10 ways to save on or­ganic gro­ceries

Buy sea­sonal veg­gies, look for coupons, go generic and other tips to save on healthy foods

The Hamilton Spectator - - HEALTH - ELIS­A­BETH LEAMY

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 pay­cheque” 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, 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, 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 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 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 for or­ganic pro­duce, for ex­am­ple, it found that prices at Mom’s Or­ganic Mar­ket were eight per cent 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 per cent. 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.

5. Shop on­line. I tested on­line gro­cers for a “Dr. Oz Show” seg­ment and found that Thrive Mar­ket was promis­ing. A month’s worth of snacks for a fam­ily of four 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, no­name 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!”

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 favourite 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 non­food gro­ceries. Get other prod­ucts for lit­tle or noth­ing and then spend the money saved on or­gan­ics. This is pos­si­ble if you match coupons with sales or stack mul­ti­ple coupons to­gether. 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, 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 lo­cal CSA’s prices with gro­cery store prices and found they paid $11 less for their box of nine veg­eta­bles.

10. Know your la­bels. 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 per cent Or­ganic.” “Made with or­ganic in­gre­di­ents” means a prod­uct has to be only 70 per cent or­ganic. Terms like “cage­free” 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 have no 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 per cent sav­ings — and a re­lief.

LUKE SHARRETT, BLOOMBERG

Some care­ful shop­ping can help you save on oth­er­wise ex­pen­sive or­ganic gro­ceries.

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