Ingrid Weihmann is a nutritionist and co-owner, with Cliff Jefferson, of Only Natural, Timaru's organic shop.
As organic food retailers, our lives are enriched by the high quality interactions we have with our customers: we are sometimes challenged, however, by remarks that indicate a very different perspective to ours.
Yesterday, a customer standing next to our fresh produce display asked me where she could buy fruit and vegetables in town. I thought perhaps she wanted something out of the ordinary which we didn’t have.
However, she didn’t want to buy organic as it was ‘too expensive’. She didn’t want to buy from the supermarket either as she perceived that they were ripping her off with ‘300%’ markups. It made me think about the price of organic food.
Cheapest bacon! Best Quality!
Another customer really summed it up a while ago when he entered the shop and announced ‘I want the cheapest bacon, and the best quality!’
Consumer expectations have become unrealistic as the price of everything has been driven down over the years. We all thought it was great getting cheap stuff, but now we wonder why our cheap stuff fails, falls to bits, doesn’t hit the spot.
I have heard many, many people complaining about supermarket produce being horrible in taste and texture. But they don’t seem to see the correlation between price and quality. You get what you pay for.
Less spent on food
If we look back a few decades, it is apparent that the percentage of the household budget that is spent on food has dropped steadily.
We have not been paying the true price of our food for a long time, and have come to expect that it must be cheap. The supermarket flyers that clog up our mailboxes encourage the fixation with price rather than quality.
Now that food prices are inevitably increasing, the consumer feels hard-done-by and complains bitterly. We have our choices when it comes to prioritising what we spend our money on - if food is not up there above the clutter that we fill our homes with, then that is your choice, but please do not whinge about food prices.
Cheap food costs
When food prices are kept artificially low, there has to be collateral damage elsewhere. Grower incomes have been screwed down, and animal welfare, the environment and the quality of our soils have been sacrificed, as indeed have the quality of our foods themselves.
Food can be produced cheaply when it is bulked out with cheap ingredients like the various derivatives of soy and corn, vegetable oils and the additives that taste it up and make it last longer on the shelf.
Much of the food available to us now in the shops has been reduced to the minimum standard – hence we have battery eggs, factory chicken and pork, bacon padded out with water, puffed up loaves of nutrient-empty bread, devitalised, pasteurised, homogenised plastic bottled milk, fruit and vegetables that have no taste and not much goodness.
Organic reflects true value
Organic food is seen as being expensive. Why is that? Could it be that the price reflects the true value of the food? Organic growers and food manufacturers deserve to have a better price for their labours than their huge-scale monoculture ‘conventional’ contemporaries.
They are, after all, producing a higher quality, tastier and more nutritious product and are providing a better standard of care for the livestock and soils for which they are custodians.
If you try growing your own produce, then you will see that there is skill (and some luck) in getting constant supply and consistent quality, and you will have more appreciation for those who do it for a living.
We ought to support and respect those who grow good food and safeguard our soils. They are the brave and dedicated pioneers. And for those of you that think it is the small organic retailer creaming off a big profit, it is a joke in organic world that no-one goes into it to make big money.
Organic chicken - worth the price?
Take the instance of the organic chicken, the price of which regularly makes people goggle because they are focussed on their purse and have not considered the big picture.
An organic free-range chicken lives its life outside on pasture, scratching and dust-bathing as chickens do. It is a happy chicken as far as we can tell, in good health with no need for antibiotics or other drugs.
It eats bugs from the pasture and food provided by the farmer which is free of chemicals. The farmer makes a small living, the retailer makes a small markup. The consumer marvels at the delicious ‘chickeny’ flavour as they enjoy the meat and then the soups made from the bones. Compare this to a huge commercial broiler operation. Is the organic chicken worth the price?
The Organic Dollar
So when you buy organic food, where does your dollar go?
· To promote your enhanced dining pleasure from genuinely tasty food
· To give your body more nutrients
· To support the grower and/or manufacurer, often a family business
· To support your local retailers, often a family business, so your dollar stays in your community
· To support the maintenance of the soils so they can successfully produce food forever because they are not being poisoned, and the minerals and micro-organisms are maintained
· To support the health and respectful treatment of the livestock
Please think twice if you complain about price, as it demeans the growers, manufacturers and shops who are trying to bring you this good food.
Dear Organic Pathways team,
I am very sorry but I absolutely disagree with your article “Please! Think Twice Before You Knock the Price!”. We are smallfarmers and we produce organic food. My dream and my goal is, to provide healthy food for normal people. Unfortunately I do not see this vision with most (or probably all) of the organic producers. I think the reason for this is because the producers and retailers of organic food “are focussed on their purse and have not considered the big picture.”. I still have to find the person who can explain to me why 100gm of organic Goat Cheese should cost almost $20! I do not have to spend thousands of dollars for drenches, I do not have to spend thousands of dollars for artificial fertilisers. My goats are healthy, the vet costs are very low! So where are the additional costs? I can’t see any!
Picking up the example of the organic chicken. The author herself says
- “An organic free-range chicken lives its life outside on pasture” meaning no extra buildings, no heating/lighting costs etc.
- “in good health with no need for antibiotics or other drugs.” – no cost for drugs and antibiotics
- “It eats bugs from the pasture and food provided by the farmer which is free of chemicals” no additional food cost
So where is the justification for more than double the price?
The reason why I say that they don’t see the bigger picture is, that the retailers and producers seem to be quite happy to me that “Organic” is chic in Ponsonby and on the Matakana Farmer’s (Yeah Right!) Market. And that they don’t care that a normal family with a normal income and maybe two kids can’t simply afford to buy healthy food. Do they care? Not at all! As long as “the market” pays the prices they are happy!
I find the statement “We have our choices when it comes to prioritising what we spend our money on - if food is not up there above the clutter that we fill our homes with, then that is your choice, but please do not whinge about food prices.” unfair. People are losing more and more the ability to choose. I know many many people who are in a big dilemma because they simply can’t afford to provide healthy food for their family!
There is a difference between “cheap” and “realistically priced”! And if organically produced food stays at the top end of the price range and keeps on being a niche market product then I have to ask the most important question: Is organic sustainable? If it is three times more expensive to produce an organic egg how can we then have a future? How will we be able to tell people they should eat healthy? Or do we only care about people who want to have organic nibbles at their dinner party in their million dollar house at Omaha beach?
Thanks Peter for your feedback - it helps add to an interesting debate - The Organic Pathways team