Are fresher foods more expensive?
The ultimate answer is, it depends. But don’t stop reading there, because I need to qualify my answer.
If you’re comparing fresh food to their processed counterparts, then its not really a fair race, because often governments around the world subsidise the manufacturers but not the farmers. Having said that it really comes down to where you live, what season it is and what you usually buy as to whether the fresh foods are cheaper or not. In any of these cases you might end up with fresher foods being cheaper, or you might not. Lets explore it in a little more detail using some examples.
Reasons fresh foods can be expensive
1. Generic processed foods vs fresh foods
The biggest reason that fresh food won’t be cheaper for you is if you’re used to buying generic brands of processed foods. For instance, if you buy generic crumbed fish, pre-made lasagna and cornflakes, then fresh foods will be more expensive than you’re used to. It’s also more expensive to buy a kilo of oranges and juice them yourself than to buy a 2L store bought version of orange juice – but you won’t be getting the same quality drink either.
It’s not that the fresher versions have a reason for being more expensive, its more to do with the fact the cheaper versions and the processed foods are tax subsidised and usually use inferior quality products. Now, there is a difference between buying a donut and a tin of artichokes, so you need to think about these differences too. The fully processed foods like donuts, corn chips and sugary cereals (all things that are not naturally occurring foods) are going to be pretty cheap to buy so when you buy a real banana or a punnet of strawberries you’re going to think its way too expensive.
Compare for a minute:
6 pack of crumbed fish from supermarket = $6. But a single fillet of fish crumbed by you using an egg and breadcrumbs = $6-15 per fillet (depending on the type of fish you buy).
A family size packet of chips or corn chips = $3. But a punnet of blue berries = $7.
1.5L bottle of generic cola = $0.99. But 1kg of oranges to juice yourself = $3.
2. Availability of fresh ingredients in your location
For some reason in Australia fresh fish is very expensive (despite the fact we’re an island surrounded by water), whereas in other countries the fish can be much cheaper. Here in Australia some of the cheapest fresh fish (as opposed to the fish bits used in processed fish products like fish fingers) is frozen basa, which is usually imported from Asia. The basa costs about $6-10 for a pack of 6 fillets. But if you want fresh Atlantic salmon you’re going to be paying $30+ per kilo.
3. Organic foods are always more expensive
No matter where I’ve been and looked at the organic fruit and veg it is always more expensive. Its usually more expensive because there is less of it available (its a simple case of supply and demand). Its also usually because there are less organic farmers around, they have smaller farms and therefore do more of the hard work themselves. In this case, its not so bad to buy slightly more expensive fruit and veg to support a farmer and their family.
4. You’re not used to buying fresh food regularly
Fresher also won’t be cheaper if you’re not yet used to buying fresh food all the time. If you’re moving straight from processed foods to fresh foods you’re going to find your budget may get blown out. The best way to mitigate this is to go for the mid-range – by the half fresh products such as tinned and canned fruits and vegetables, fish, and beans. These can be cheaper, about $1-3 depending on type, than their fresh counter parts. For instance a fresh pineapple will cost me about $5-6 in Melbourne even though it might be about $2 or less in Cairns (the tropical part of Australia). So for me buying tinned pineapple saves me money and gets me used to eating fresher products, even if they’re not fully in their fresh state.
But don’t let that stop you from trying the fresh versions when you can, because tinned and canned foods often contain a lot of extra salt or sugar, which isn’t good for your health. These tinned and canned foods are definitely better for you than buying takeaway and processed foods but do make sure you supplement them with something fresh when you can afford them. And on that note, lets move on to why and how fresh foods CAN be cheaper.
Reasons fresh foods can be cheaper
1. Seasonal fresh foods will always be cheaper
So what are seasonal foods? Basically this just means buying the food when it’s the season they grow in. For instance apples are ready to eat in winter so they will be cheaper in winter because there are more of them around. If you want apples in summer they will be more expensive because it’s not their growing season, and the ones in stores will usually be imported from somewhere else in the world where it is the growing season. Any imported food always has a higher price to cover the cost of travel.
If you want to know which foods are available in which season and you live in Australia then check out this handy guide. Here’s a guide for the UK, and one for the US. Otherwise, a simple way to know whats in season is to buy whichever fruit and vegetables are advertised as being on special in the supermarket catalogues each week. For instance as I write this avocados are on special so it must be avocado season here in Australia.
2. If its grown in your area its cheaper.
Another way fresher is cheaper is if it is grown in your area, so usually these are foods that you’d find at your local farmers markets. For instance when I lived in Canberra I could get a gigantic cauliflower for only $2 at the local farmers market because it was grown in that region. Likewise now I live in Melbourne I can get beetroot cheaper than ever before (it’s grown more down here) and I’m also closer to the apple growing areas so they’re cheaper.
I have a friend in Queensland who gets bananas and mangoes really cheap whereas I pay more because I don’t live in a tropical area. But she can’t get cheap plums and peaches, so it’s really a trade off between where you live and what’s available. That’s not necessarily a bad thing – it just means you can buy certain local ingredients more often and occasionally buy the out of area ones. So for me a fresh mango is a treat in summer and for my friend an apple crumble is a treat.
3. Buy bulk fresh foods to keep the cost down
Bulk foods are usually cheaper than smaller portions of the same foods, however I don’t recommend buying bulk foods unless you are really going to use them. It’s often cheaper to buy foods in a bigger packet because it reduces the cost per unit of the item, but its not cheaper if you don’t eat them and just throw then away. Good examples of bulk items that are cheaper are things like dried beans and lentils, rice, pasta and big bags of onions and potatoes. Only buy the items that you are really going to use, such as onions because they’re in everything. That way your fresher foods will be cheaper in the long run for you. This can also work for fruit in cases where you can buy a tray or box of the fruit, such as cherries or mangoes during the height of their season.
4. Close to date foods are cheaper
A lot of stores and especially the farmers markets tend to sell off the fresh foods that are close to their date (or close to being too ripe) at the end of the day. It works in your favour because if you’re ready to use a particular fresh food almost straight away then you can get them for cheaper than usual. For example, at the Queen Victoria Markets here in Melbourne on a Sunday afternoon you’re more likely to get 1kg bags of onions, potatoes, ripe fruit and bags of random vegetables for $1-3. The only catch is you need to be able to use them almost straight away or else they’ll go off a day or so later. So if you’re in the mood to do some baking with the fruit or make some jam, then these bags of ripe fruit and veg are going to be the best bet to make sure that you get fresher foods for cheap.
Are fresh foods cheap or expensive?
In the end it’s up to you to buy what suits you and your budget and lifestyle. However, know that it is both possible for fresh food to be cheap and expensive. But think about this – it’s worth it to spend a bit more on fresh food now so you don’t have to spend a lot on medical appointments for preventable diseases in the future. So whatever you do end up buying, try to add some fresh foods into your daily diet where you can and as much as you can afford. That’s exactly what I do, and I don’t have a huge budget, but I do make sure that my husband and I eat well every day.
Have I convinced you to buy fresh foods more often? I can tell you from experience you will feel much healthier for it.
What are your thoughts on the price of fresh foods?