How to eat organic on a budget
Looking to switch to an organic diet, but don’t want to break the bank? You’re not alone.
Consumer demand for organically produced food is growing, with total U.S. sales in the category rising 11 percent to $43.3 billion last year, according to the Organic Trade Association.
Annie’s Homegrown, a California-based company that specializes in affordable organic products, is slated to launch 30 new certified organic products this year, from cereal to soup. However, prices for products can still seem too high for some consumers.
“It’s a major concern for people,” Kate Brown, founder of organic soup company Boulder Organic, told CNBC. “I think a lot of times it’s one of the major mental obstacles for people. They just think it’s too expensive [and] out of their reach.”
Brown is just one of many chefs and business owners who say you don’t have to clean out your wallet to eat clean.
“It’s a big misconception,” said, Kristina Addington, a vegan chef who won an episode of Food Network’s “Cutthroat Kitchen” in 2014. “If you like to cook a lot and you switch to a plant-based lifestyle, it’s probably not going to be any more expensive. You will probably be spending the same amount of money, you’ll just be buying slightly different things.”
Unlike conventional food, organic products are produced without any pesticides or fertilizers, which has traditionally resulted in high costs, Karan Chechi, a research director with TechSci Research consulting firm, said in a statement.
“To curb this concern, global organic food manufacturers are working towards reducing the existing price difference between organic and inorganic food.”
Indeed, organic products have become more widely available and don’t require shoppers to go to specialty shops. Nearly three out of four conventional grocery stores carry clean products, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Wal-Mart, Target and Kroger have all begun stocking up on organic food, in a push to rival higher-price grocery chains like Whole Foods Market. And by introducing their own private label brands, retailers are able to sell organic products at an even lower price.
In addition to shopping at lower-price stores, there are other steps consumers can take to eat organic for less. Brown suggests people stop spending their disposable income at coffee shops and start making coffee, smoothies and granola at home to further curb the cost of swapping to an organic lifestyle.
“Check the bulk bins,” Addington suggested. “It’s so much cheaper to get beans, rice, lentils, flours and grains there.”
Addington noted that shopping from these bins allows customers to choose how much of a product they want and leads to less food waste. Another way to reduce food waste is to plan meals ahead of time.
“Planning ahead is so important,” Brown said. “You waste less if you have a plan for that ingredient.”
It also means fewer trips to the store. Brown said she shops for food about once every week and a half. The average shopper goes to the grocery store about 1.6 times per week, according to the Food Marketing Institute.
Cutting fruits and vegetables at home and placing them into containers or bags is another way to prevent food waste, Brown said. Canning, freezing and drying are other alternatives to keeping food fresh longer and reducing waste.
Consumers new to an organic diet can try meal delivery services to learn recipes and practice cooking with clean ingredients. One such company is Addington’s vegan meal delivery service V-Grits, which uses organic ingredients.
It teaches consumers how to eat vegan using plant-based ingredients that are easy to find in stores, making recreating recipes very easy. The program provides ingredients for three meals a week and costs $69. Folks can expect to see dishes like southern style enchiladas, vegan chili and quiche-stuffed peppers.
Other organic meal services include companies like Green Chef and Provenance Meals. These services can cost between $45 and $325 depending on how many meals a week are provided.
“I would encourage people to recalibrate their palates,” Brown said. “And see what whole ingredients taste like without Velveeta on them.”
Brown suggests consumers experiment with different organic foods by “making it a fun, social” experience. Gathering friends together to make meals or having an organic potluck can help folks who want to eat cleaner try a variety of dishes, and find recipes to recreate in the future.
The easiest way to break into an organic diet? Knowing that you don’t have to eat organic all the time.
Paige Wolf, author of “Spit That Out,” a book that focuses on how to raise children in an “age of environmental guilt,” said she keeps her home about 90 percent organic, and doesn’t fret about what her children eat at friends’ birthday parties or the occasional nonorganic treat. Instead, she focuses on providing organic foods at home and for school lunches.
“Kids are super picky eaters. My son eats mac ‘n’ cheese, grilled cheese, and peanut butter and jelly. I can’t do much about the variety, but I can make it organic,” she said.
And, of course, consumers should look for coupons for organic brands as a way to cut costs.
“I don’t eat organic 100 percent of the time,” Wolf said. “If my kids want ice cream, we’ll still go to Baskin-Robbins.”