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 Washington area, we found that organic items cost about 57 percent more, on average, than their nonorganic counterparts. Looking at specific grocery categories, organic fresh produce was 54 percent more expensive than nonorganic, meat was 115 percent more expensive, dairy products were 65 percent more expensive, and items in all other categories were 26 percent more expensive.

How Much More Organic Food Costs

Category On average, how
much more organic
foods cost
than comparable
nonorganic items
Dairy & refrigerated 65%
Fresh fruits & Vegetables 54%
Meats 115%
All other categories 26%
Average for all items 57%

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 $96 score for Wegmans means that its prices for organic food were about four percent cheaper than the average prices for the comparable organic products at stores we surveyed. The $105 score for the Harris Teeter store we surveyed means that its prices for organic food were about five percent more expensive than average.

Comparing the Cost
of Organic Food
from Store to Store*

Store Price comparison score
for organic food
MOM's Organic Market $92
Wegmans $96
Whole Foods $99
Safeway $102
Giant Food $103
Harris Teeter $105
* 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 about 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 prices 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.

Similarly, the table above shows that MOM’s Organic Market’s price comparison score of $92 is the lowest of any of the stores we surveyed.

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 and MOM’s Organic Market consistently get high scores from their customers on our surveys on quality of fresh produce and meat.