It’s no surprise that it’s more expensive. We’re prepared to pay a premium for produce in a health food shop or farmers market, where we get the added benefit of being served by a healthy looking girl in a green apron or a bearded chap in a goats’ wool beanie who looks as if he was out tramping dewy fields in his gumboots, pulling vegetables out of the ground earlier that morning.
We want our eggs to have dark yellow yolks and to be laid by happy hens. In Holland they make a packaging distinction between an ‘egg’, a ‘free range egg’ (scharrelei) and a ‘free walking outside egg’ (vrij uitloop ei).
But how much more are people prepared to pay to buy organic?
Today I did a little price comparison between three local Amsterdam shopping establishments, all within a few hundred metres of each other.
Eko Plaza is a chain of supermarkets, 11 of them in Amsterdam, selling organic and fair trade produce. It seems to be a fast-growing business, with a strong demand for its products.
Albert Hein is the largest supermarket chain in the Netherlands and a national institution.
Ten Kate Market is a local street market in the street of that name in Amsterdam West.
I limited my shopping to items available in all three places, and took a small hypothetical basket containing:
1 kg aubergines
1 kg zucchinis
2 kg potatoes
1kg basmati rice
Under the smart decor of the ‘biologische’ Eko Plaza I was served by a pleasant lady with dreadlocks. She probably had the beanie and gumboots stashed under the counter.
As I passed my purchases to the young cashier in Albert Hein, we both yelped as we got an electric shock – static, I presume, rather than any electrical fault in the conveyor belt.
The Ten Kate market was easily the most pleasant place to browse, outdoors on a sunny day, with a good proportion of the United Nations represented among the stallholders, and the widest range of produce.
But to my price comparisons…
Total cost of the imaginary goodies in my basket was:
Eko Plaza EUR22.82
Albert Hein EUR19.03
Ten Kate Market EUR11.25
In other words, overall there was a modest price difference between buying at the Eko Plaza and the more conventional supermarket (which also offered certain organic, free-range options) but a huge difference with food from the local market. I make no claims about the quality of the food from the three sources. My basket and its contents were mostly hypothetical, so I never put the food to the taste test.
The biggest price discrepancy was in eggs – exactly EUR4.30 a dozen for those ‘vrij uitloop’ (free walking outside) eggs at both Eko Plaza and Albert Hein, but a mere EUR1 a dozen for ordinary eggs at the Ten Kate Market. I suspect they’re cheap because they’re small, colourless and were popped out several weeks ago by battery hens that glow in the dark.
Basmati rice cost EUR2.50 a kilo at Ten Kate and more than double, EUR5.18, at Eko Plaza.
Potatoes varied the least in price. The cheapest at the market were EUR3.00 for two kilograms, compared to EUR3.78 for apparently comparable Albert Hein spuds. Eko Plaza had some more expensive and maybe very special potatoes, but also standard organic models at EUR3.49.
Surprisingly, Albert Hein had the most locally grown vegetables. EkoPlaza’s organic aubergines had racked up food miles coming from Spain and their zucchinis and broccoli were from Italy. Stall-holders at Ten Kate apparently felt no obligation to advertise the source of what they were selling, or just didn’t know.
The questions raised in my mind by this exercise are:
Does organic food taste better? Honestly? Are we confident we could pick an organic cucumber from a non-organic one in a blind tasting?
Are we buying organic because we’re seriously afraid of the long-term effects of chemicals reputedly used in conventional farming?
Is organic farming is better for the environment, even if it requires a greater acreage to produce the equivalent yield?
Organic food must be more expensive to produce; why else would it be more expensive to buy?
Our bike ride along the Pieperpad will take us past a lot of organic farms, and we may find the answers to some of the questions above.
Meanwhile, any thoughts anyone?