Are Farmer’s Markets more expensive?

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a Top 5 about shopping at the Coburg Farmer’s Market.   At the time a couple of people commented about finding Farmer’s Markets expensive., and it got me thinking – Are they?

On a personal level I prefer to shop at Farmer’s Markets above most other places – this is in part because I believe in exercising the political power we have to make choices as consumers, in part because I just spent $75 (now that is expensive) on a shopping trolley and I want to feel I got value for money, and partially because shopping outside, while the kids play in the playground is far more pleasant than wheeling a cart around indoors whilst simultaneously being assaulted by muzak and large end of aisle displays offering 2 packets of extruded corn product topped with exceptionally yellow cheese powder (ie Cheezels) for the bargain price of $4 (or indeed Tim Tams which I find more difficult to resist).

Having said all that though I also don’t like to think I’m wasting my money when I could be getting value for my hard earned dollar elsewhere.  With this in mind I decided to find out -  Is it more expensive to shop at Coburg Farmer’s Market?

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

I used to work in the recruitment industry in a former life and the first thing we learnt in sales training was the mantra ‘compared to what’?  Whenever a prospective client objected to our sales pitch with the idea ‘ you’re too expensive’ the ‘compared to what?’ followed closely afterward.  Here I am tempted to say compared to the evil duopoly and the Preston market but in the interest of fairness I will call the Supermarkets by their real names: Coles and Woolworths.

The other interesting part about ‘compared to what?’ in this context, is that in comparing the market prices with those elsewhere it can be hard to work out what is really a fair comparison.  Especially with animal products which I think are surrounded by far greater ethical issues than fruit and veg tends to be.  But even with fruit and veg there are things to consider – Are market apples really the same as Coles’ apples?  Should I be comparing the market’s, often organically grown, peaches with the conventionally grown picked when green supermarket ones?   I could go on forever but in the interest of ensuring readers actually get to the meaty bit – the price comparison’s – here they are:

Product Farmer’s Market Coles Woolworths Preston Market
Lettuce $2.00* $2.00 $2.00  
Nectarines $5.00kg * $4.60kg $5.98kg $5.00
Apricots $5.00kg * $9.99kg $9.98kg $6.99
Pink Lady apples $4.00kg $5.90kg $5.98kg  
Baby Carrots $3.00 bunch $2.50 bunch $2.98 bunch $2.50 bunch
Coloured carrots – bunch $5 bag * $3.50 a bunch    
Broccoli $1.50 head $4.99kg $5.98kg $1.50head
Cauliflower $3.00 * $3.00 head $5.00 head $3.00 head
Baby beets $4.00 bunch $2 bunch   $4.00 bunch
Cabbage – whole $2.00 $2.50 $5.00 head $3.00
Strawberries $16kg $13.92kg $15.92kg $10kg
Cherries $10 – 16kg * $16.99kg $15.99kg $12.99kg
Porterhouse Steak $20kg (normally $24.99 but they had a sale)   $19.99 – $29.99kg $16 – $25kg

The * mean the Farmer’s Market product is organic, all other products are non organic.  Organic produce was considerably more expensive then prices listed above at both supermarkets and Preston Market.

The prices above were: Coles price as at 22nd November, prices from the Farmer’s Market on Saturday 23rd November, Preston Market on 6th December and Woolworth’s prices from their online shopping site as at 11th December 2013.  I realise that not doing them all on the same day might provide an unfair comparison but hey things aren’t always fair.

I also realise that I haven’t got many meat or other ancillary items on the list – this is due more to my shopping habits rather than anything else.  Also there are gaps on the list in some areas – this is because Woolworths don’t provide those items for sale online and in the case of Preston Market its because I forgot to take down prices of some items.

All in all though I was really happy with this exercise.  Firstly it shows that shopping at the Market for Fruit & Veg is no more expensive than doing it anywhere else.  In fact it is often cheaper and the quality is, in my opinion,  vastly superior. (Apricots picked when ripe rather than a month before their best for instance….)  Plus you often get the benefit of organic produce for the same price you would pay elsewhere for conventionally grown stuff.  With regard to the meat – the Porterhouse Steaks I bought at the market were absolutely delicious.  It was the first time both my kids ate all their steak and that, if nothing else, is worth the couple of dollars more than the lowest price at Preston Market.  As an aside –  I don’t know if anyone else has noticed but they cut the steaks really, really thick at Preston Market and as a result I can never get the cooking time quite right.

The market is on again this Saturday and now I can shop with abandon knowing that I’m not over spending on my own ethical indulgences.  Besides which, a toasted cheese sandwich costs $10 everywhere right?

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21 Responses to Are Farmer’s Markets more expensive?

  1. Daphne says:

    I’ve found it mixed. Fruit it usually much more expensive at our farmers markets. Plums were especially expensive. But not always. This year was a major apple year. More apples were harvested than ever before. If you waited until just the right time you would get them very cheap. I of course made my applesauce too early for that. Oh well. Meats are always way more expensive than at the supermarket as are eggs. But the farmers market chickens are allowed out to eat bugs, grass, and weeds where as the other are not, even if they are cage free chickens. You can tell by the very orange yolks even if you didn’t talk to the farmer selling the eggs. Beef at the farmers market is all grass fed and they aren’t stuffed in feed lots. I could get my meat for half the price that I do if I watch for sales. But I choose to eat only the meat from the farmers markets (which never goes on sale). I haven’t done a comparison of the veggies but my feeling is that it is closer to the same price. I grow most of my own veggies so I haven’t noticed the prices as much. I think in Boston the farmers markets are considered trendy so they can get away with charging more than the supermarkets. Different areas are probably different. My mom who is severely price conscious won’t shop at the Boulder farmers market as it is way more expensive than the supermarkets (where she buys everything on sale). I wish our farmers markets were on par with the supermarkets. I bet even more people would shop there then. Though right now there is one for every town around. I have three farmers markets that are within three miles of my house. Many more that are within ten. And they change personality the farther you get into the city. The farther you get in the more prepared food you see, like pasta sellers or sauce sellers. They tend to be fun foody experiences more as opposed to just the basics.

    • Liz says:

      Fascinating how the markets vary from country to country and indeed city to city. Its interesting that your fruit is comparatively expensive at the Farmer’s Market whereas here it is cheaper (or at worst similarly priced). I wonder if that relates to the purchasing power of your supermarkets and their ability to get ‘deals’ from suppliers, or the fact that in Australia there are only 2 main supermarket chains and as a result they can effectively control prices to benefit themselves. Either way I suspect the growers don’t necessarily benefit……
      I like the idea of only buying meat from the Farmer’s Market – I think it would be a good way to both limit meat consumption and ensure everything you were eating was the best quality and indeed ethically produced.

  2. Bravo for your lucid take on this thorny subject! As a local food advocate and farmers’ market organizer, the topic of cost comes up often. A recent study of our regional markets showed that what attracted people most to shopping at farmers markets was the quality of the food, which crossed income levels. The price of industrially produced food here in the US reflects the (lack of) quality of their ingredients and a heavily subsidized industry, while the price of real food reflects the true cost of labor, supplies, and a living wage — all things I would hope we want to support for the people who feed us! While it’s understandable that some of the things available at the farmers’ market might be out of one’s budget, there are other ways to participate, such as allocating a set amount per week ($10 to $20).

    • Liz says:

      Thankyou! I think that price/value comparisons are really interesting. The stalls at our market vary a little each week with some sellers coming every fortnight but others only monthly. Even within some produce categories there is huge variations in price. Apricots ranged from $5 to $10kg at the market today for instance. Similarly last weeks beef seller was charging a good third less for their steak than this weeks seller. I have to admit I don’t really understand the inputs that would cause that much variation which does make it all fairly confusing. I would regard myself as reasonably aware but I still don’t necessarily understand exactly what I am paying for a lot of the time. And that is true no matter where I shop – at least at the market I can ask, or better yet sample, before I buy.

  3. Melanie-Jade says:

    What a comprehensive comparison! Even if the market was more expensive I would still go. You’re right, it’s such a nicer experience than at the supermarket, where you are sucked in to special deals on artificial food that you don’t need. We shop at Dandenong market, and I always feel so good when I get home to unpack my shopping. Not at all like a trip to Coles which I try to put off until I absolutely have to. My daughter loves looking at all the different things at the market, and the best part is they have seedlings and plants too!

    • Liz says:

      My daughter is going through a phase of refusing to go to Preston Market – too many pigs heads….. I love Dandenong Market too – I used to go to Dandenong one day a week for work and always made time to visit the market – great range of stuff.

  4. Your comparison is really interesting Liz. I do almost all of my food shopping at farmers markets and I’m completely convinced of their value in terms of variety, quality, seasonality and sustainability but it’s great to see that it’s also comparable to shopping at a large market. Apparently only 5% of Australians shop at farmers markets at the moment, so well done for giving people who might have been hesitant another reason to give it a go!

    (By the way, have you tried Dr Marty’s Crumpets? They are even better than a toasty cheese sandwich!)

  5. Nina says:

    I’d love to shop regularly at farmer’s markets but, despite living in a rural area, and a very productive one at that, they are few and far between. There is none in my town so I have to travel to get to one and I often don’t have the time or remember when (or where) they are on (excuses, excuses!). But when I do make the effort I’m always happy that I did.

    • Liz says:

      Some areas seem really well served by Farmers Markets but others less so. My parents live in the Macedon Ranges and there are a fair few near(ish) to them, but many rural areas don’t seem to have many. I did go to a great one near Mildura when I was up there once and the one on Churchill Island (on Phillip island) is good too. Perhaps they think people’s veggie gardens are too good in your area for them to need to buy much from local producers?

  6. Mark Willis says:

    We have a Farmers Market here in Fleet only once a month. Unfortunately it is closing at the end of the year due to lack of custom. A small number of dedicated regular customers is not enough to keep the traders coming. They need volume and sales that are practically guaranteed. The fact that the market takes place in a car-park out-of-town and right opposite a branch of Morrison’s supermarket is also a contributory factor! I thimk that Farmers Markets can sometimes be more expensive if you just do a 1-to-1 comparison, but the quality is far better. As you said, the supermarkets sell fruit that is green and crunchy not ripe and juicy (despite their protestations to the contrary!). Supermarket fruit sold “for home ripening” often never does ripen, it just goes bad. I also like the fact that our Farmers Market is only allowed to sell food produced within 50 miles of the venue (and it is often MUCH closer than that, so you have to take account of the environmental impacts too.

    • Liz says:

      That is really sad Mark. When I lived in London there was a weekly market in West Ealing which I frequented. It was really quite small but they had some great tomatoes (admittedly from a lot more than 50 miles away – they were grown on the Isle of Man) and some of the best potatoes and apples I’ve ever eaten. I hope it still exists.

  7. Lrong says:

    We enjoy going the local Farmer’s market here in Japan… the produce there is fresh, and cheap… much cheaper compare to the ones at the supermarket…

    • Liz says:

      It’s interesting how prices seem to vary internationally – in some places the Farmers Market seem much cheaper but in others the produce is comparatively expensive (but not necessarily expensive in terms of value for money).

  8. Diana says:

    Hi Liz.

    I think Farmer market has better price than Woolies.

    • Liz says:

      Its interesting, when I started this I thought that the Farmer’s Market would come out as marginally more expensive but I was really pleased to discover that I was wrong!

  9. Jason bingley says:

    Farmers markets are definitely a better option than the leading criminal supermarkets.Not only for the better variety of fruit and veges ,freshness,higher nutrient count, lack of genetically modified DDT sprayed produce. Most fruit an veges from the criminal supermarkets is picked green so in turn has very little if any nutrient content add this to the amount of chemical sprayed and your health is bound to suffer.As for meat products 98perc is grain fed at sprmrkets so straight away you know this meat has had ecoli running rampant threw the cow, which is then washed out using chlorine or bleach then on sold to the unsuspecting customer.On the other hand grass fed only cows do not need this disgusting cleansing option,not to mention the lack of omega 3’6,9 in grain fed beef contrary to what we are marketed to believe.So in finishing it would be of massive health benefits to the consumer to avoid supermarkets and purchase your healthy honest food from the old fashioned farmer,give it a go and you won’t look back at “the fresh food people”.Happy eating.

    • Liz says:

      Not a fan of the supermarkets then? I’ve often wondered what impact the picky early has on nutritional content and your comment has definitely motivated me to find out more.

  10. Jbingley says:

    My mates father owns a massive cauliflower farm in Queensland and on several occasions they would deliver to sydney in a semi trailer.upon arrival the load would be checked for quality.the fresh food people are his sole client.several times he was told the produce wasn’t up to standard and to take it back with no payment what so ever.on all occasions he returned to Queensland shuffled the loads around and returned to sydney.upon arrival loads would be checked,in every instance the loads were accepted even though it was exactly the same produce.what does that tell you about our supermarkets,their crooks.they have our growers that far in debt they have no choice but to keep dealing with these white collar crooks.the sooner the public stands up to be counted the better off we all will be.vote with your feet people,enjoy a couple of hours out meeting the people that grow your food.

  11. This was great read, brava! It’s so nice to see folk going out and doing there own research. And I love that you mentioned how nice it is to shop outside, as a part of a comunity, with children running about and all the wonderful colours and smells of the local fresh food markets, it’s my favorite thing about food shopping.

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