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How Much More Expensive Is It to Buy Organic? We Do the Math

Organic foods aren't nearly as expensive as they used to be when compared to nonorganic. Here's how much more you'll pay.

fruits and vegetables in supermarket shelf
We calculated the cost of buying both organic and nonorganic groceries. The results may surprise you.
summerphotos/Getty Images
We Do the Math badge

Organic foods, although nearly universally healthier than nonorganic, have often been seen as a luxury purchase. But times are changing and that's good news for those seeking high-quality eats. Sheer demand has made organic groceries cheaper and easier to find in recent years, and the price gap between organic and nonorganic foods is smaller than ever.

To find the difference in price between organic versus nonorganic groceries, I priced out a typical shopping list for both via two online grocers, FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh 

For certain foods, the price hike for organic was significant, but for others, buying organic wasn't as big a jump in cost as you might think. And for some items, there was no difference at all. In the end, organic groceries proved to be about 21% more expensive than nonorganic but only about 10% pricier if you exclude meat from the equation. 

We previously did the math to see how much you can save buying store-brand groceries, if shopping for groceries online is cheaper than in-store and if buying meal kits saves you money over buying groceries. Here we break down how much more organic groceries cost than nonorganic.

FreshDirect: Nonorganic vs. organic

FreshDirect nonorganic FreshDirect organic
Eggs/dairy:
Brown eggs (12) $3.49 $4.89
Milk (1/2 gallon) $4.59 $4.79
Quart of plain yogurt (32 oz) $6.29 $5.49
Subtotal $14.37 $15.17
Produce:
Yukon gold potatoes (1 lb) $1.49 $2.39
Mixed salad greens (5 oz) $5 $4
Hass avocado (1) $2 $2
Carrots (1 lb) $1.49 $1.49
Yellow onions (1 lb) $1.25 $1.59
Gala apples (1 lb) $2 $2.33
Strawberries (16 oz) $7 $11
Bananas (2-3 lbs) $2 $3
Lemon (1) $1 $1.49
Subtotal $23.25 $29.29
Pantry:
Bottle of Ketchup (32 oz) $3 $2.99
White rice (1 lb) $1.70 $4.00
Chicken stock (32 oz) $2.99 $4.99
Ground coffee (10 oz) $10.79 $8.29
Penne pasta (16 oz) $2.39 $2.99
Pasta sauce (24 oz) $2.79 $4
Subtotal $23.66 $27.26
Bread and snacks:
Toasted O's cereal (8 oz) $3.02 $3.19
Corn chips (8 oz) $3 $2.66
Granola bars (box of 6) $4.29 $5.90
Apple Juice (64 oz) $4.29 $3.39
Loaf of whole grain bread $5 $5.79
Subtotal $19.60 $20.93
Meat/fish:
Ground beef (1 lb) $6 $10.00
Skinless chicken thighs (1 lb) $5.29 $8.29
Whole chicken (3 lb) $7.50 $14.07
Chicken breast (1 lb) $6.29 $9.00
Ground turkey (1 lb) $5.89 $8.00
Subtotal $30.97 $49.36
Total $111.85 $142.01

How I did the math 

To get a more holistic view of organic costs, I looked at the prices for organic and nonorganic at both FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh -- two popular online grocery services. I chose a selection of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and snacks. For calculating the costs, I chose the cheapest option for both organic and nonorganic. In cases where the product size was unequal, I used a per-pound or per-ounce cost to ensure the comparison was as even as possible.

Some items, particularly at Amazon Fresh, were not available organic, so I omitted them. This is why you'll notice the totals for FreshDirect are higher than those for Amazon Fresh.

Amazon Fresh: Nonorganic vs. organic

Amazon Fresh nonorganic Amazon Fresh Organic
Eggs/dairy:
Brown eggs (12) $4.79 $4.79
Milk (1/2 gallon) $4.39 $4.19
Quart of plain yogurt (32 oz) $4 $5
Subtotal $13.18 $13.98
Produce:
Yukon gold potatoes (1 lb) $1.20 $3.33
Mixed salad greens (5 oz) $1.69 $3.19
Hass avocado (1) $2.29 $1.75
Carrots (1 lb) $1.25 $1.49
Yellow onions (1 lb) $1.19 $1.49
Gala apples (1 lb) $3 $1.93
Strawberries (16 oz) N/A N/A
Bananas (2-3 lbs) $1.73 $1.89
Lemon (1) $1 $1
Subtotal $13.35 $16.07
Pantry:
Bottle of Ketchup (32 oz) $5.69 $4
White rice (1 lb) $1.89 $2.88
Chicken stock (32 oz) $1.89 $2.49
Ground coffee (10 oz) $5.29 $6.23
Penne pasta (16 oz) $1.19 $1.69
Pasta sauce (24 oz) $3.59 $2.69
Subtotal $19.54 $19.98
Bread and snacks:
Toasted O's cereal (8 oz) N/A N/A
Corn chips (8 oz) $2.49 $2.99
Granola bars (box of 6) $3.79 $2.59
Apple Juice (64 oz) $3.39 $3.69
Loaf of whole grain bread $4 $6.49
Subtotal $13.67 $15.76
Meat/fish:
Ground beef (1 lb) $4.69 $8
Skinless chicken thighs (1 lb) $5.11 $8
Whole chicken (3 lb) N/A N/A
Chicken breast (1 lb) $5 $13.49
Ground turkey (1 lb) N/A N/A
Subtotal $14.80 $29.49
Total $74.54 $95.28

How much more expensive is organic than nonorganic?

Shopping at FreshDirect, it's about 22% more expensive to buy organic than nonorganic, but most of that difference comes from buying meat. If you were to remove meat from the equation, it would only be about 13% more expensive to choose organic foods. In fact, certain food categories, including bread and snacks and dairy and eggs, were nearly even in price.

Amazon Fresh shoppers can expect to pay about 21% more for choosing all organic groceries. Yet again, the biggest delta comes from the meat category. If you were to remove meat from the list, the difference would be about 8% to choose organic over nonorganic. 

Read moreChicken Labels Are Confusing. Here's What They Do (and Don't) Mean

What are the most expensive organic foods?

The biggest jump in price for organic foods was for meat -- by far. Some organic meats such as chicken breast were more than double the price when you picked organic over nonorganic. There was also a fairly significant cost bump for some organic pantry items versus nonorganic, particularly at FreshDirect.

fresh direct chicken thighs

Meats at both FreshDirect and Amazon Fresh jump significantly in price when you choose organic.

Screenshot by David Watsky/CNET

What are the least expensive organic foods?

At these two online grocery retailers, several categories were extremely close in price, although organic usually outpaced nonorganic by at least a few coins. Pantry items, eggs and dairy, and even produce were surprisingly similar in cost. Some items, including the jarred pasta sauce were cheaper than nonorganic when you chose the least expensive organic option. Salad greens were also nearly dead even for both types. The latter is very good news since that's a category of food you don't definitely want doused in pesticides.

various 365 branded items on green background

Many of Amazon Fresh's organic store-brand groceries were surprisingly similar in price to their nonorganic counterparts.

Whole Foods

What exactly is organic food?

There is an ongoing discussion about the benefits of eating organic and the standards and regulations are often changing. That said, the USDA defines certified organic foods as ones that "are grown and processed according to federal guidelines addressing, among many factors, soil quality, animal raising practices, pest and weed control and use of additives. Organic producers rely on natural substances and physical, mechanical or biologically based farming methods to the fullest extent possible."

Standards for growing organic produce, in the US as of 2020, include a set of cultural, biological and mechanical practices that support the cycling of on-farm resources, promoting ecological balance and conserving biodiversity. Studies have found that there are higher antioxidant levels in organically grown foods. There's also evidence that organic food has lower toxic, heavy metal levels and less pesticide residue, with organic eggs, meat and dairy products containing more good-for-you omega-3 fatty acids.

organoc produce sign

Certain foods including leafy greens and produce with soft skin are more likely to absorb chemicals and, thus, buying organic may be the right move.

Getty Images

For some foods, it's better to buy organic than for others

While you can find the organic version of just about any type of food, some may be worth the extra money more than others. Foods with thick skin that isn't eaten are often less vulnerable to chemicals and pesticides; nuts and bananas are just two examples. Other foods with edible skin (or no skin) such as berries, salad greens and apples are more likely to be affected by pesticides and other agricultural chemicals.

More money-saving kitchen intel