Comparing organic prices, a shopper’s experience in Singapore
People choose organic because they want a healthier, safer alternative to conventionally grown foods and all the toxic pesticides and genetic engineering they entail. Another reason is environmental. Eating “local” helps reduce carbon emissions and supports local organic farms whose methods are better for the long-term health of the soil and water supply. This is a global trend, and we were interested to see it reflected in a growing number of schools and colleges in North America, Europe and Australia now serving organic food to their students.
Researching organic prices in Singapore
In December 2017, at ShiokFarm, we decided to undertake a price study to compare the cost of a basket of organic fruits and vegetables across different retailers and online grocers in Singapore. We visited the main retail stores (in alphabetical order): Cold Storage, FairPrice (NTUC and Finest), Giant, Market Place, Sheng Siong and Super Nature.
We also researched the online stores: Green Circle, Open Taste, Quan Fa, Redmart and Zenxin.
For each of these stores, we looked for the entry level price of all the organic items we distribute weekly to the ShiokFarm community, as well as others that we will start distributing, such as berries, asparagus and broccoli.
We consciously excluded wet markets from our comparison as their organic offering is very limited and often impossible to trace.
What we discovered
When running price comparisons for over 100 items, we couldn’t help but notice the significant variation across certain produce from one store (online and offline) to another, depending upon their country of origin, the season, etc.
While paying a premium for organic was to be expected, we did not anticipate how complicated it would be to get the best deals on everything. Each retailer is quite competitive on particular products and less so on others, so you would need to visit numerous grocers to get the best bang for your buck.
Below is a table that compares the prices of some of the most popular items, store by store, and per kilo. Blank cells mean the option was not available when we visited the store, or that the online store did not specify the weight. When offline, we asked the salesperson to weight the items to get the price per kilo.
And hereafter, the online grocers:
*Prices collected from each retailer between 15 Dec 2017 and 15 Jan 2018.
Our key findings
- Buying online does not always guarantee better prices. Even though online shops tend to save on rent and distribution, some of the most expensive items such as baby corn ($30/kg) and French beans ($24.95/kg) were found at Quan Fa and Open Taste respectively.
- Produce that comes from far away is usually more expensive than that grown in Southeast Asia. For instance, at Cold Storage, tomatoes from Malaysia are sold at $12/kg whereas they are $25/kg when they come from Spain.
- Each grocer has some star items which are relatively reasonably priced (apples are almost always sold at around $8-$10/kg, potatoes at $9-$10/kg), then two or three items are outrageously expensive. For example, limes usually costs $20/kg but Super Nature sells them at $102/kg! The origin may not be the same same, but we struggled to understand what could justify such a substantial price difference.
- The price of herbs is wildly high: mint is sold at a whopping $300/kg at Quan Fa; for comparison, a luxury item like Foie Gras is sold at $250/kg on the Petit Depot website. Zenxin sells rosemary for $199.33/kg – I will never look at my parents’ rosemary bushes the same again! ;)
- When you think you have found the best overall for good deals, look twice: at FairPrice Finest, you may get a good deal on apples, oranges and cucumbers, but it is the most expensive store for blueberries ($60/kg), butternut pumpkin ($17.85/kg), capsicum ($34.44/kg) and garlic ($63.53/kg).
- On the other hand, the least expensive organic pumpkin we could find was on the Super Nature website at $9.30/kg, and at Cold Storage, garlic was just $18.42/kg. You need to go to Market Place for the cheapest capsicums at $27.67/kg.
- The way prices are set makes it almost impossible to consistently get all the best deals on organic items available across your whole shopping list.
Aside from price differences, our survey also highlighted a few other points:
A huge amount of plastic packaging is used. At ShiokFarm, we use zero plastic bags. The only thing in plastic is the rubber band that ties our greens together. (Unfortunately berries and edible flowers do need their plastic boxes, but that is it!)
There is often no weight indicated on the price tag. Our online colleagues often offer a certain number of pieces for a fixed price but will not indicate the weight. If the price is fixed, then surely the weight should be too? Alternatively, they should at least commit to a weight range.
Organic food at affordable prices
At ShiokFarm, we strive to source organic produce at affordable prices. We are a social enterprise and our aim is to make sure every parent can feed their child affordable, fresh, organic fruits and vegetables. So how do we get such good prices? That’s all down to our model and our community.
We work directly with local farms. This means we know exactly who grows our produce, we get good prices, and the food goes straight from the farm to your plate.
Our bags are delivered once a week to a collection point. We have 22 pick up points across Singapore, each hosted by one of our members. Collection points open for a two hour window at the same time each week. This not only creates community engagement but also helps us lower our logistics costs, and we all benefit. If you want to know more and would like to join our community, please visit www.shiokfarm.com.
ShiokFarm organic fruit and vegetable bags
We sell three different bags at ShiokFarm.
The ESSENTIAL bag
This contains 3kg of organic vegetables and fruits to get you through the week. There’s a strong focus on the Dirty Dozen (the twelve items that carry the most pesticide residues when grown in a conventional, non-organic environment), specifically tomatoes, greens, spinach, apples, pears, capsicums and potatoes, as well as a few other items.
The STANDARD bag
This 7kg of organic fruits and vegetables also focuses on the Dirty Dozen, but the bigger quantity allows us to offer more variety.
The PREMIUM bag
3kg of organic fruits and vegetables that are a little pricier, but lovely to have. Here you’ll find items such as avocado, broccoli, tomatoes on vine, baby carrots, beef tomatoes, baby spinach, kale, arugula (roquette), asparagus, mushrooms, Belgium endives, fennel, extra fine French beans and berries (raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, blackberries etc). Occasionally it might include cherries, clementines, apple, pears, pomegranate, or nectarines, or whatever we can find that is in season and delicious!
How do we compare?
The table below compares our bag prices with the average price you would pay if you went directly to grocers in Singapore. It would cost you an average of + 51% to shop yourself rather than just picking up your ShiokFarm bag. Do also note that if you wanted all the items in one ShiokFarm bag, you would need to go to at least three different grocers (online and offline) due to availability.
* Contents are representative of what your bag might contain in one given week.
To join our program, go to https://www.shiokfarm.com/collections/all and joint the waiting list of the bag of your choice!
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Claire Chabrieres created ShiokFarm, an online food business and social enterprise, as she felt that the organic produce she was buying for her family was too exorbitant.