Affording Organics

An article in this Sunday’s New York Times once again highlighted rising food prices, this time focusing on “sticker shock” felt by consumers of organics, who already pay a premium for food. The article questioned the potential impact the rise will have on the market for organics.

Rising prices for organic groceries are prompting some consumers to question their devotion to food produced without pesticides, chemical fertilizers or antibiotics. In some parts of the country, a loaf of organic bread can cost $4.50, a pound of pasta has hit $3, and organic milk is closing in on $7 a gallon. …Food prices in general have been rising, but organic food lagged somewhat behind last year because of a temporary glut of organic milk and other factors. Some grocery chains adopted private-label organic products, which are cheaper than brand products, while others hesitated to raise already high organic prices. In recent months, however, these factors have been giving way to cost pressures in the industry. …Organic manufacturers and retailers said prices began increasing last fall but were only now starting to spike significantly in some parts of the country.

via New York Times

The increase in organic prices, according to the Times, is rooted in most of the same causes linked to the cost increase for conventional groceries: “higher fuel costs, rising demand and a tight supply of the grains needed for animal feed and bakery items.” Already, the article notes, organic consumers pay anywhere from 20-100% more for organic versions of food items, but knowing their food was raised with healthier conditions and stricter oversight makes the added cost worth it for most consumers.

Sales of organics have skyrocketed in recent years, but many in the industry are concerned that consumers will return to conventional groceries in the interest of saving money. Many grocery store owners, suppliers and farmers are taking a relative hit, delaying further price increases, but they know they can only hold out for so long. The Times reports that the cost of raising organic poultry has increased 16% in the last six months, but one producer was trying to hold his price increase at 7%. Some farmers are opting to give up organic farming and return to conventional practices. One organic dairy farmer saw his feed costs more than double in response to the spike in organic feed prices. He gave up his organic credentials in December.

For consumers, the picture is mixed. Some will go the conventional route out of choice or necessity. Others will buy organic more “strategically.” Still others will pillage every other part of the family budget before buying conventional food.

We here at MDA are huge advocates of organic products and for good reason: fewer toxins and synthetic hormones for your body to fight, way more nutrients, better taste, and less poisonous run off and antibiotic resistance that impacts all of us. Nonetheless, it’s a tough economy out there these days. With all food costs on the rise, eating healthy (organic or not) is pricey. We all do the best we can. A few weeks ago, reader Anna offered up some superb ideas for getting the best (and most) for your dollar in her guest post, Thrift Cuts. We thought the issue of affording good quality food was well worth revisiting.

We want to hear more of your good ideas on balancing your budget and food priorities. In the meantime, we’ll throw out a few of ours:

• More than ever, hone in on veggies and meats. They’re likely the most expensive parts of your food budget, but that’s how it should be. Put as much of your resources into the core of your diet as you can, and build outward from there with fruits, nuts, dairy, etc.

• Get out the cookbooks and look for some new ideas to inspire you to try some less expensive meat and produce items.

• If you live in an area with multiple organics-carrying stores, shop around for the best prices on what you buy most frequently. And don’t write off co-ops: you can often get some excellent deals without even joining their membership base.

• Check out manufacturers’ websites for coupons, especially for those expensive items like oils, etc. If you don’t see printable coupons, call them up and ask them to send you some. You’ll very rarely hear no.

• Consider a new angle on your celebrating/entertaining. Instead of having the neighbors over for dinner, do after dinner drinks or an afternoon lemonade. Less stress, less mess, more cash left in your wallet.

• Shop around for area farm stands and CSAs (more on those later this week).

• Consider growing a couple items yourself like berries, tomatoes or herbs.

This is, we recognize, just the tip of the iceberg. What are your perspectives, strategies, and tips? What are you doing these days to eat healthy without breaking the bank? As always, thanks for your great contributions!

Hysterical Bertha, Kai Hendry, wat.ti: Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Cheap Meat?

Healthy Eating on a Budget 1, 2

The Consumerist: Surviving on 99-Cent-Store Food (definitely not MDA approved)

Subscribe to Mark’s Daily Apple feeds

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