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Secrets to Better Prices on Natural & Organic Foods

Posted Jan 10 2011 1:23pm

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.

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