It's not easy eating green, especially if you're buying organic. That's according to a Lending Tree analysis that found organic foods are seeing the steepest price hikes amid stubbornly high inflation.
Prices for organic fruits and vegetables rose 13.1% over the past year, compared with just under 10% for conventional produce, according to Lending Tree, which drew on weekly retail pricing data over the last year through January from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).
Among all the food groups included in the analysis, organic chicken prices increased the most, at 19.5%. That's more than three times the price jump for conventionally raised chicken, which rose 5.9% over the last year, the report shows.
For households already struggling with the nation's worst bout of inflation in 40 years, such spikes could force many consumers to opt for nonorganic options instead.
Organic foods are produced without use of toxic pesticides, synthetic fertilizers, antibiotics, hormones or genetic engineering techniques, while producers must adhere to federal guidelines on soil quality and animal-raising practices. Not surprisingly, that has generally translated into higher costs for shoppers.
But that hasn't deterred U.S. consumers from eating organic. Nationwide demand for organic foods has more than doubled over the past 10 years, according to the Organic Trade Association, with sales reaching $62 billion in 2020.
Whether or not you're shelling out for organic items, food has gotten much more expensive. Government figures show that prices for food at home — what people buy at retailers to prepare their own meals — jumped 11.3% in January from a year earlier. On average, Americans spend $260 a week on food prepared at home, according to Lending Tree.
With the median U.S. household income at $70,784, that means half the country is spending more than 19% of their annual income on groceries.
"Americans love dining out and spend a ton of money in restaurants, but the truth is that we do most of our preparing, cooking and eating at home," Matt Schulz, chief credit analyst at Lending Tree, said in the analysis. "And though eating at home is often recommended to help keep expenses down, it's not necessarily inexpensive."
The cost of specialty health food products, such as gluten-free flour and starches, has also skyrocketed. Jennifer Kinkade, the owner of gluten-free bakery in Tucson, Arizona, recently told Celiac.com, a website for those with gluten-sensitivity, that prices for gluten-free ingredients like tapioca starch have tripled.
"The flours are one of the hardest things right now... gluten free [was] always expensive, but I think it's even more expensive now," she told the site.
For the most part, soaring grocery prices have been attributed to ongoing supply-chain issues, as well as climate issues and Russia's war in Ukraine. Some lawmakers, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren, have also accused big food companies of price-gouging.
To find better deals at the grocery store, Schulz offers three tips.
Shop around, compare prices: "We tend to get very territorial about our favorite grocery stores," he said, "but the truth is that our favorite store around the corner may not have the best prices. Traveling a little further to another store may cost you some extra gas, but the savings at the grocery checkout counter can be worth it."
Search out store-brand options: Store brands are "worth looking into," Schulz said, as they often cost less than bigger brands without sacrificing quality.
Get a grocery credit card: "Plenty of cards offer extra rewards specifically for grocery spending," said Schultz, who urges consumers to take advantage of them. "If a big portion of your monthly spending goes to groceries — and whose doesn't? — you're doing yourself a disservice if you don't at least consider a grocery credit card."