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:


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


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


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


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:

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!)

Glaring Grocery discovery

The past week or two, I’ve felt the pinch of my savings goals, and finding it harder to ‘do everything’ with my pay cheque. It also came to my attention that I had another month’s batch of grocery receipts to process (I started tracking in December 2012), so I got onto that today. I’ve stated that my goal is to cook two meals a week, which equates to about 6 serves or more (2 dinners + 4 lunches at the very least). And mostly I’ve been achieving that.

One thing that’s clear – the pressure in my money management is not from home cooked meals! Now this should be no surprise, but I do feel like I’m in IGA all the time. All the servers know me, and almost know that I don’t want a bag, and on Wednesday, I’ll always want cash out. What I find most amazing is that my MONTHLY spend on groceries was 2.9% of my take home pay in December and 3.52% in January (I assumed a simple 4 week month as I get paid weekly). This is incredibly low, given that after shelter (which in Sydney you pay incredibly HIGH amounts for), food should pretty much come next (up there with electricity and running water I suppose).

I haven’t tracked my eating out spend since October, so I can’t confidently say what it is. (I think I stopped when I started dating… cause you eat out a lot more, but the expense is lumpy as to who pays and when etc). I could easily spend 12-16% of my pay cheque on eating out. **In some ways, this is totally out of line with my parents or many people out there. It seems ‘easy’ to go out for dinner. I think we feel entitled (my generation). Or we need only a small excuse. I realise eating out should really be seen as a luxury**

I probably miss most of the my meat consumption (which isn’t extensive) in these two months, as my butcher doesn’t give me a receipt. For Feb, I’ve started marking up the grocery receipt with what I spent on meat.

(in rough numbers, my mortgage has been taking up about 43% of my take home pay, and household bills (strata, electricity, gas and water) & health insurance take up about 15.5%).

EDIT: This post was inspired by Part 2 of the Spender to Saver series that Carla at My 1/2 Dozen Daily was writing.  Then by magic, Part 3 came out (after this post) and couldn’t have been more spot on.  I only wish I could work out how to comment on her blog!!