Does Buying Organic Break the Bank?


When I discuss healthy eating with my patients, one of the most common reasons they give for why they don’t eat organic food is the price. “I just can’t afford it,” they’ll say. “It’s not in my budget.”  Is this excuse valid or just a misnomer?  Let’s go shopping and find out if it really breaks the bank to buy food that’s free of artificial chemicals, hormones, antibiotics and genetically modified organisms.

The first stop is to a local grocery store called Harris Teeter. If you don’t have a Harris Teeter in your area, it’s comparable to Albertsons and Publix. I priced eight common non-organic items as follows:

  • Strawberries ($4.99/LB)
  • Bananas (.35¢ each)
  • Peaches ($3.99/LB)
  • Tomatoes ($2.49/LB)
  • Avocados ($2.99 each)
  • Sweet onions ($1.49/LB)
  • Chicken thighs – boneless/skinless ($3.99/LB)
  • Eggs ($1.69 per dozen)

Next, we go to Whole Foods, the nation’s largest health food grocery store, to comparison-shop organic varieties of the same items:

  • Strawberries ($6.99/LB – $2.00 more)
  • Bananas (.36¢ each – .01¢ more)
  • Peaches ($4.39/LB –   .40¢ more)
  • Tomatoes ($2.19/LB – .30¢ more)
  • Avocados ($1.25 each – $1.74 less),
  • Sweet onions ($1.69/LB – .20¢ more)
  • Chicken thighs – boneless/skinless ($5.49/LB – $1.50 more)
  • Eggs ($3.69 per dozen – $1.80 more)

With just these eight items coming in at $7.95 more, I could see how shopping organically at Whole Foods may be considered too costly for those on a tight budget.   Because of Amazon’s recent purchase of Whole Foods, these prices are expected to decrease significantly.

Next up is another popular natural health food grocery store, Trader Joe’s.  They’ve recently celebrated their 50 year anniversary and were selling organic before it was considered trendy.  When comparing Trader Joe’s prices to the non-organic items at Harris Teeter, quite a few of them were less expensive:

  • Strawberries ($2.99/LB – $2.00 less)
  • Bananas (.29 ¢ each -.06¢ less)
  • Peaches ($1.75/LB – $2.24 less)
  • Tomatoes ($2.99/LB -.51¢ more)
  • Avocados ($2.29 each – .07¢ less)
  • Sweet onions  ($1.49/ LB – same cost)
  • Chicken thighs – boneless/skinless ($5.49/LB – $1.50 more)
  • Eggs ($2.69 per dozen – $1.80 more)

Overall, Trader Joe’s was .56¢ cheaper than buying the same non-organic items at Harris Teeter. If you’re a vegetarian and we exclude the chicken and eggs, you’d actually save $4.37 by purchasing the organic produce at Trader Joe’s.

Now it’s on to Aldi, a health food supermarket chain known for keeping its prices low because of its no-frills approach. For example, you have to bag your own groceries and pay a quarter to use a shopping cart, which you get back upon its return. This means fewer employees are required, and Aldi passes these savings on to its customers. When comparing the prices of their organic varieties to the non-organic items at Harris Teeter, I was pleasantly surprised:

  • Strawberries ($2.99/LB – $2.00 less)
  • Bananas (.29¢ each – .06¢ less)
  • Peaches ($1.50/LB – $2.49 less)
  • Tomatoes ($1.69/LB – .80¢ less)
  • Avocados ($1.49 each – $1.50 less)
  • Sweet onions (.60¢ each – .89¢ less)
  • Chicken thighs – boneless/skinless ($2.29/LB – $1.70 less)

While Aldi is known for selling eggs at a bargain .75¢ dozen, they aren’t certified organic, so I did not include them in the comparison.  Adding up Aldi’s organic options, they came in at an impressive $9.44 less than the same non-organic items at Harris Teeter. I guess it’s worth it to bag your own groceries and return your cart.

Our next stop is Wal-Mart.  Yes, you read that right: Wal-Mart. The nation’s largest retailer stocks 1,700 organic grocery items, including organic produce, sold under its Marketside brand.  Wal-Mart is America’s leading discount superstore. Let’s see how they stack up with our price comparison:

  • Strawberries ($3.74/lB – $1.25 less)
  • Bananas (.23¢ each – .12¢ less)
  • Tomatoes ($2.46 each – .03¢ less)
  • Avocados ($5.86 each – $2.87 more)
  • Sweet onions ($3.46/LB – $1.97 more)
  • Chicken thighs – boneless/skinless ($3.34/LB – .65¢ less)
  • Eggs ($2.87 per dozen – $1.18 more)

Organic peaches were unavailable at Wal-Mart, so I did not include them in our comparison. You’ll pay $3.98 more at Wal-Mart for these organic items compared to the same non-organic items found at Harris Teeter.

For my last stop, I drove to the local farmers market. Buying produce from farmers markets not only supports local agriculture, but it also saves countless pounds of carbon emissions since your food has not been shipped from afar to your supermarket.  The farther produce travels, the less nutritious it is, and the more chemical preservatives it’s likely to contain. In the United States, 50 percent of our fruits and 20 percent of our vegetables are imported from overseas.

Farmers at the local market grow the food they’re selling. You are able to talk with them and get to know them. While some farmers choose not to pay for the “USDA Organic” certification, many of them do not use pesticides or chemicals on their crops and they’re then able to pass that savings on to their customers. The farmers market didn’t offer eggs and chicken, but I was able to comparison-shop the produce:

  •  Strawberries ($4.49/LB – .50¢ less)
  •  Bananas ($0.30 each – .05¢ less)
  •  Peaches ($1.50/LB – $1.99 less)
  •  Tomatoes ($1.49/LB – .50¢ less)
  •  Avocados ($2.49 less – .50¢ less)
  •  Sweet onions ($1.00/LB – .49¢ less)

That’s a $6.02 savings by going directly to farmers and cutting out the middleman.  When buying organic, Aldi takes the lead with a 46% savings over the same non-organic varieties. In second place, with a 37% savings on produce, is the farmers market.  Third place is Trader Joe’s,  which is 22% cheaper for organic produce.  Be sure to shop around because prices can vary from store to store and change weekly due to promotions.

I have a few additional money saving tips for you:

  • When shopping at farmers markets, arrive late. Farmers will often drop their prices right before closing time to ensure they sell everything they brought with them that day. You can save up to 50%!
  • Buy in bulk.  Farmers will usually sell you items in bulk for a discount. You can juice, freeze, or can fruits and vegetables so they don’t go bad, or share the cost with friends and divide the food.
  • When purchased in bulk, organic brown rice can be economical and versatile as it can be used in many types of meals.
  • Healthy organic almonds, cashews, flax, dried fruit, lentils, and sunflower seeds are usually available for a much lower price when you bag them yourself at bulk dispensers.
  • Shop online. One of my favorites is Thrive Market (ThriveMarket.com). You can save up to 50% on organic products with free shipping.

Looks like we’ve debunked the “I can’t afford organic” excuse.  It’s actually very economical to buy organic food without breaking the bank. Even if you do end up paying a couple dimes or quarters more to purchase a few organic items, it’s better than paying thousands of dollars later on medical bills after eating unhealthy chemicals, antibiotics, preservatives, genetically modified foods, and hormones found in non-organic food.

Bio: Dr. David Friedman is a Clinical Nutritionist, Doctor of Naturopathy, Chiropractic Neurologist, Board Certified Alternative Medical Practitioner,  and  Board Certified in Integrative Medicine.  He’s the author of Food Sanity, how to eat in a world of fads and fiction.   Dr. Friedman hosts the syndicated program To Your Good Health Radio, which has changed the face of talk radio by incorporating entertainment, shock value and solutions to everyday health and wellness issues.  DrDavidFriedman.com

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