How Much More Do You Have to Spend to Go Organic?
Last updated in April 2011
You’ll pay a steep premium to buy organic food. Using the market basket we used to compare prices at area supermarkets, we surveyed prices of organic food at a sample of stores. For each item in our market basket, we looked for the closest organic alternative in a similar size range, and then compared prices of the organic and nonorganic items using per-unit pricing (price per ounce, for example).
The table below shows the results from this shopping. As you can see, in the Boston area, we found that organic items cost about 76 percent more, on average, than their nonorganic counterparts. Looking at specific grocery categories, organic fresh produce was 111 percent more expensive than nonorganic, meat was 68 percent more expensive, dairy products were 65 percent more expensive, and items in all other categories were 49 percent more expensive.
How Much More Organic Food Costs
|Category||On average, how
much more organic
|Dairy & refrigerated||65%|
|Fresh fruits & Vegetables||111%|
|All other categories||49%|
|Average for all items||76%|
We should note that the relatively smaller price premium you pay to buy organic items outside the fresh produce, meat, and dairy categories (to buy canned vegetables, for example) is much influenced by the fact that most stores now offer store-brand organic items that compete with brand-name items. When we did our survey, we compared prices of the brand-name items in our survey to the least expensive, comparable organic items, regardless of brand. The savings from shifting from name-brand to store-brand partially offset the price effect of shifting from nonorganic to organic. In some instances, the organic store brand was actually less expensive than its competing nonorganic name-brand item.
The price comparison scores reported on the table below show how prices for organic items compared from store to store. The $90 score for DeMoulas Market Basket means that its prices for organic food were about 10 percent cheaper than the average prices for comparable organic products at stores we surveyed. The $112 score for the Shaw’s store we surveyed means that its prices for organic food were about 12 percent more expensive than average.
Comparing the Cost
|Store||Price comparison score
for organic food
|DeMoulas Market Basket||$90|
|Stop & Shop||$98|
|* See text for description of our survey. For each store, our price comparison is intended to suggest the price a customer might expect to pay for organic food that would cost $100 at the "average" store|
It is interesting that, when comparing just organic items at surveyed stores in the area, we found Whole Foods’ prices were only slightly higher than average. Our comparisons of supermarket prices over the years using our standard market basket survey have consistently found that Whole Foods’ prices were dramatically higher than those at other stores in the area. But comparing prices of just organic items shows that one reason for Whole Foods’ steep prices is that it offers only organic options for many of the items it sells.
As with our comparison of prices using our standard market basket survey, keep in mind that these price comparisons don’t tell you anything about the quality of food stores offer. Whole Foods consistently gets high scores from its customers on our surveys on quality of fresh produce and meat.