Organic versus standard produce - is it worth the extra cost?

Fruit and vegetables section at the supermarket
Is organic produce worth the cost? Photo credit: Getty

Environmentally-conscious shoppers are fueling demand for organic fruit and vegetables, indicating that some are willing to pay more for chemical-free options. 

Newshub investigates the quality and cost difference, including tips on how to reduce cost to the back pocket.

Increased demand for organic

 

Minister for Climate Change James Shaw said that the organic sector is growing, both in New Zealand and overseas.

"A market report published by 'Organics Aotearoa New Zealand' last year indicated that by 2017, New Zealand’s organic industry was worth approximately $600 million annually.

"This represents a 30 percent increase from 2015,” Shaw confirmed.

Steve Sexton, head of produce at Countdown said that over the last five years, people have become more concerned about what they eat and shoppers are willing to pay more for organic produce.

"The demand for organics [is growing] at double the speed of the conventional market. 

"Generally, customers understand that there's an extra cost to farming food organically, [for example] increased labour and control of pests and disease, which can lead to smaller volumes.  

"Our first preference is to buy locally wherever we can. However, some products such as bananas and other seasonal products that can't be sourced locally are imported." 

Spray concerns

 

Although chemical sprays are commonly used on standard produce, Countdown said that there are controls in place to manage health risks.

"All of our growers follow NZ Gap rules for both organic and conventional produce.  [These] ensure our growers aren't over spraying or using the wrong sprays."

Brad Meiring, co-owner of organic produce supplier 'Out of our own backyard' (Ooooby) said the majority of small local farmers that the company sources from are organic and due to the high quality, currently, farmers can sell profitably at lower volumes. 

"If sprays are used, they are certified for organic use, which means they are biological or mineral-based, not chemical-based," Meiring said.

Irrigation and other risks affecting local vege growers

 

Andrew Barber, managing director of Agrilink said that for vegetable growers in Auckland and the Waikato, irrigation consents have increased by 20 percent in the last 10 years and whatever this change is attributable to, it shows there's a change in risk.

"In Auckland, previously if you didn't have water and you were growing vegetables, you could get away with it.

"Growers now tell me that they wouldn't lease land without irrigation water."

Barber said that currently, talk around climate change is more about extreme events, however irrigation, pests and diseases do affect production costs.

"Growers are generally 'price-takers' and any increase in risk is likely to squeeze margins, which may force some smaller growers to exit the market."

Comparison at the cart

 

Newshub compared the cost of three common items at Countdown standard produce prices, against 99 to 100 percent organic supplier Ooooby.   

Findings showed that for the selected items, Ooooby was 88 percent more expensive than Countdown.

The cost of apples at Countdown ranged from $3.50 to $4.30 per kg the lowest being jazz apples at $0.49c cheaper. The largest price difference was in the cost of carrots.  Excluding these, Ooooby was just 11 percent more expensive.  

Ooooby (99-100 percent organic):

1kg apples: $3.99 (Hawkes Bay - price varies from $3.50)

One bunch of eight bananas: $4.99 (All good fair trade, ecuador)

1kg carrots: $9.99 from Hawkes Bay (usually $7.99 but currently sourced elsewhere incurring higher transport costs

Total cost: $18.97

 Countdown (standard produce) as at Tuesday 17 September:

1kg fresh produce jazz apples: $3.50 (cheapest option) 

One bunch of fresh produce yellow bananas: $4.56 ($0.57c ea)

1kg fresh produce carrots - loose: $2.00

Total cost: $10.06

Affordability 

 

The golden rule for cutting down spending on fruit and vegetables is to buy what's in season.  

According to seasonality charts, many staples including broccoli, carrots, cauliflower, lettuce, silverbeet and spinach are available year-round. The strawberry and avocado season is about to start, while feijoas are available from March to June.

For shoppers who want maximum nutritional value from their food and are concerned about freshness and chemical sprays, organically sourced fruit and vegetables may be more nutrient-dense than those from large monoculture farms. 

Ooooby said that consuming seasonal produce is healthier and if it's directly sourced from organic farmers, the reduced inputs of labour and packaging help to keep prices down.

"As the market grows and becomes more competitive and small growers reach economies of scale, we see organic prices decreasing long term.

"As local organic produce is seasonal, as long as you only buy what's in season, prices are relatively stable," Meiring said.

For people on a strict budget, some retailers sell imperfect produce at discount prices.  

Campaigned 'The Odd Bunch', Countdown sells 'ugly' produce at discounted prices, helping to reduce waste and make healthy living more affordable.

Newshub.

 

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