Price perception and the organic (and local).

June 16, 2007 at 2:58 pm 13 comments

I have this theory for a while now and I am now going to share it with you guys. and you can tell me if it makes sense or not. It all started with an observation of my patterns of ‘going out on the town’ in a relatively unfamiliar city.

Say, we go to Amsterdam for a weekend. We are quite broke as always, but despite the fact, we go out for dinner and look for a place for an after dinner drink, that hopefully will not rip us off. We pass a bar, and it looks nice, if only a little bit on the fancy side. And, inevitability, the conversation goes something like this:

“Hey, this place looks nice, wanna go inside?”

“Hmm, I don’t know, it looks kinda expensive, I don’t think we can afford it”

And then what happens? We go somewhere else, that looks more like the kinda place we can afford (i. e. hole in the wall). And we end up paying 3 euros for a beer in a crappy looking hole in the wall.

And after this happened one or two times, I developed a new philosophy. This one more satisfactory, and it goes something like this:

“We are in Amsterdam. Gonna get ripped off no matter what we do. So we might as well enjoy it and go to the nice looking place we wanted to go in the first place. I’m sure it won’t rip you off any worse that the others”.

So then I started noticing this little theory applied to other things as well. Like, here in Wageningen, we had this really crappy looking supermarket, the kinda place you don’t want to spend more than 5 minutes in, just get the milk and get out before this place steals your soul. And the strange thing is, this place got a reputation of being cheap. But the fact is, when you actually compared the prices of the same products, it was even more expensive than the nice looking supermarket!

We as consumers are subject to a hell of a lot of manipulation. Why do you think all the prices are always $9.95 and not $10? Never $10. I know, rationally, that $9.95 is really 10$. But for some reason, it just seems a whole lot better than $10, huh? Why you go to the supermarket and buy something for $4.95 and next week it is on SALE, for ONLY $5.45!!! And yet, we still buy (into) this crap!

So, I wonder, even though there is no doubt that most local and organic things are, in fact, more expensive than their conventional counterparts (like the 8E/kg bell pepper), how much of the price difference is real, and how much is just in out heads?

I have, just recently, seen the lettuce heads at the organic market stand for 1E a piece, picked that same morning in Wageningen. In the supermarket, they have them imported from Spain, who knows when and how, for E1,5o! And the 8E/kg bell pepper seems expensive, right? That’s about E1,5 a piece. What if I tell you that about the same time I saw single overpackaged bell peppers trucked in from the Kingdom of Far Far Away at the supermarket at guess how much? That’s right, E1.50. And let’s not forget that said peppers rank at #3 of most evil vegetables in pesticide residue.

I’m not saying this is always the case. It’s true, about 70% of the times (my guesstimate), local and organic is more expensive. But it is also fresher, tastier and pesticide free! Isn’t that worth paying for?

Just because you buy something at ‘Cheap’o’market’ doesn’t mean that it is actually cheaper! I am just making a case for the fact that supermarkets are not actually the cheapest places to buy food, despite what they want you to think.

I’m just saying. Go to the farmer’s market. I bet you will find plenty of local (and sometimes organic as well, with or without certification), cheaper than at Cheap’o’market. Don’t just assume that it’s more expensive and therefore you can’t afford it. Do some research first, and actually compare it. Even better, look into the possibility of buying directly from farms in your area.

On a personal note, I am now going to look into the possibility of buying cherries and strawberries and other fruit from farms just on the edge of town. Yesterday I noticed them from the bus. They had a little barrack by the side of the road with a painted sign saying ‘Cherries for sale’. I bet ya that’s the cheapest I’ll find here in town. And if they are not organic, who cares? They are local, which is cool too.

The point is, you are going to get ripped off no matter what you do. So might as well enjoy it, and get what you really want, and not go for the inferior alternative just because your perception is tricking you into thinking it’s cheaper 😀

Yummy photo by CAZASCO on Flickr.

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Entry filed under: consumption, environment, food, local, organic, shopping. Tags: , .

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13 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mido  |  June 16, 2007 at 9:27 pm

    This was a really great article, especially as I just came back from shopping for food. I live in the US and we do have a “farmer’s market”, but as I looked around and listened to the sellers, most of the products were neither organic or local (some from as far away as California)…so I didn’t buy any. Local farms aren’t an option either, as we live in a suburban sprawl extending out of Washington D.C.

    So I went around to a few stores and got organic foods but with the heavy price that I knew most had been shipped from a distance away…if there were more than one option, I would look for the one that was produced as close to me as possible.

    I am also a student with a meger school job that is sharing a flat with two girls and we just found out that we can’t use our gas stove anymore because our bill for it was through the roof. My budget is $25 a week for food and I don’t have time to cook because of my daily two hour classes and my job, not to mention all the homework afterwards.

    All I can say is that it’s tough to be a poor, environmentally-friendly student these days…

  • 2. Lori V.  |  June 16, 2007 at 10:29 pm

    Alina, you are so right. Today, my son and I went and picked blackberries & blueberries at a local farm. We paid $12 for a gallon of fruit. At Whole foods you’re lucky to get a pint for $4 or $5!! Plus, we had the adventure and satisfaction of doing the work ourselves.

  • 3. Alina  |  June 17, 2007 at 5:41 pm

    Mido, I know what you mean. I had some troubles in the beginning too. Our market is not actually a farmers market. It’s more a resellers market. So our solution was just to shop exclusively at the organic stand. I am regular there now, so I don’t feel stupid anymore when I fish out my old crumpled paper bags out of my tote and hand it to them 😀 I just bluntly ask them to tell me what is local and generally make do with that. Sometimes I indulge in occasional luxuries from Italy or so, but I stay away from Africa and South America. And I am going for ‘shipped’ over ‘greenhouse grown’. I’ve heard that the energy used to grow stuff in greenhouses is much worse than the shipping.

    Lori, lucky you! That’s awesome.

  • 4. Chile  |  June 17, 2007 at 6:16 pm

    One of Amy Dacyczyn’s great tips in The Tightwad Gazette was a price book. By jotting down the price of items in different stores, you eliminate the guesswork and perception problems. To be useful, the price needs to be figured per consistent unit – such as price per ounce for rolled oats or price per pound for cherries.

    While some think CSAs are costly, the money we pay for local, organically grown (but not certified) produce is considerably cheaper than the cost of organic produce in any of the area stores. It is more than I spent for conventional produce in the cheapest market in town, but still affordable.

  • 5. gettinggreen  |  June 18, 2007 at 10:02 pm

    Hey Alina,

    Sorry I’ve been M.I.A. recently… swamped with work and blog stuff! I also agree with this; whenever people respond to my saying I shop at Whole Foods (which is only when I can’t go to a local market), with “Oh, that’s too expensive for me”, I’m always a little skeptical. I mean, what are they eating? If you just buy a bit of produce every few days and some basic grains and protein once in a while, how much can it really add up to? It’s only if you’re getting those gross prepackaged things and junk food and tons of meat that it gets expensive.

  • 6. Aimee  |  June 18, 2007 at 10:34 pm

    A friend and I picked strawberries yesterday at a nearby farm – only $.80 per pound (not sure what that equates to in Europe, sorry!). It would cost at least 5 times that in most grocery stores here. It’s the end of the season here but we’ll definitely be out picking earlier next season.

  • 7. Activist Mommy  |  June 20, 2007 at 4:51 am

    You’re right, no matter which way we go we’re going to find someone looking to rip us off. So you might as well get ripped off for the right reasons. I pay a bit more for fresh stuff at the farmer’s market, but I don’t feel as much buyer’s remorse afterwards knowing that its local and generally organic.

  • 8. Emily  |  June 20, 2007 at 11:28 am

    When I was living in Philadelphia, it drove me crazy that even our “farmer’s market” would bring in things from California. I am talking about tomatoes and peaches and blueberries, in the SUMMER. We were about an hour from NEW JERSEY, where they grow amazing produce. You’ve never had a tomato till you’ve had a Jersey tomato, and don’t get me started on the peaches. I switched to a different market where I could get Jesey produce because I was eating it about 24 hours after it fell, ripe and lovely, into the farmer’s hand. And when I was pregnant, all I wanted were tomatoes and peaches…

  • 9. Menno I  |  June 20, 2007 at 12:02 pm

    I bet you are talking about the strawberry & cherry roadside places between Wageningen and Rhenen! 🙂 lots of good fruit straight from the orchard!

    Later this year the apples & pears will be ready to eat and if you take one of the small ferries across the river south of Wageningen you will find lots of orchards there!
    We usually get our fruit from one of these places, they’re pretty cheap and when it’s the picking season you can get apples that fell off the trees really cheap and make good applesauce from it!

  • 10. Alina  |  June 20, 2007 at 4:04 pm

    Yeah, sometimes it takes a bit of looking around, but once you find the right place that caters to your local needs it’s worth it! Especially if you can buy directly from the farm!

    Menno, yes that’s the ones! I saw them from the 45 bus to tiel. Across the river in Hemmen there is a organic farm with a shop, you should check it out. Oh and this weekend there the ‘open day of the biologic farmer’ event, where you can go visit bio-farms and they have a bunch of activities and stuff. I think that will be worth going.

  • 11. lookmomlook  |  June 30, 2007 at 5:31 am

    I live in Michigan, U.S. Thankfully, during the summer we have TONS of local produce available. It just takes a little effort to ride out to the farms or farm markets instead of the nearest store. The prices are great and the produce usually tastes amazing. We are lucky to have that. However, during the winter months I have a hard time finding economical organic produce. That’s when I tend to stray and buy nonorganic. I continue to search however and have noticed some local stores expanding their organic choices. Thank goodness retailers are noting the increased demand for organic food around here.

  • 12. A Million Paths  |  July 5, 2007 at 4:58 am

    Someone did a study here in NYC and figured out that the farmers markets here on par with local supermarkets most of the time. In several cases they were cheaper. Greenmarket’s runs them, so they really are local. When you factor in that local markets internalize the costs with producing the food you’re paying the full cost of bringing the food to market, whereas with big boxers you pay only a portion of the cost out of pocket, the rest comes out of tax dollars (i.e. subsidies) and the planet.

  • 13. Byron Bay Organic  |  December 7, 2009 at 12:08 pm

    Great article. Thanks for the insight.

    Seems where we live, the local markets are usually a little cheaper in price, but they give so much more back to the local community.

    If we can support the local community, we can ensure healthy food for all our residents. But its a hard battle. 🙂

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