Secrets to Better Prices on Natural & Organic Foods

Posted by on January 10, 2011 | 13 Comments

I’ve known it for years, you’ve likely heard it dozens of times in your life, but let’s face it, most of us are often a bit too timid to utilize this sage advice or it simply doesn’t occur to us at opportune times …

Don’t Ask Don’t Get

Over the past year I’ve made a conscious effort to remind myself of this phrase everytime I want something. I take a breath, and just go for it. I might blog, I might write and publish books, I might be able to speak in front of large groups, but like many of you, I come from a very shy place. This bold and brazen approach has taken some getting used to, but I can guarantee it pays off.

This past month alone I could rattle off at least a dozen times where this advice has resulted in exactly what I wanted (though this isn’t always the case, there wasn’t a single rejection to my requests, and people couldn’t  have been friendlier), but today I want to talk about how this strategy can help you buy better quality food. Starting with an example …

If I lived alone, my food allowance would likely be a bigger part of my budget. But, to my husband, food holds equal importance to say, phone bills, and should be analyzed according … best value (quality) for the money, but not simply paying more for quality. It has to be “worth it.” When boneless skinless chicken breasts are on sale for $1.99 per lb, there is no way he will let me purchase the organic ones for $7.99 per lb. But, if they are discounted to a certain point, say $2.99 per lb, he can see the value and we upgrade.

The other day our grocer had an abundance of organic chicken that was slated to expire in two days, so about a dozen packages were marked down to $3.99 per lb. Shoot, still above the husband’s threshhold. So what did we do? We asked. We gave the butcher an option. We politely approached him, mentioned how a few weeks ago they had a couple packages marked all the way down to $1.99 per lb (this was the truth mind you!), and said, “We’ll take all of those packages off your hands if you will mark them down to $1.99 per lb.” You know what? He did it! Before you start throwing in the buts, this was a traditional, conventional large grocery chain … not a specialty or natural food store. Also, he wasn’t the manager, he was a regular employee who felt empowered enough that he could help us out. He knew that all of that chicken wasn’t going to sell in the next two days and that it would go to waste … better to sell it all at a bigger discount.

We have begun doing this sort of thing more and more with natural and organic foods to also help increase demand and hopefully bring down prices … possibly even making organic the new norm … how cool would that be?

To some it may sound like we got a steal, but the fact is, we helped all of that organic chicken sell through (if the chicken is repeatedly thrown out, the store would probably stop ordering it). Plus, we showed that there will be a bigger demand for the product at a lower price.

Other things you can do and consider to increase quality options:

  1. Always, and I mean always, compare prices of organic vs non-organic. Even my husband is okay with paying $.89 for organic green onion vs $.69 for conventional. Decide your threshhold for value. And, organic could actually be cheaper! Just this week I purchased a head of organic cauliflower which was $1 less than the conventional head (which was also smaller)! Yes, sometimes you can save money by choosing organic. Buying in-season will also help ensure that you are getting local or at least domestic produce at that lower price, bonus!
  2. If you don’t see a product, request it. My local grocer had a brand of organic milk alternative advertised as on sale, but I couldn’t find it on the shelves. When I inquired, they said, “Oh, we have some in the back, let me know how much you need.” That inventory would have sat in the back and registered as unsold, but because I requested it, they brought some out to the shelves so it would actually sell!
  3. Also, if the grocer simply doesn’t carry the food or product, they can and likely will start ordering it if you request it.
  4. Always keep in mind the idea of supply vs demand. The more we demand of higher quality products, the lower the prices will become. I’ve watched it for years. Seldom heard of fruits like pomegranates catch on, and the price drops from $3.99 each to $1.99 each. Fresh dates gain in popularity and suddenly my grocer adds them to their “bulk” fresh produce options with a much lower price than pre-packaged. People raise alarm about the “dirty dozen” and now I can buy organic apples from Washington for the same price as conventional. Do not underestimate your power. Consumers speak with dollars and companies listen.

I live in a remote mountain area, so these tips are especially for those of you who may not have many options for a garden, farmers market, big natural food stores, or direct from the ranch purchasing. If you have any of those, even better!

What are your money-saving ideas for good quality food? I would love to hear them!

Also, check out this great post at Elana’s Pantry: Michael Ruhlman: Why I Cook. Both Elana and Michael are true leaders in the food revolution.

 

Filed Under: Tips, Ideas, and Deals

Comments (13)

 

  1. Andra Ruscoe says:

    What a wonderful post, thank you! I stretch my good quality food dollar in several ways.

    First, although I buy pastured eggs at a local farm on a fairly regular basis (worth every penny of the $5,) I keep decent quality but cheaper supermarket eggs in for use in baking and bread making and use the special eggs for boiling, poaching and scrambling.

    Secondly, I waste nothing! I save every vegetable scrap and meat bone in the fridge for use in homemade stock. I can make one pastured chicken go so much further that way; roasted for Sunday dinner, in soup the next day, sandwiches the day after and bones and the veggies scraps for stock. Lather, rinse, repeat!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Maggie Savage. Maggie Savage said: RT @OneFrugalFoodie: Secrets to Better Prices on Natural & Organic Foods http://bit.ly/gkljO1 […]

  3. Rebeca says:

    That’s amazing!

    One thing I do is go to a *not so great* neighborhood chain grocery store to get organic staples (cereal, pastas, etc.). Most chain stores have to get a certain amount of those items but in some neighborhoods they just don’t sell and right before they expire they are majorly discounted. I once got about 400 dollars worth of organic groceries for about 75 dollars just by doing this and heading in on the right day (randomly). Now, you just have to be a little more free with “use by” dates. For things like the pasta and canned goods I got, I knew that sitting on the shelf unopened they would be fine and that I would just need to use them quickly. The other items I turned into quick meals and froze them. For about six months, I had organic, homemade, real food “frozen meals” at my disposal which was absolutely a life saver when I was graduating from college and working a full time and part time job last year.

  4. Katie says:

    You really are the frugal foodie, aren’t you? Or perhaps the Foodie Married to a Frugal Eater? 🙂

    I’ve asked for markdowns in the produce department many times. I have no shame. Especially if I know that I am going to eat it that night.

  5. Great post, Alisa! Awesome on all your success … on everything! Even in big chain/bare bones grocery stores, your produce and meat guys, and your managers are your friends and will work with you. Often they have limited resources/staff so helping you as a frequent consumer can help them, too, as you shared. Other times, it just pays to be nice. We just love steamed crabs and they are pretty expensive. Our grocery store started carrying them in packages of 6. Well, we usually buy about 24 at a time (about 2 meals). The store doesn’t always have the crabs on hand or have time to package them immediately. I’ve started calling ahead and the meat/seafood guy (mgr or other) will package what we want in one large package. While he’s doing so, he’ll pick up the best quality, heaviest crabs for us. The price remains the same, but we get more of a value and less packaging. They do less work. And, there’s a ton of stuff at our grocery store that doesn’t get put out due to shelf space–like dates! So asking is important. I’ve also gotten better quality herbs or past their prime herb plants, and other pricier items reduced by asking. Similar to you and your hubby, I have my price limits and ranges.

    Shirley

  6. alisa says:

    Andra, you are my idol! I try hard not to waste, and though I’m sure I’m doing better than most, I still haven’t perfected it. I definitely need to start making my own stock this way.

    Rebeca, that is brilliant! And hopefully may even spur some demand in that area too.

    Katie, I love that you have no shame.

    Shirley, I know you and Tony would get along well! Hopefully you can meet him in April.

    Shirley,

  7. Hannah says:

    This is fascinating! I’d never have considered asking/bargaining with local food vendors. Food for thought indeed… 😛

  8. Lisa says:

    Great advice—I know sometimes I’m just grab-n-go in the store, and I don’t try to find ways to save. I can how that would make a big difference!

  9. Joanne says:

    I love this post! So empowering. Plus you know, if you don’t ask you definitely won’t get what you want. And the worst that can happen is that they say no.

  10. Every time you grocery shop, you are voting!!! For sure!! I am awful with my grocery budget though. I always buy quality…and I try to go to different stores for different items instead of doing everything at whole foods. However, it’s not always convenient! I do need an intervention with my grocery budget, though. MOST of my funds go there. I know that is going to have to chance once the baby is born.

  11. Lori says:

    Oh, Alisa, I need your advice now, more than ever. 🙁

    And I have no money saving tips to add since food quality is big to me, so I buy organic whenever possible… um… except when I’m with my boyfriend because, like your hubby, he’s not willing to shell out the HUGE difference in price when buying meat. Sadly. lol

  12. Awesome tips Alisa, I need to start doing this too! I often buy the local grass-fed, free-range organic meats at my local co-op when they go into the “reduced for quick sale” section (I swear this has paid for my deep freezers 2 times over), but it never occurred to me to ask for a lower price if I bought the bulk of it!

    You.Are.Brilliant!!!!

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