The USDA’s Nutrition Pyramid suggested that consumers should eat 2-4 servings of fruit and 3-5 servings of vegetables each day. Following the fruit and vegetable part of that guideline in a 2,000 calorie diet would cost $2 to $2.50 per day for each adult. In June 2011, the Nutrition Pyramid was replaced by a very similar “MyPlate” which uses a visual approach showing half of your “plate” should be fruits and vegetables. The Pyramid guideline would cost $1643 for fruit and vegetables annually for two adults. But in 2010, a typical husband and wife consumer unit spent only $304 for fresh fruit and $275 for fresh vegetables “at home.” Since “fries with that” doesn’t count as “fresh”, they’d need to order a lot of restaurant salads or steamed broccoli to get the recommended fruit and vegetables in their “outside the home” food expenditures. We doubt that they do.
We are accustomed to seasonal variation in the selection of fruits and vegetables available in our retail markets and supermarkets. Fruits such as apples have longer shelf-lives and tend to be available long after the harvest is completed. In contrast blueberries and fragile fruits are gone from grocer’s shelves soon after they are harvested. When domestically grown fruits are out of season, imports can fill some of the gap, but usually at a higher price. Vegetables are hardier but follow a similar pattern. In unusual cases consumers may have no access to fresh fruit and vegetables in a local market, but for the majority, the shortfall in consumption is probably explained by preference and prices.
Prices for fruits and vegetables at retail markets are surveyed weekly by the USDA. From that information we averaged various fruit prices over the past 12 months (see Appendix A at the bottom of this page). We may tackle vegetables at a later date.
Organic fruits typically run 30% higher in price than their regular counterpart (e.g. Golden Delicious apples, Red Grapefruit, Grapes, and Strawberries). Organic Valencia oranges bought singly or by the pound cost 65% more than their regular counterparts. On the other hand, organic Plums, Braeburn apples by the pound and Valencia oranges in 4 pound bags carry just a modest premium for the organic sticker.
Package size usually makes a big difference in fruit pricing. Citrus fruit sold as “priced each” are good examples; Red Grapefruit was priced 100% higher per pound than those in a 5lb bag. Valencia and Navel oranges were 83% and 131% higher respectively. Even a 1 pound container of strawberries is priced at a 26% premium over the 2 pound container.
Consumers already knew that package size and “organic or not” matters in pricing of fruit. What we found surprising was the sheer height of the premium we are asked to pay. Package size makes a huge difference in unit prices and when appropriate. Often choosing a 3 to 5 lb package size can save 50%! If you are not devoted to organic, a 30% savings is usually available. If we are willing to buy the bigger package and skip organic, we can save up to 76%, leaving preference as a more dominant factor in consumption – as it should be.
Alan Daley is a retired businessman living in Florida. He follows public policy from the consumer’s perspective.
Appendix – A