It has happened to all of us. You’re standing in the produce aisle, just trying to buy some zucchini, when you face the inevitable choice: Organic or regular?
It’s a loaded question that can mean many different things, sometimes all at once: Healthy or pesticide-drenched? Tasty or bland? Fancy or basic? Clean or dirty? Good or bad?
But here’s the most important question for many customers: Is it worth the extra money?
The answer: Probably not
1Higher price doesn’t really mean higher quality
It’ll come as no surprise to most shoppers that organic produce is typically more expensive than the other options. In March, a Consumer Reports analysis found that, on average, the prices on organic foods were 47% higher than on their conventional counterparts. USDA numbers bear out this difference too. The wholesale price of a 25-pound sack of organic carrots in San Francisco in 2013, for example, was more than three times the price of a conventional bag.
(It’s worth noting that not all items see such drastic markups all the time: Three-pound cartons of mesclun were only 23% more expensive, according to the USDA, and sometimes organic produce is actually the less expensive option—but that’s a rarity.)
But this price difference does not just reflect the added cost of organic agriculture techniques: It’s also because people will pay more for the label—often without knowing what it means. “Organic” has essentially become another way of saying “luxury.”
As a study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, the “premium” markup on organic food is 29-32%, when only a 5-7% markup would be needed to break even—making organic farms more profitable than conventional ones. (Of course, it takes three years of organic practices to get certified, so farmers may still be left covering their additional investment after that period.)