Tonawanda News

September 19, 2011

The cost of eating organic

By Jill Keppeler
The Tonawanda News

— Eating organic may (or may not) be better for you, but it’s going to cost you ... both in your grocery bill and, perhaps, your gasoline budget.

The Tonawanda News recently did a survey of local grocery stores in the Tonawandas/Amherst area, checking the availability and cost of a dozen common grocery items, both in organic and non-organic form.

All prices used are regular prices. In the cases store brands were not available, the lowest-priced name brand was used. In the case of multiple brands of organic items, the lowest-priced one was used (store brand, if possible).

Each of the items was found in at least one store. Spaghetti sauce, spaghetti, cereal and eggs were found in organic form in all four stores.

Although produce (especially items on the “Dirty Dozen” list of produce most contaminated by chemicals, produced yearly by the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit focused on public health) is one of the first items often recommended for those considering eating organic, it was almost among the most difficult items to find. We sought iceberg lettuce and peaches, both on the Dirty Dozen list, and found lettuce at two stores and peaches at only one. (Peaches were used because they were in season for late summer/early autumn.)

Another hurdle to eating organic is cost ... which our survey found to be significant.

The bill for these 12 items in their least-expensive organic variants comes to $36.98, while their regular equivalents comes to $20.78.

The items we used are as follows.

• Organic spaghetti sauce (in sizes from 24 to 26 oz.) was available at all four of the stores, ranging in price from $2.99 to $3.99. Non-organic ranged from 99 cents to $1.69.

• Organic spaghetti (8 or 16 oz.) was available at all four of the stores, ranging in price from $1.99 for 16 oz. to $2.59 for 8 oz. Non-organic ranged from 79 cents to $1.49.

• Organic cereal (of the “Os” variety, 9 to 15 oz.) was available at all four of the stores, ranging in price from $2.89 to $3.99. Non-organic ranged from $1.99 to $2.69.

• Organic eggs (dozen large) were available at all four of the stores, ranging in price from $3.69 to $4.19. Non-organic brands ranged from $1.39 to $1.89.

• Organic peanut butter (in sizes from 16 to 18 oz.) was available at three of the stores, ranging in price from $3.29 to $4.89. Store brands ranged from $2.29 to $2.49.

• Organic juice boxes (100 percent juice, per 6.75-ounce box) were available at three of the stores, for prices that worked out to 44 to 76 cents per box. Non-organic brands ranged from 30 to 65 cents per box. (Packages ranged from three to 10 boxes each.)

• Organic milk (in a half-gallon jug) was available at three of the stores, ranging in price from $3.39 to $3.79. Non-organic ranged from $1.95 to $2.19.

• Organic applesauce (six packs of 4 oz. containers) was available at three of the stores, ranging in price from $2.79 to $3.49. Non-organic ranged from $1.52 to $2.19.

• Organic frozen meals (of the sort marketed for children, 7 to 8 oz.) were available at two of the stories, for $3.79 and $4.59. Non-organic brands ranged from $1.89 to $2.49.

• Organic iceberg lettuce was available at two of the stores, for $2.69 and $2.99. Non-organic brands ranged from $1.39 to $1.99.

• Organic chocolate sandwich cookies (12 to 18 oz.) were available at two of the stores, for $3.49 and $3.89. Non-organic ranged from $1.99 to $2.99.

• Organic peaches were available at one store, for $2.49 per pound. Non-organic peaches ranged from $1.60 to $2.49.

Stores used in the survey were Tops, Target, Budwey’s and Wegmans. All carried at least some organic products, but the only one to carry all of them was Wegmans.

Theresa Jackson, Wegmans consumer affairs manager (and registered dietitian), said that’s no coincidence.

“Basically we are providing a variety of organic products because that is what our customers want from us,” she said.

Jackson said that Wegmans actually owns an organic research farm in Canandaigua, which supplies some organic produce to the stores in Canandaigua and Pittsford and to the Wegmans Next Door Bar and Grill in Pittsford.

“The whole reason for that is because the Wegmans family and company is interested in organics,” she said. “We went to help farmers, especially in New York state. We’re doing research there on how to grow organic produce in New York state, and then we’re sharing that with farmers through the state. It definitely is a company priority.”

Jackson said the company has definitely seen an increase in customer interest in organic foods over the years.

“We’re seeing everybody being interested in organics, in some way,” she said. “It’s a spectrum.

“Some customers might be interested in 100 percent organic. Some customers maybe interested in trying certain products, or just trying organics. We’re there for the whole spectrum.”

Note that in some stores, while the actual items we were looking for weren’t available, similar items were available (such as varieties of frozen meals, cookies, etc.).

There are a few other options for eating organic in the area, including the Feel Rite store on Maple Road in Amherst and BJs wholesale stores throughout the area (which weren’t used for this story due to the need to keep product sizes approximately the same).