldi has been promoting their increased options for healthier choices and carrying more organic and locally grown produce. They have their fairly new Simply Nature line, which is natural, but not always certified organic. Their prices for organic bananas is the cheapest in town at $0.59/lb.
Greenstar follows the Co+Op deals national flier. This is primarily what I look for when I shop there, and the bulk section is pretty good too – most of the grains are supplied by local farmers, the honey, the price for dried herbs and spices can not be beat. However, I do browse the produce section for sales:
Considering most of the cucumbers weighed less than a pound, where at Wegmans organic cucumbers were $1.99 each, this price fits my ideals and beats Wegmans by 50%.
4. Last, but not least:
Wegmans, by far, has *the* best selection, and their devotion to serving up the best all around quality can’t be beat. When I shop for farm-fresh items, I want to know where the food is coming from, and how it was produced. Wegmans has their own organic farm which they are using to help educate their suppliers on best growing practices, and also to supply their stores with local produce. The less your food travels, the fresher and healthier it is for you. Learn more about the Wegmans organic farm here and also check out the produce supply calendar from some of the supplying farms.
Wegmans also offers bulk sizes for organic and conventional produce, which cuts down the unit prices. Their bulk salad section allows you to choose the right amount for your family so you can avoid waste, which saves money as well. The prices came close to BJ’s, but evened out in over all quality and selection.
Therefore, in response for the most economical place to buy organic, local produce, Wegmans consistently has the best prices and quality.
It doesn’t hurt to continue to check the sales fliers, and shop around. As we move into summer, prices will be dropping even more, depending on what’s in season. Visit Ithaca Farm to Fork for a list of area farmers markets, Pickyourown.org for u-pick farms nationwide, and CCE’s CSA Fair participant list for CSA’s in the Ithaca area. Wholeshare is a great way to avoid the supermarket rush, and has really good prices for pantry items.