When produce is in season and is plentiful, prices fall. But when it’s out of season and there’s less of it, we pay more. Moreover, out-of-season produce is often imported, which has another downside besides increased cost. “Produce that has to be shipped thousands of miles has to be picked before it’s ripe,” says Phil Lempert, editor of Supermarketguru.com. “That means you get less taste for your money.” Find out what items are coming into peak season now with our In Season spring guide.
“Plant your own organic garden,” suggests Jimbo Someck, president of Jimbo’s Naturally!, a natural foods grocery chain in San Diego. “Not only will you get fresh-picked taste, but you’ll enjoy the fruits of your labor and save money at the same time.” Start your garden with three basic plants that grow well in almost every part of the country: Tomatoes, basil, and edible flowers, or try an herb garden. No garden space? No problem: Many herbs grow quite well indoors.
“For out-of-season organic produce, try the frozen food case,” says Lempert. “When fruits like blueberries aren’t in season, you can buy frozen organic blueberries that have been frozen at the peak of freshness and nutrition for half the price of blueberries that have been flown in.”
Supermarkets are expanding their organic offerings. They can be a good source for items you don’t find at farmers markets. Many carry newly developed organic food lines from major national brands like Hunt’s tomatoes, Domino sugar, Gold Medal flour, Sun-Maid raisins and Silk soymilk. These are often less costly than boutique brands found in specialty stores. Compare: • Pam organic olive oil cooking spray: $3.50/5-ounce can • Spectrum Naturals organic olive oil cooking spray: $5/5-ounce can
“Foods like grains, pasta, flour, dry beans, nuts, and seeds from bulk bins are significantly less expensive because they don’t require costly packaging and labeling,” says Margaret Wittenberg, global vice president of quality standards for Whole Foods Market in Austin, Texas. Economies of scale also apply to packaged foods. Compare: • 28 ounce can Muir Glen organic whole peeled tomatoes: $0.10 cents/ounce • 14.5 ounce can Muir Glen organic whole peeled tomatoes: $0.14 cents/ounce • Whole Foods bulk bin organic white basmati rice: $4.38/2 pounds • Lundberg organic California white basmati rice: $4.99/2 pounds
“Instead of shopping with a list, see what looks good that’s on sale,” Wittenberg recommends. “That way you can build an entire pantry of low-cost organic packaged and frozen foods rather than paying top dollar when you need a particular item.”