If you're like me, you look to the gas pumps to decipher what you're going to spend on your food essentials—the simplified reason being that high oil prices contribute to soaring food prices.
Since today's gas prices are something out of a horror film, and AAA reports that Californians are paying the most expensive gas prices in five years (saying the state's average as of this spring was $4.01), we're feeling the pinch at the grocery store as well.
I'm thinking about that Oroweat bread delivery truck I saw parked outside the Vons in Atascadero that delivers organic artisan bread from Horsham, Pennsylvania. We're paying for all that gas, with bread being close to $4 a loaf. I think we're all hurting at the register.
The numbers have been showing for years that Californians are eating at home more than eating out—with statistics database Statista reporting that in 2016 only 20 percent of Americans visited full-service restaurants once a week. That means the majority of the food being eaten in SLO County comes from grocery stores and health food markets, co-ops, farmers' markets, online, CalFresh Food Assistance program, and—since we're such an ag community—straight from our farmers and ranchers.
According to a 2014 study by Stanford and Cornell economists, the top items Americans are buying at the grocery store are snacks and candy (15.8 percent) and meat and protein (12.8 percent). But among the regular items Americans are buying at the grocery store, bread is always a top purchase, with eggs, butter, and milk high up on the list.
I would love to be able to buy all my bread at Pagnol at Third Street Bakery in Los Osos, but not all of us can do that, except for special occasions. So I made it my mission to find baseline prices for the four organic pantry essentials.
Some of you may like to roll the dice and try Grocery Outlet with its varying inventory. And many of you pay for the Costco membership and brave the masses because buying in bulk makes sense for your household. I salute you!
I chose instead the grocery stores where my family buys most of our groceries that we wouldn't order online. The list features the (lowest) prices from a handful of SLO County's local, big grocery stores (if the store didn't have all four items in organic, I left it off the list):
- Photo By Beth Giuffre
- CROSS-COUNTRY FOOD An Oroweat bread truck parked outside Vons in Atascadero in the early morning hours reminds us that high gas prices often mean the price of our food staples will rise too, especially when trucks come over from places like Pennsylvania.
Total: $14.96. Organic bread baguette: $1.99; a dozen organic eggs: $4.29; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.49; 1 pound organic butter: $5.19.
Upside: Best prices. A friend of mine who worked at Trader's told me the company trades with big companies worldwide that make the food, they buy in bulk, and then repackage it as generic.
Downside: Everyone else and their mother knows Trader Joe's has the best prices. Parking is so hard that I tend to forgo the good prices and search elsewhere for wide open spaces.
Total: $16.66. Loaf of organic bread: $3.99; a dozen organic, cage-free eggs: $3.69; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.69; 1 pound organic butter: $5.29.
Upside: Price and variety of items for sale—gotta love a place where you can buy fluoride-free toothpaste, organic lunch snacks, local beer, organic coffee, and a quick gift for that upcoming birthday party.
Downside: Temptation. I have the hardest time sticking to groceries at Target, and I'm pretty sure its corporate office planned it that way.
Sprouts Farmers Market
Total: $17.46. Loaf of organic bread: $3.99; a dozen organic, cage-free eggs: $3.99; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.49; 1 pound organic butter: $5.99.
Upside: Excellent variety of special diet items—I always find a new, healthy twist on food that fits my diet criteria.
Downside: Meat and deli are almost all conventional.
Total: $17.56. Loaf of organic bread: $3.79; a dozen organic, free-range eggs: $4.99; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.49; 1 pound organic butter: $5.29.
Upside: One-stop shop for quality local organics and sustainable products—from the "Step 4" meats and seafood to the lifestyle products, deli, cheese shop, bakery, supplements, and produce.
Downside: I end up spending more money than I expect: including fair-trade fingerless gloves, natural perfume, and fancy soaps—that's why they call it Whole Paycheck.
- Photo By Beth Giuffre
- BEST THING SINCE Vons (pictured) offers a wide variety of bread, both organic and specialty. Oroweat organic bread sells for $4.49 a loaf—not the cheapest in the area, but it's certainly reliable.
Total: $21.76. Loaf of organic bread: $4.49; a dozen organic, cage-free eggs: $5.79; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.99; 1 pound organic butter: $7.49.
Upside: A pretty impressive organic selection, from cereals to produce. I'm told it's because of demand—when you buy organics, they see the demand and fill it. Also, great local products, wine, and beer specials.
Downside: Like Sprouts, the meat and deli sections are mostly conventional.
I find that I bounce from store to store these days, hoping I will find the best deal on every healthy product in the cart. It's such a dance to balance health, price, sustainability, and ease. I'm convinced we all struggle a bit to find that perfect grocery budget. Δ
Flavor writer Beth Giuffre needs a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter. If she can't remember, write it down for her at email@example.com.