Organic Food Is More Expensive, but Conventional Prices Are Catching Up

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Updated on Monday, October 18, 2021

One thing that financial and nutritional health have in common is everyone needs a budget that works for their goals and abilities, whether this is tracking money or calories. Shopping for food requires attention to both financial and eating habits, as well as personal desires or choices like eating organic or skipping meat.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) tracks changes in food pricing by looking at snapshot data of prices across various items. To find trends among food pricing and where consumers could be saving, MagnifyMoney researchers analyzed prices for organic and conventional meats, dairy items, fruits and vegetables in 2019 and 2021.

Some findings may not be surprising, like organic foods overwhelmingly costing more than conventional, but the data suggests that could change in the future.

Key findings

  • Conventional food prices are rising at a much faster rate than organic costs. Since 2019, prices for select conventional meats, dairy items, fruits and vegetables have risen by an average of 13.9% — 12 percentage points more than the 1.6% growth in costs for organic varieties.
  • Despite rising conventional prices, organic foods are still more expensive. Of the produce prices examined, sweet onions are the only item for which the conventional price is higher than organic cost — 12 cents more per pound, or 9.8%.
  • On average, non-organic meat prices are rising faster than costs for conventional fruits and veggies. Prices across the selected non-organic varieties of produce items have increased an average of 13.1% over the past two years, compared with a 15.6% rise across meat product prices in the same period.
  • Though certain cuts of meat have seen price drops, they haven’t been nearly as significant as cost increases. Among the beef, chicken and pork cuts with the greatest two-year hikes, prices have risen between 43.8% and 110.9%, versus decreases of 17.1% to 41.2% across the meat prices that fell the most in the same period.

Conventional food prices rising faster than organic costs

If you’ve shopped for groceries, you probably have noticed the price differences between foods with an organic label and conventional products. Organic foods generally cost more for consumers due to higher production and labor costs, as well as limited supply. For those organic-preferring shoppers, the good news is the costs of organic produce, dairy and meats are rising slower than conventional foods.

Across 29 items analyzed, conventional foods have increased by an average of 13.9% from 2019 to 2021, while the organic versions of the same products only rose by an average of 1.6%.

Broccoli features the biggest difference in percentage points — 117 — between organic and conventional pricing changes. Organic broccoli increased from $2.10 a pound in 2019 to $2.61 in 2021, a 24.3% jump, while conventional broccoli went from $0.63 to $1.52, a 141.3% increase.

Products with fastest growing conventional and organic prices, 2019 to 2021

Fastest growing conventional pricesFastest growing organic prices
Product

Conventional change

Organic change

Product

Organic change

Conventional change

Broccoli

141.3%

24.3%

 Russet potatoes

53.6%

14.1%

Boneless, skinless chicken breasts

43.8%

-2.2%

 Granny Smith apples

49.9%

42.3%

Granny Smith apples

42.3%

49.9%

 Chicken breast tenders

25.6%

-7.7%

Milk (gallon)

34.7%

7.6%

 Broccoli

24.3%

141.3%

Note: The conventional items included are limited to items with an organic version.

By category, conventional dairy items have escalated the fastest since 2019 at an average of 25.6% across cheeses, milk and yogurt. Non-organic produce prices jumped an average of 13.1%, while the average cost across different cuts of regular chicken grew by an average of 4.9%.

Fruits and vegetables represent the only organic group to record average price growth — granted, the number of items sampled is also the largest. Organic produce prices grew at an average of 2.8% since 2019, while organic dairy and chicken prices dropped by 0.9% and 0.4%, respectively, on average.

Despite price increases, conventional foods remain cheaper than organic counterparts

Even though conventional food prices have risen significantly while organic prices remained fairly stagnant, conventional prices still beat organic for nearly every product in the sample. Sweet onions are the only item among the tracked prices where shoppers may save by buying the organic variety. A pound of organic sweet onions costs $1.11, compared with $1.23 per pound for non-organic — a 9.8% difference.

Otherwise, organic items cost an average of 70.7% more than their conventional counterparts. Though the difference in prices is typically less than a dollar per pound/package/etc. for fruits and vegetables, the difference in chicken pricing varies widely between conventional and organic. Chicken thighs have the greatest price disparity by percentage (321.6%), with a pound of conventional thighs costing just $1.16, versus $4.89 for organic. Both varieties of chicken thighs have dropped in price since 2019, but organic prices continue to dwarf conventional.

Regardless of cut — thighs, breasts, drumsticks or whole — conventional chicken costs an average of 188.5% more than organic. Consumers pay as much as $5.86 more a pound for organic chicken.

2021 organic vs. conventional pricing, fresh chicken

Conventional price per pound

Organic price per pound

Difference ($)

Difference (%)

Thighs

$1.16

$4.89

$3.73

321.6%

Drumsticks

$1.02

$2.95

$1.93

189.2%

Breast tenders

$3.13

$8.99

$5.86

187.2%

Boneless, skinless breasts

$3.25

$7.45

$4.20

129.2%

Whole bagged fryer

$1.37

$2.95

$1.58

115.3%

Outside of chicken, organic yellow onions outsize conventional by the greatest ratio at a 90.4% increase. Organic fruits and vegetables cost an average of 42.7% more than conventional items.

2021 organic vs. conventional pricing, fruits and vegetables

Conventional price per pound*

Organic price per pound*

Difference ($)

Difference (%)

Yellow onions

$0.73

$1.39

$0.66

90.4%

Carrots (1-pound bag)

$0.83

$1.49

$0.66

79.5%

Bananas

$0.45

$0.79

$0.34

75.6%

Broccoli

$1.52

$2.61

$1.09

71.7%

Gala apples

$1.31

$2.08

$0.77

58.8%

White seedless grapes

$1.71

$2.54

$0.83

48.5%

Black seedless grapes

$1.64

$2.42

$0.78

47.6%

Blueberries (1 pint)

$3.15

$4.56

$1.41

44.8%

Yellow potatoes

$0.77

$1.10

$0.33

42.9%

Baby spinach (10 ounces)

$2.80

$3.99

$1.19

42.5%

Red seedless grapes

$1.83

$2.54

$0.71

38.8%

Honeycrisp apples

$2.20

$3.05

$0.85

38.6%

Russet potatoes

$1.13

$1.49

$0.36

31.9%

Broccoli crowns

$1.52

$1.99

$0.47

30.9%

Red onions

$1.16

$1.50

$0.34

29.3%

Fuji apples

$1.41

$1.79

$0.38

27.0%

Granny Smith apples

$2.59

$2.99

$0.40

15.4%

Romaine hearts (3-count pack)

$3.05

$3.29

$0.24

7.9%

Sweet onions

$1.23

$1.11

-$0.12

-9.8%

*Unless otherwise noted

Organic dairy products also run significantly more expensive than their conventional counterparts. A gallon of organic milk, for example, costs 71.3%, or $2.49, more, on average, than regular milk. Across various dairy products, organic prices average 42.8% higher than conventional.

2021 organic vs. conventional pricing, dairy products

Conventional price

Organic price

Difference ($)

Difference (%)

Milk (gallon)

$3.49

$5.98

$2.49

71.3%

Cottage cheese (16 ounces)

$2.26

$3.86

$1.60

70.8%

Cheese (8-ounce block)

$2.60

$3.99

$1.39

53.5%

Greek yogurt (32 ounces)

$4.91

$5.43

$0.52

10.6%

Cream cheese (8 ounces)

$2.36

$2.55

$0.19

8.1%

Though saving a few dollars to buy conventional food might not seem like a major budgeting win, when you consider MagnifyMoney’s finding that 3 in 10 consumers withdrew money from their retirement funds in the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic to pay for necessities including groceries, those little extra savings can make a difference in a pinch.

Vegetarians may be saving as meat prices rise faster than produce

It’s not just poultry prices taking flight. Beef and pork prices have risen at a significant rate over the past two years as well. Across various cuts and preparations of chicken, beef and pork, per-pound prices have risen an average of 15.6% since 2019.

While overall that growth isn’t too much more than conventional fruits and vegetable prices (13.1%), cuts of meat that have seen the greatest price gains have increased rapidly. Just one produce item — broccoli — has increased by more than the beef, pork and chicken cuts with the largest average retail price jumps by percentage since 2019.

Conventional fruits and vegetables with the biggest 2-year average retail price jump

2019 price per pound*

2021 price per pound*

Difference ($)

Difference (%)

Broccoli

$0.63

$1.52

$0.89

141.3%

Granny Smith apples

$1.82

$2.59

$0.77

42.3%

Blueberries (1 pint)

$2.43

$3.15

$0.72

29.6%

Romaine hearts (3-count pack)

$2.45

$3.05

$0.60

24.5%

Russet potatoes

$0.99

$1.13

$0.14

14.1%

Yellow onions

$0.64

$0.73

$0.09

14.1%

Baby spinach (10 ounces)

$2.48

$2.80

$0.32

12.9%

Sweet onions

$1.10

$1.23

$0.13

11.8%

Red onions

$1.05

$1.16

$0.11

10.5%

*Unless otherwise noted

Meat prices across the biggest risers have grown quite remarkably, from 43.8% to 110.9%.

Meat with the biggest 2-year average retail price jump

Beef

2019

2021

Change ($)

Change (%)

Sirloin steak

$4.67

$9.20

$4.53

97.0%

Bottom round steak

$4.08

$7.03

$2.95

72.3%

Flat brisket

$3.51

$5.75

$2.24

63.8%

 

 

 

 

 

Pork

2019

2021

Change ($)

Change (%)

Boneless butt roast

$1.84

$3.88

$2.04

110.9%

Boneless loin roast

$1.74

$3.22

$1.48

85.1%

Spiral ham

$1.69

$2.96

$1.27

75.1%

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken

2019

2021

Change ($)

Change (%)

Rotisserie breast

$3.99

$6.93

$2.94

73.7%

Whole wings

$2.82

$4.17

$1.35

47.9%

Boneless, skinless breasts, regular pack

$2.26

$3.25

$0.99

43.8%

Note: Excludes organic and specialty items. 2021 prices are weekly retail averages reported on Sept. 17, while the 2019 prices are from the equivalent week.

Not all meat prices rising, but drops not as dramatic as jumps

All hope is not lost for budget-friendly carnivores, though. Where meat prices have shifted down, the changes haven’t been nearly as significant as the increases. Across the meat cuts with the largest two-year price drops, costs have declined between 17.1% and 41.2%. Beef brisket saw the biggest price reduction.

Meat with the biggest 2-year average retail price drop

Beef

2019

2021

Change ($)

Change (%)

Brisket

$4.49

$2.64

-$1.85

-41.2%

Filet mignon

$16.50

$11.87

-$4.63

-28.1%

Boneless sirloin roast

$8.09

$6.09

-$2.00

-24.7%

 

 

 

 

 

Pork

2019

2021

Change ($)

Change (%)

Bone-in ham

$3.10

$2.14

-$0.96

-31.0%

Canadian bacon

$9.35

$6.70

-$2.65

-28.3%

Assorted bone-in chops

$2.05

$1.70

-$0.35

-17.1%

 

 

 

 

 

Chicken

2019

2021

Change ($)

Change (%)

Rotisserie whole (2.1 to 3.0 pounds)

$9.48

$7.33

-$2.15

-22.7%

Drumsticks, regular pack

$1.26

$1.02

-$0.24

-19.0%

Rotisserie whole (under 2 pounds)

$6.39

$5.20

-$1.19

-18.6%

Note: Excludes organic and specialty items. 2021 prices are weekly retail averages reported on Sept. 17, while the 2019 prices are from the equivalent week.

Don’t let your grocery savings spoil

Finding ways to save money at the grocery store can be as simple as switching brands or as involved as changing your diet. However you choose to find savings, make sure you stash that extra cash somewhere it’ll grow.

Check out MagnifyMoney’s reviews of the best high-yield savings accounts to find banks and credit unions with the best savings rates or other perks available.

Methodology

MagnifyMoney analysts reviewed weekly retail pricing data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). 2021 snapshot data is from the week ending Sept. 17, while the 2019 snapshots are from the equivalent week.

To discuss conventional versus organic, researchers analyzed prices for 29 conventional chicken cuts, dairy items, and fruits and vegetables in which there was also an organic version. To discuss the cuts of meat with the largest average retail price jumps and drops, researchers analyzed 46 cuts of beef, 46 cuts of pork and 37 cuts of chicken.