Study: grocery prices

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Industry research firm IBISWorld is out this morning with an interesting grocery-comparison chart from a study it conducted.

Takeaways?

  • If you want to save money, you should consider store brands, regardless of where you live. And yes, more often these days you can find store-brand organics, according to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Organics are a lot more expensive, so pick your organics judiciously. For fruits and vegetables, consider buying organics for only those high on this list.
  • LA is more expensive for food, unless you’re shopping for organics. That makes sense since California is a huge source of organic food production. Chicago is cheapest, which is what I hear from my expert supermarket shopping sources. That’s partly compensates for the rarity of double-coupon stores in the Midwest.

Since several of theses takeaways involve organic food choices, I’ll repeat tips about organics here from my Spending Smart column published last year in Tribune Co. newspapers.

Here are do’s and don’ts when trying to save money on organic food:

•Don’t settle for “natural.”

The term “natural” on packaging has a lot less meaning than “organic,” a term highly regulated by the Department of Agriculture. When price is an issue, don’t pay extra for something called “natural” or “all natural.”

•Do pay for some fruits and vegetables.

It’s worth paying more for organic versions of some fruits and vegetables that retain pesticide residue, even after you wash them. Pay for organic versions of peaches, apples, sweet bell peppers, celery, nectarines, strawberries, cherries, pears, grapes, spinach, lettuce and potatoes, according to the Environmental Working Group, a non-profit organic research group.

•Don’t pay more for fruits and vegetables with thicker skins that have far less pesticide residue.

The group said you can skip the organic onions, avocados, sweet corn, pineapples, mango, asparagus, sweet peas, kiwi, bananas, cabbage, broccoli and papaya.

•Do buy organic protein-rich foods.

Meats, poultry, eggs and dairy products are worth buying as organics because they are free of pesticides, synthetic growth hormones and antibiotics.

•Don’t buy highly processed organics.

Breads, oils, potato chips, pasta, cereals and other packaged foods, such as canned or dried fruit and vegetables, are probably not worth buying as organics unless price is no object, Consumer Reports said. Much of the health benefit has been processed out.

•Do buy organic baby food.

Baby food tends to be made from condensed fruits and vegetables, some of which might contain pesticides. Or make your own baby food from organic whole fruits and vegetables.

•Do buy local.

You can find organic food from local farmers markets and local producers. “The nice thing about it, is it’s not only fresher, but it’s cheaper,” said Ronnie Cummins, national director of the Organic Consumers Association.

•Do try store brands.

More supermarkets and large discounters such as Wal-Mart, are offering private-label organics, which are cheaper than name brands.

•Do use coupons.

Look for coupons for organic products in the Sunday newspaper or go online to the free coupon database at CouponMom.com and enter the search term “organic.” Get coupons directly from organic producers’ Web sites and sign up for their e-mail newsletters, which contain coupons, suggests Stephanie Nelson, who operates the CouponMom Web site. Examples are OrganicValley.com, SCOjuice.com, ColemanNatural.com, and Stonyfield.com. The site Healthesavers.com has printable coupons for some organic products.

•Do cook at home with whole foods.

Dining out less could easily make up the price difference between buying organics and non-organics. And cooking with bulk, whole organic ingredients is cheaper than buying prepared organics.

“Cooking with whole-food ingredients is quite a bit cheaper than processed foods,” Cummins said. “It takes more time, but it tastes better.”

Nelson compared prices for organic bay leaves as a spice, which cost $3.49 at the supermarket but just 14 cents for the same amount from a local natural market.

•Do grow your own.

If you are the gardening type and have a backyard, grow your own vegetables and receive the side benefits of exercise and a regular hobby.

For more information, see GreenerChoices.org, FoodNews.org and OrganicConsumers.org.

See complete news release from IBISWorld here.

8 Responses to “Study: grocery prices”

  1. Greg,

    I read your Dollar Stretcher article on reducing grocery prices. I noticed one of your methods was to create a Grocery Price Book.

    We created a free grocery price book website that helps users track grocery unit prices paid by item and also shows which items have increased in unit price and units purchased. The website handles all the math and grocery item organization. Among the features of the website are:

    1). A grocery list that shows the lowest unit price paid to facilitate comparison between the current store unit price and previous unit prices paid. Very helpful at the store!

    2). Analysis on spending trends to provide a list of grocery items where unit prices have increased and total units purchased have increased, among other areas. Helpful at home for figuring out where to cut costs and why the bill is increasing.

    3). Item detail and trend analysis for additional detail.

    The site is groceryhop.com

    We also have our grocery price book online for all to see. Please let us know what you think!

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