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Buy Organic Without Breaking the Bank


Organic foods may be healthier for you, but they can have a sickening effect on your wallet.

Produced without pesticides and other chemicals, organic produce, meat and dairy products can cost 50% to 100% more than their conventional counterparts, says Urvashi Rangan, a senior scientist and policy analyst with Consumer Reports' Greener Choices1. Despite those mark-ups, studies touting the health and environmental benefits of organic foods have made them more popular than ever before. More than 70% of consumers have at least one organic product on their shopping list, according to market research firm Hartman Group.

Here are five tips for going organic for less:

Set some priorities

You'll get the most bang for your buck by buying organic apples, beef and spinach. That's because the conventional counterparts to these foods are laden with pesticides and potentially harmful additives (see chart below). Produce like papayas, bananas and broccoli require less pesticide to grow, thereby retaining little to no residue after washing. (The peels on bananas and other tropical fruits further reduce your exposure).

Also, read the label. Seafood, cosmetics and cleaning products can be labeled "organic" without having to face the same requirements that are imposed on vegetables and meat. "There is no system, no real oversight," warns Kimberly Stewart, the author of "Eating Between the Lines: The Supermarket Shopper's Guide to the Truth Behind Food Labels." You'll pay premium prices with no guarantees.

Consider your alternatives

Prices on organic meats, eggs and dairy products can be some of the most exorbitant. The culprit: A lack of the organic feed for the animals, says Stewart. So if you can't stomach prices for organics, consider antibiotic- or hormone-free foods. While the animals may have eaten regular feed, they meet the other half of organic requirements - no hormones or antibiotics. At online grocer FreshDirect, a half-gallon of Horizon organic milk is $3.99, while the same size Farmland antibiotic-free milk is $2.19.

Organic goes on sale, too

Conventional discount shopping wisdom also applies to organic goods. Grocery stores frequently put organic foods on sale, so keep an eye out for coupons or discounts advertised in their circulars. Shop Rite's July 15-21 circular, for example, touts organic bananas for 69 cents per pound (the same price as conventional ones) and organic Stonyfield Yogurt at 10 for $6.99 (a break of 19 cents each off the usual price of 89 cents).

Also, buy fruits and veggies that are in season. Pricing becomes much more competitive during those times. At Whole Foods, a six-ounce container of raspberries is currently $3.49 whether you go organic or not. Meanwhile, a 16-ounce container of conventional strawberries is $2.99; for organic, just 50 cents more.

Turn to local farmers

Your local farmers' market can be a great place to buy organic food. That's because a combination of seasonality and competition helps keep prices down, says Rangan.

Another option: community-supported agriculture programs, or CSAs. For a fee, you'll be supplied with fresh, organic produce on a weekly basis throughout the growing season. Quiet Creek Farm in Kutztown, Pa., for example, charges $600, or roughly $23 per week, for enough produce to feed three to four people. Depending on the week, you might get broccoli, peppers, zucchini, melons, strawberries, herbs or any of the other 40-plus organic items the farm produces.

Consider generics

Supermarket chain Meijer has Meijer Organics, Giant Eagle has Nature's Basket and Publix has GreenWise Market. Many supermarkets are adding organic lines to their private labels, a move that allows shoppers to buy organic at significant discounts over big-name brands, says Teri Gault, founder of The Grocery Game, a program that helps consumers match manufacturers' coupons with store sales. At Safeway, a 20-ounce bottle of store-brand O Organics ketchup is $2.45, a steal compared with the 15-ounce bottle of Heinz Organic at $3.79. Considering price per ounce, you'll save 49%.

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