Organic groceries can cost you more than twice as much as conventional groceries. For example, you could get a basket filled with conventional chicken, eggs, milk, zucchini, carrots and apples for $10.68. But if you bought the organic versions of those same products, you might pay $24.21, according to Consumer Reports. Yet many people would like to buy organic, either for the health of their families or the health of the planet.
“When my family began this adventure in eating whole and natural foods, we experienced sticker shock,” said Chrissy Pate who runs the savings website BeCentsable.net. “So, I did some research and found that great benefits could be had from making some smaller changes in the right areas.”
Pate found that you don’t have to spend your “whole paycheck” to go organic. Instead you can graze through a variety of strategies and do quite well. There are simple, practical ways to get deep discounts on organic products. Here are 10 methods:
1. Prioritize your organics. The Consumer Reports’ Food Safety and Sustainability Center says produce is the highest priority thing to buy organic, in order to avoid pesticide residues. But even within that category you can cut costs with this loose guideline: If a fruit or vegetable has a protective peel that you do not eat, buying organic is less important.
Consumer Reports says organic poultry, meat and dairy are of medium to high importance, in order to avoid antibiotics and hormones and to get the most nutritious benefits. Lowest priority are packaged foods, since they are highly processed even if they’re organic.
2. Try a regular store. You don’t have to go to a specialty store for organics. Conventional grocery chains like Safeway and Giant have devoted more and more space to organic foods as their popularity has surged. Their organic prices are often fairly close to their regular prices, but you should shop and compare to make sure. Also watch out for conventional and organic produce that are displayed next to each other, as store misters could spread pesticide residue from one to the other.
3. Try a small store. When Consumers Checkbook shopped around for organic produce, it found that prices at Mom’s Organic Market were eight percent lower than those at other Washington-area grocery stores. Trader Joe’s stores are small, but carry many organic foods. When MarketWatch compared Trader Joe’s prices with those of three other stores, it said “Trader Joe’s was by far the cheapest.”
4. Try a big store. Costco boasts that its Kirkland Signature Organics line will save consumers 20 percent. Walmart is now the biggest seller of organics in America, and since it’s known for its rock-bottom prices, it’s worth a look. Target stores — especially Super Targets — have also made a huge investment in organics.
5. Shop online. I tested online grocers for a “Dr. Oz Show” segment and found that Thrive Market was promising. We bought a month’s worth of snacks for a family of four, and Thrive’s price was $46, compared to $61 at a specialty grocery store. An intriguing newcomer is called Brandless.com. Brandless sells page after page of organics and every product is $3! As you can guess from the name, the products are simply packaged, no-name items.
6. Go generic. Regardless whether you are shopping at a conventional, big, little, or online store, generic organics are another way to save. For example, Safeway has it’s “O” brand and Whole Foods’ house brand is called “365.” Consumers Checkbook found that often these generic organics were cheaper than the equivalent name-brand conventional foods. The website Cheapism.com found 200 Whole Foods 365 foods that were less expensive than equivalent products at regular grocery stores.
7. Use coupons. Yes! Organic coupons do exist. “Don’t be fooled into thinking you can’t get coupons on these types of items,” said Pate. “There is a growing customer base for organic foods and, as a result, companies are competing harder to get your business!”
First of all, most coupons offered for things like spaghetti sauce are good for the company’s conventional sauces or organic sauces, even if the conventional sauce is the one pictured on the coupon.
The other trick is to simply search the name of an organic brand you like and the word “coupons” and see what’s out there. I found five different coupons for Annie’s Homegrown products this way and even a coupon to receive $1 off of Earthbound Farms organic lettuces. You can also sign up for your favorite organic brands’ newsletter. They often contain generous coupons. Bonus tip: Create a separate email address just for shopping to avoid clogging up your main email account.
8. Save on non-food groceries. Get other products for little or nothing and then spend the money saved on organics. This is totally doable if you match coupons with sales or stack multiple coupons together, as I explained in my June 6 column. Thanks to websites that find the deals for you, it’s not hard.
For example, as I write this you can get shaving cream and deodorant for free at CVS, shampoo and Kleenex for free at Target, and Band-Aids and tape for free at Walmart. Several of these deals even allow you to make a profit by combining coupons and sales and getting cash back.
9. Go natural. There are three tips within this tip. The first is to shop seasonally because produce, in particular, is far less expensive when it’s in season. Second, why not grow your own? This year I spent $31 on seeds for my small garden in D.C., and I estimate it’s generated many times that in organic veggies. The third idea is to join a CSA, which stands for Community Supported Agriculture. You are basically subscribing to a local farmer and usually go to a central location weekly to pick up a box of organic food. I once compared a Sandy Spring, Md., CSA’s prices with grocery store prices and found they paid $11 less for their box of nine vegetables.
10. Know your labels. And finally, make sure the food you are buying is all you hope it is. The reliable labels to look for are “USDA Organic,” “Certified Organic” and “100% Organic.” “Made with organic ingredients” means a product only has to be 70 percent organic. And terms like “cage-free” aren’t tightly regulated, so you have to rely on the producer’s integrity. Even the terms “natural” and “all-natural” are misleading because they don’t have any government force behind them.
Here’s the proof that it works: I put together an all-organic grocery list that included milk, three yogurts, peanut butter, eggs and lettuce mix. If I paid full price, my tab would be $35.55. But by combining several of the strategies above — warehouse buys, generics and coupons— I was able to get this basketful of food for just $22.80. That’s a 36-percent savings —and a relief.
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