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Organic Connection: Produce prices starting to show improvement

By
Ron Pelger

If two Honeycrisp apples were shown to you, would you be able to identify which is organic and which is the conventional one without looking at the ID stickers? What about the difference between two heads of leaf lettuce or two stalks of celery?

There may not be a difference in the appearance between conventional and organic produce items. However, there is a significant difference in the pricing.

Many shoppers still ask, “Why are organic produce prices so much higher than conventional?” One of the challenges of organic produce on the front lines is still with price.

Consumers have several preferences when choosing produce items. These days, one of their top concerns is price.

Back in March 2022, we took price checks in six major supermarket banners of selected popular organic and conventional items. The total organic retails were 50 percent higher than conventional produce. The per-store average for organics was $39.45 and the per-store average for conventional was $26.30. 

In April 2024, we repeated the exercise. The results revealed that the total organic prices were 36.5 percent higher than the conventional items. That’s a decent drop from the 2022 prices.

Here are the results of each grocery chain:

  • Store A — Organic prices were 45.4 percent higher than conventional.
  • Store B — Organic prices were 27.3 percent higher than conventional.
  • Store C — Organic prices were 48.2 percent higher than conventional.
  • Store D — Organic prices were 29.3 percent higher than conventional.
  • Store E — Organic prices were 51.4 percent higher than conventional.
  • Store F — Organic prices were 29.1 percent higher than conventional.

Some of the high-profile organic items checked disclosed a wide average range of retail variations, but there are reasons for those differences. Here are a few examples of organic prices that were compared with conventional produce:

  • Bananas — 14 cents per pound or 20 percent higher.
  • Gala apples — 70 cents per pound or 33.5 percent higher.
  • Iceberg lettuce — 64 cents or 27 percent higher.
  • Broccoli — $1.27 or 64 percent higher.
  • Mushrooms — 74 cents or 23 percent higher.
  • Green peppers — 63 cents per pound or 46 percent higher.
  • One-pound carton strawberries — $2.25 or 90.3 percent higher.
  • Onions — 78 cents per pound or 35 percent higher.

Bananas, apples, peppers and lettuce generate a high amount of organic sales. Each organic item has to be treated differently on the farms during growing periods, and dealing with each item separately is quite expensive. That’s why each cost varies.

There are strict national standards under which organic produce growers must follow, making raising organic crops very labor-intensive.

Only natural materials can be used to fight off pests, and weeding is a huge chore taking many working hours to accomplish.

There is also a certain amount of product loss due to the sensitivity of the product. This all adds to the costs for growers.

Ron Pelger is a produce industry adviser and industry writer. He can be contacted at 775-843-2394 or by e-mail at [email protected].

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