Comparing the Cost of Organic and Non-organic Food

Organic food meme A while ago this meme was circulating on facebook and it really annoyed me for several reasons. Firstly, as someone who is on a budget, I don’t like memes that try and make people feel guilty for not buying organic foods. Just because someone doesn’t buy organic food 100% of the time does not automatically mean they live on chocolate, soft drink and chips.

Secondly, as a scientist, comparing the cost of different foods makes no sense. If you’re going to look at the cost of chicken, compare pastured, organically-fed chicken with non-organic chicken or non-local chicken, rather than a bunch of junk food.

Also, the higher cost of producing organic food usually makes it more expensive for consumers. This is not inherently a bad thing, but nowadays food is cheaper than it has ever been, and this comes at a cost in terms of quality and ecological implications. Organic food, which does not take shortcuts, is never going to be able to compete in terms of cost.

So I decided to make some comparisons of the cost of organic and non-organic food at my local supermarket. First up is chicken thighs:organic chicken price comparison

You can see that the price per kilo varies quite a lot, with the organic chicken being over three times the cost of non-organic. When you think about this it makes sense. The production costs associated with producing free range chickens is going to be higher than non-free range, as you need more land to produce the same amount of meat. For organic chicken, the costs are even higher as there are additional feed and welfare concerns to take into account. The higher price reflects this.

I eat a fair bit of chicken, and can’t afford to pay $28 a kilo for it. I do prefer to eat organic chicken, and the way I get around it is to use the cheaper cuts. I generally use the cheaper cuts, the drumsticks ($7.99 a kilo) and wings ($6.49 a kilo), as well as whole chickens when they are on sale ($9.99 a kilo). These cuts do come with bones, so you get less meat, but you can use the bones to make chicken broth or soup.

organic egg price comparison

Eggs followed a similar pattern. The price difference initially doesn’t seem like that much, but 30c per egg adds up fast. Also, the organic eggs tend to come in cartons of 10 rather than 12, which means the difference in price is not immediately obvious (it definitely fooled me the first time).

I also eat a lot of eggs (I like having them for breakfast) and can’t afford to buy organic all of the time. So I buy free range sometimes and organic when I can afford them. I also buy organic eggs from the market where you can often get them for $8 a dozen (66c per egg).

organic yogurt price comparison

Yogurt was one food where there wasn’t a whole lot of difference in price, which was kind of surprising considering there were differences in other dairy products. I’m happy to pay 99c extra a kilo for organic yogurt.

organic butter price comparison

Organic butter was two and a half times the cost of non-organic butter. As someone who uses a lot of butter for cooking, $26 a kilo isn’t sustainable. Luckily, there is a grass-fed (but not organic) butter that is very reasonably priced, and this is what I buy.

organic diced tomatoes price comparison

Organic tinned tomatoes were about double the price of non-organic tinned tomatoes. I don’t use a lot of tinned tomatoes, and I don’t tend to buy organic fresh tomatoes, so I usually go for the cheaper, non-organic ones.

organic spinach price comparison

There wasn’t a huge difference in price between organic and non-organic baby spinach. I do try and buy organic greens whenever possible because they are on the “Dirty Dozen” list of fruits and veggies with the highest pesticide residue remaining when we eat them. A price difference of $4 a kilo is low enough that I can afford to buy organic spinach.

organic zucchini price comparison

And lastly, organic zucchinis were over triple the price of non-organic zucchinis. I do try and buy as much of my produce organic as possible, but can’t afford to pay $10 a kilo for it. When I see organic food on the reduced rack or going cheaply at the markets I stock up, but the rest of the time most of what I eat is not organic, and I clean it well before eating.

That’s how I handle the balance of buying organic vs non-organic foods.  Do you buy organic? How do you manage the cost?

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Comments

  1. Whew! For a minute there, you scared me. I was thinking the same thing–I don’t usually purchase any of the junky things portrayed so it’s not a fair comparison–glad you pointed that out.

    I don’t typically buy organic. We garden and occasionally eat fish my family has caught, or venison my family has hunted (accidental organic consumption!), but I have mostly found that the cost of organic foods is prohibitive for us. If a family member or I had a major health issue, I might reconsider, but right now, it isn’t a priority for us. Everyone comes from a different viewpoint and I’m grateful to people like you who keep an open mind about different choices regarding organic consumption.

    • I think food you’ve grown or hunted yourself is the best kind of food to be eating – you know exactly where it’s come from and it’s cheap.

  2. Thanks for the fair comparisons. I get upset when I see arguments like the one you showed where they go for emotions instead of using relevant numbers. Now I want someone to do the same comparisons that you did in my part of the US, to see if we have the same trends that you do. Maybe that will have to me sometime. I buy organic when I feel the price is reasonable. Otherwise, I know that it is better for me to eat non-organic vegetables than none at all.

    • I would love to see a post about comparisons in your area – I’m always interested in food costs in different places. And I definitely agree, eating non-organic fruits and veggies is a lot better than eating none at all!

  3. EcoCatLady says:

    Well… I’m totally inconsistent when it comes to this question. I try to buy organic for the “dirty dozen” but I can’t bring myself to pay the ridiculous cost of organic sweet bell peppers – and when Colorado peaches are in season… I guess I’d rather have local than organic in some cases. And I’ve been trying to buy organic meat this year – since my mortgage is paid off there’s a little room in the budget. But honestly, organic chicken costs about 10 times the cost of the conventional stuff so sometimes it’s hard to stick to.

    Anyhow, the thing that sorta irks me about that info-graphic is the line “Organic is the real bargain” – real bargain for who? They don’t mention that those subsidies largely go to producers of GMO corn and soybeans… and most of those costs listed are not ones that people are going to see a personal savings on if they switch to organic. It’s not like I can say “Oh… see… I buy organic, so I’m not going to pay the portion of my taxes that goes to support big agriculture.” I guess I just think that in this case, as in most other “green” causes, we’d be much better off putting our energies toward trying to change public policy rather than launching yet another do-gooder guilt campaign.

    • Organic capsicums (bell peppers) are super-expensive here as well, so I don’t usually buy them either. Same with stone fruit, but things I eat a lot of, like potatoes and greens I do try and buy organic.

      That is a good point about the subsidies – that phrase really irked me as well, but it was hard to put my finger on why. But you’re right, we do need to trying to change public policy rather than just changing what we buy.

  4. I don’t buy much organic, but I buy seasonal and local as much as possible. A lot of local producers are part of the way to becoming organic, but not certified yet. In the winter I have to buy all imported produce (except for root vegetables) so I try to buy the least harmful and use more frozen and preserved. I have stocked up my freezer with local strawberries and rhubarb for next winter (only 4 months away!) I do try to buy organic grains/pulses like oatmeal and lentils because I eat so much of them and prefer to avoid GMOs and Monsanto connections!

    • That’s a good point about producers moving towards becoming certified organic. I was talking to some people today about how producers get certified as organic, and it can be expensive, so sometimes it’s better to talk to the farmers at local markets about how they grow the food.

  5. I don’t usually buy organic but we always buy free-range. I like that you highlighted the ‘guilting’ that goes on. My Facebook feed is full of it! I really agree with EcoCatLady above that institutional change is more effective (usually) than personal actions.

    • The guilt really gets to me as well. There was a meme going around a while ago about honey, which said all non-raw honey has corn syrup in it and listed all the bad things about corn syrup, telling people to only buy raw honey. That might be the case in the US, but it was being shared by Australian bloggers, which I think is irresponsible. Raw honey is very expensive and all honey here has to (by law) consist of 100% honey. It was just another case of scaring people into spending huge amounts of money unnecessarily! Okay rant over now…

  6. I buy organic when possible as long as the price difference isn’t huge (I do make exceptions for local items and zero waste options though). I may run the numbers of organic vs. conventional produce at my local store and see what the difference is – but off the top of my head, the difference doesn’t seem to be as staggering as in your examples.

    • I would be interested to see what the difference is where you are. I get the feeling from other bloggers that the organic food is cheaper and more widely available in the US, so maybe we will get there in a few years as the market grows.

  7. I don’t chose to buy organic. it’s interesting what I get all high and mighty about (waste, cost, waste, plastics what else?) and then I think oh yeah, load me with pesticide! But I whole heartedly admit I skim over the organic section in the supermarket or Harris Farm. Often it’s MORE packaged too! I know the coop is big into organic, but I just can’t get on board with it, mainly cause it does cost more, but also, I tend to be somewhat put off by the less then beautiful food. I’m ashamed to admit it, but the big grocery stores know this is true, that’s why there’s no ugly carrot etc. It’s a shame I’ve been conditioned like this, and I wish it wasn’t true. I wish dirty carrots and mishapen fruit and vege weren’t a choice, they just were the ONLY option!! I bet farmers would agree with me there.

    • That’s interesting what you say about the less than perfect food. Some supermarkets overseas have been selling their “ugly” fruit and veg cheaper than the non-ugly stuff in order to reduce food waste. Do you think that would be enough incentive for you?

      I don’t like the extra packaging either, but I do guess they have to differentiate between the organic and non-organic stuff at the checkout.

      • I have seen that campaign – and I think I could be swayed by lower prices, but it’s hard to be enticed by the higher prices the coop has for organic (and ugly) fruit :p

  8. Great comparison. I agree, it’s silly comparing organic produce with chips and chocolate!

    We don’t buy organic stuff regularly unless I find good deals. While I’d love to buy everything organic, we just can’t afford it. I find Aldi does cheaper organic stuff, but then it’s usually shipped half way across the globe, so you can’t win. Our local farmer’s market sells organic stuff, often cheap, if we can get it there we do. I try to buy the best stuff we can afford and I’m happy with that :).

    Thanks for the great post.

    • Thanks for stopping by Melissa 🙂
      I like Aldi as well for some organics, but it is hard balancing organic and local sometimes! I wish we would get some local markets in the western suburbs – they seem to be popping up all over the place on the east side of town. I usually go to the Rocklea ones, but sometimes go to Mt Gravatt as well and they occasionally have some organic stuff very cheap.

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