Is shopping at a co-op worth it?

I have, like more people, choice where I buy my groceries.  Those who are regular readers would know I’m ‘crazy’ about waste, and am aiming for zero waste (though compost and recycling are OK, it’s landfill I’m trying to erase).  Whilst it’s an admirable environmental goal, there’s a financial component too.

I thought I would look at the choices I have at my local IGA. It is in my block, so there are no transport costs, and the co-op called Alfalfa House (which I pay a one off membership of $20) I have to catch the bus to, or drive to.

A note about the pricing scheme at the  co-op: there’s 100%, 90% and 75% pricing for anyone, members and volunteers. Until recently, I paid the member price (10% off). On Saturday when I volunteered for two hours,  I paid the volunteer price (25% off).  I plan to continue ‘working’ two hours to earn a greater discount.

(note 100g = 3.5 ounces & 1kg = 2.2 Lbs)

Here’s what I can buy at what prices:

Oats:

IGA sells them in their home brand Black and Gold (in a plastic bag) for $2 per kg.  In the Uncle Toby’s brand (cardboard packaging) it’s between $6.30-7.30 per 1kg

Cheap oats, bad packaging

Cheap oats, bad packaging

Cardboard packaging is better!

Cardboard packaging is better!

And then the co-op weighs in at $5.25 at the cheapest (which I can earn)

Alfalfa house steel cut oats

Steel cut oats – something a little different to try

Choc Chips

If I buy Nestle at IGA (not my preferred brand due to them being little flat discs rather than small drops), it’s $1.25 per 100g.  My preferred Black and Gold brand are 57c per 100g.  Here’s a photo of Cole’s Nestle baking bits at $1.74 per 100g. All of these options are packaged in plastic, which regular readers would know I’m trying to reduce.

Nestle choc chip bits and Coles' price

Nestle choc chip bits and Coles’ price

I’ve spent $35 on choc chips (666g) once at the co-op, and I wasn’t happy with how they ‘performed’ in my brownies (neither were honest critics).  They were just too oily.  I don’t really have a financially viable chocolate source that’s zero waste/recyclable waste.  At $3.21 they’re almost twice the price of store bought ones too

Alfalfa house chocolate chips

Bulk buying chocolate chips

Cocoa

You can’t buy cocoa without a plastic liner in a cardboard box at my local IGA.  Sadly, along with my preferred choc chips, the cocas are all out the back whilst they rearrange the store on me.

Alfalfa house bulk cocoa

Zero waste cocoa

Apricots

Interestingly, this is a Co-op win!  Save for the weird, brown colour, they taste FAR superior to those I get at IGA or my fruit and vege shop.  Should I clarrify that – they taste far superior to ME, but I was buying these as a snack for the bf, as I knew I wouldn’t eat the orange coloured dried apricots as they leave a weird after taste in my mouth.  At $30.75 per kg for Angus Park brand at the IGA, I’ll be trying hard to covert the BF to the blackened co-op version at a price of $13.80.

Alfalfa house bulk dried apricots

Dried apricots in bulk

Angus Park apricots in IGA

Angus Park apricots in IGA

Gluten free pasta

There’s an interesting twist in gluten free (GF) pasta pricing.  Macaroni at the co-op is equal in price on a member discount to IGA’s prices – so it’s an each way bet (though the co-op had no plastic window that comes with the San Remo box).

On spaghetti, the co-op wins hands down, with a price of 44c per 100g for anyone!  Sadly they were out of stock recently, so I’m a little stuck.

San Remo brand Gluten Free Spiral pasta at IGA

San Remo brand Gluten Free Spiral pasta at IGA

San Remo brand Gluten Free spaghetti at IGA

San Remo brand Gluten Free spaghetti at IGA

Rice – brown

Rice varies in price according to quantity in my IGA (which must be a price signal to sell more, rather than a true reflection in cost differential in bag size!).  Rice can be between $3.50-$4.10 per kg.

The co-op charges $7.18 for a normal person, down to $5.39 per kg if I volunteer.

Sun Rice Brown Rice

Sun Rice Brown Rice in IGA

Chickpeas

Definitely something that’s cheaper at IGA, at $5.20 for a little packet below (it’s less for canned, who’d have thought!).

Then the Co-op has them for at least $9.45

These are even pricier than canned!!

These are even pricier than canned!!

Chickpeas in bulk at the Co-op

Chickpeas in bulk at the Co-op

Olive Oil

At IGA, I can get it as cheap at 78c per 100ml, but then if I wanted a little bit of oil, it’d be more like $1.35 per 100ml (in a nice glass bottle).

At the co-op I’ll pay between $1.72-$2.068 per 100ml – but I can choose my amount.  I use so little it seems like a good deal to me.

Bulk oil in my local IGA

Bulk oil in my local IGA

Udon Noodles

IGA offers plastic wrapped udon from between 61 -69c per 100g.

The co-op can sell them at $1.13 per 100g at full price, and 85c at the cheapest.

IGA usually sells them at 69c per 100g

IGA usually sells them at 69c per 100g

Based on price, I’d be the following at the co-op

  • Apricots
  • GF pasta – both spaghetti and macroni/spirals

And I’d buy the following at IGA if I *only* cared about price and not packaging

  • Oats
  • Choc chips
  • Brown rice – hardly seems worth the mark up, wonder why the co-op’s so much more?
  • Udon noddles
  • Olive oil
  • Chickpeas

But, here’s what I decided it ‘worth it’ at the co-op, even if I’m paying a little more

  • Oats – cause for my chosen packaging, it’s cheaper than cardboard
  • Udon noodles
  • Olive oil

I’d still shop at the co-op for some ingredients that I can’t otherwise get locally (at my IGA or green grocers), such a gluten free flours like rice flour and chickpea flours.

When I was looking for something on Alfalfa House’s website, I found another blog post written about the store back in 2009, so I thought I would share it with you should you want more info: http://www.notquitenigella.com/2009/02/05/co-op-food-shopping-saving-while-shopping-organic/

In an aside, my grocery spend is up on last month, (compare with this) with
10% on fruit (+2%),
10% on vege (-6% weird as I’ve eaten heaps of soup),
15% dairy (-5%),
24% pantry staples(+7%),
6% breakfast (-2% cause oats are cheaper),
12% convenience (+9% for cheeses for a party),
16% house stuff  (+10%),
5% snacks (no change),
3% meat  (-13% weird, I did not consciously eat less!)

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10 thoughts on “Is shopping at a co-op worth it?

  1. This is really interesting 🙂 I wonder how your IGA prices compare to Woolies or Coles prices. The IGA that is walking distance from my place is quite a bit more expensive, but I know other ones are similar prices. Mine is full of organic, fancy food, which is suprising since there are so many students in this area.

    Just one thing I noticed, your olive oil is 78c per 100ml, not per litre (I was amazed at the cheap prices, then realised!). Also, the chickpeas seem to be $5.20 a kilo, not $5.20 a pack. That’s actually quite a good deal since they expand to around three times their size when you cook them. So the pack in the picture would make about a kilo of cooked chickpeas for $1.95, which would be at least 3-4 tins worth once you take out the liquid in the cans. You can buy 1kg packs even cheaper at an Asian or Indian supermarket.

    You’ve inspired me to try and find a local co-op. There used to be one at my uni, which would be convenient, but I found one at another uni which might be good. Also, I made your brownies and they turned out wonderfully 🙂 My run of ruined brownies is over!

    Reply
    • Thanks for that pick up – I’ll edit it as soon I get onto a pc!

      I’ve not looked into other supermarkets cause it’d add about $15 for a taxi as I’d likely do one weekly shop (though I’d be so out of practise!)

      So glad you’ve had brownie success! They are easy but so decadent 😀

      Reply
  2. I don’t know if we have any food co-ops near here, but now I’m very interested to look into it! Our Coles/Woolies is significantly cheaper on most things than the IGA (but I still mainly shop IGA as it’s closer and not part of the duopoly.)

    Reply
    • IGA is definitely the most convenient for me too. There’s likely to be a co-op somewhere in Melbourne, often affiliated/connected to universities. The one I go to isn’t, but the other two in Sydney are.

      Reply
  3. I’m hearing you on the financial costs of zero waste. I am just beginning a local, ethical, zero waste journey, and will be interested to see what that does to our grocery bill.
    However, if you look at the price difference – most of the co-op offerings are organic, fair trade, and a lot of the IGA items would have externalised costs – pesticide damage to workers, pollution, transport costs etc that are not reflected in the cost to you, but are certainly a cost to someone, somewhere else. I’m guessing the co-op prices are closer to the true price of the actual product.
    I’ve found, like you, that some prices are cheaper at my local wholefoods than even the giant supermarkets, which is encouraging. But it is really hard to walk past those half-price offers at Coles, because the products come from so far away, are ruining the livelihoods of our farmers and are so highly packaged…. but so CHEAP!

    Reply
    • It is really hard to reject cheap (after spending the day window shopping clothes it’s much the same!) I did this post to see just how big (or small) the differences in price might be. Whilst my focus is zero waste, it’s a nice side benefit to find out I’m supporting fair trade or organic practises.

      Reply
  4. This is a really interesting post. And, wow, you’ve got a lot of detailed comparisons. I love how there are so many other things to consider – such as those raised by Jo in her comment. No co-op near me, but I am an IGA shopper because I don’t want to support the stupidmarket duopoly. I buy both tinned and packet chickpeas. The packet is much cheaper and less waste. As Economies commented, the dried ones expand, so are cheaper. But sometimes I need the convenience of the tinned ones already to go.

    Reply
    • Oh I’m almost always a tinned bean buyer – cause I don’t plan meals far enough in advance! I’m impressed to find out people consciously avoid the Australian supermarket duopoly! I used to do the bulk of the shopping for my family at Aldi and Harris Farm but it was annoying to still need things at Coles or Woolworths.

      Reply
  5. I think it makes sense to compare the options at your closest stores, but there sure is a difference between the store-brand and the organic co-op brands! I have chosen a few products to buy organic (Dirty Dozen and some things I eat daily), and the rest I buy according to price. We have a Bulk Barn where you can buy in bulk. While most of their products are not organic, a few are, and they are much cheaper than at the specialty organics supermarket. In reply to Lucinda above, I made chick peas from dried last month for the first time, and they freeze GREAT, so they’re just as easy to use as canned!

    Reply
    • If I’m honest, I wish I had the choice of non organic bulk items, but seeing I don’t, I’m lucky to be buying into organic/fair trade etc. I should get prepping beans and have them frozen for when I might need them.

      Reply

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