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Thursday, July 26, 2012

Figuring Out The True Price Of Vegetables

Zucchini with the not so edible parts cut off
It all started because of the green beans. And the corn.
I know that in the US very often frozen and canned produce is cheaper than fresh, but locally, canned and frozen produce isn't so cheap. In fact, frozen veggies and canned are so expensive that I try to buy them only rarely, to use them at those times when I really have no other choice, and even then, I feel guilty about my wastefulness.


So, over a year ago, when I saw corn on the cob being sold at the grocery for a pretty good price per pound, I thought to myself "Why don't I stock up, and freeze my own corn instead of buying it already frozen?"

Then I thought to myself, "But is it really cheaper? Corn on the cob, after all, is corn plus cob plus the leaves protecting the cob, and frozen corn is just straight corn, no waste? How can I really know which is cheaper? Its comparing apples and oranges!"
So in the end, I didn't freeze up a bunch of my own homemade frozen corn.

A little while after that, I saw fresh string beans on sale, for what looked like a reasonable price, and again, thought to myself that I should just freeze my own instead of buying the prepackaged frozen ones, but then the skepticism kept on creeping in, saying "How do you know what's really cheaper?"
And then I thought "You can't know, so do something about it- figure it out! You figured it out for chicken and beans and starches, this isn't any different. Do the calculations yourself and stop futzing around!"


So, what started off with my trying to figure out whether its cheaper to buy fresh corn, frozen corn, or canned corn, or fresh string beans, frozen string beans, or canned string beans, began a year long quest to figure out how much we're really paying for different vegetables. Yes, a year. Because while there were some vegetables I bought specifically for this purpose, I mostly just weighed them as I bought them to use anyhow.
(I also did this for a huge variety of fruit which I'll hopefully share in a few days.)

What does it mean "really paying"?
Well, the way I did this is by weighing the fresh item as purchased from the store. I then removed the parts of the vegetables that aren't typically eaten, and then weighed the final amount. I then figured out what percentage the final amount was of the original.
And then the last part- I figured out a number by which you have to multiply the listed store price to figure out how much you're really paying per pound for the veggies that you're eating.
I put all those numbers in a chart.


(All weights that I've included are grams.)






Initial weight
Final weight raw
Percentage of original
To Get True Cost, Multiply by
Corn on the cob
1518
834
54.90%
1.82
Peppers
303
260
85.80%
1.17
Zucchini
304
295
97.00%
1.03
Carrots
280
234
83.60%
1.20
String beans
809
753
93.10%
1.07
Avocado
205
122
59.51%
1.68
Beets
513
434
84.60%
1.18
Butternut squash
962
830
86.28%
1.16
Cabbage
1895
1791
94.51%
1.06
Kohlrabi
452
339
75.00%
1.33
Eggplant
407
388
95.33%
1.05
Potatoes
394
347
88.07%
1.14
Onion
205
196
95.61%
1.05
Tomato
170
164
96.47%
1.04



To explain the chart, the left most column is the vegetable, the column after that the weight as purchased from the store, the column after that, the percentage of the original that the final amount was. The right column is the most important- to find out the true cost of the vegetables, once all the inedible parts were removed, multiply the store price by this number, and you'll get the true price of the vegetables.

I made a Google Docs spreadsheet which you can get access to if you click here- Finding Out True Price of Vegetables. The way that spreadsheet works is that you just find the vegetable on the list, plug in the store price in the column next to it, and the column next to that one will show you the true price. Hopefully, those of you who have smartphones will be able to download this document onto your phone, and while you're in the grocery store, you can make the true price comparisons there without needing to bring a print up and a calculator. In order to make any changes, even on your computer, you'll need to first download the document.

You might notice that I didn't include every vegetable in there, like I didn't include cucumbers or lettuce or spinach. I just included vegetables that people almost always remove an inedible part before eating, and cucumbers and lettuce didn't fit the bill.


I've included pictures of some of the vegetables, both before, and after the inedible parts were removed, so you can see just how much I was removing, to see if I was being more or less liberal with removal of waste than you typically are. I tried my very best though to not remove more than necessary.

Corn I shucked, then chopped off the cob.



Pepper I just removed the core and the seeds.

  


Carrots I peeled and removed the ends.

 

String beans I removed the ends.

  

Beets I peeled and removed the ends.

 

Not shown-
Potatoes I removed the peels. If you leave the peel on, it produces less waste. I only peeled it for this experiment, I rarely do otherwise.
Onions I took off the ends and the outer layer of skin.
Tomatoes I took off the woody white part near the stem.
Zucchini I just cut off the end.
Avocado I removed the pit and the peel.
Butternut squash I removed the seeds and the stem and the peel.
Cabbage I removed the core.
Kolhrabi I cut off both ends and peeled.
Eggplant I cut off the green parts.

Now, the reason I did this experiment was about the frozen, fresh, or canned green beans and corn, so can't leave you without that chart.
In this chart, the final amounts given for the fresh stuff was once I removed the inedible parts and then parboiled it like the frozen stuff is. The canned stuff is strained, and the frozen stuff is defrosted and strained.





Original Weight
Final Weight Raw/Drained/Defrosted
Final Weight Cooked
Percentage of original
To Get True Cost, Multiply By
Frozen string beans
206
197


95.63%
1.05
Canned string beans
548
321


58.58%
1.71
Fresh string beans
809
753
712
88.01%
1.14












Frozen corn
151
151


100.00%
1.00
Canned corn
556
339


60.97%
1.64
Fresh corn
1518
834
840
55.34%
1.81




Once again, I've made a Google Docs spreadsheet where you can just plug in numbers and it'll give you the true price you're paying for your veggies. Which Is Cheaper- Fresh, Frozen, or Canned?
The way this document works is that on the left is the name of the veggie, the column to the right of that is where you include the cost of the item, to the right of that is where you insert the weight of the item (in pounds), and the column to the right of that will show you the true cost per pound. (I did it this way so you don't have to pull out a calculator to figure out how much you're paying per pound for your cans or your frozen veggies.)
If you open the document now, in some of the cells you'll see something funky looking like #DIV/0!, but that's ok, it'll correct itself once you plug in the necessary numbers.

Again, hopefully you can just access these via your smartphone and use it in the grocery store to do a true price comparison.

And as for the verdict, which is really cheaper, at least where I live?
Well, at the height of the season, when green beans are cheapest, they're cheapest to freeze myself, but as the price of fresh green beans goes up, it starts reaching the same price as frozen. Frozen is always cheaper than canned.
As for the corn, making my own frozen corn is cheapest when the corn is at a good price in season, but canned corn is cheaper than frozen corn.

Oh, and as for the scraps- if you really want to get as much of your money's worth as possible, any of the scraps mentioned here, other than tomato greens and eggplant greens, chuck in the freezer, and when you have enough, boil them to make a nice veggie broth!

How do prices compare where you live? Is it cheaper to buy cans or frozen veggies or to buy them fresh in season and freeze your own?
Do you think this chart will come in use for you, or does it not really make a difference to you how much actually gets wasted of each vegetable?
What veggies do you think I should have included in this chart?

Linking up to  Simple Lives Thursday

8 comments:

  1. I love this. The other thing I consider when thinking about fresh and its waste is what I can use for stock or feed to my chicken. It's basically just seed waste for me unless I save those to grow the veggies the following spring. I commend you for putting this together. Thanks!

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  2. Also, scraps can go to the compost :-)
    Just a thought

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  3. Wow this is so helpful! I did a similar experiment with fresh whole carrots versus fresh baby carrots. I love the convenience of baby carrots, but not the higher price. Then one day after I spent 20 minutes peeling 5 pounds of whole carrots and throwing away the peels, I weighed them to see how much they truly were per pound. I don't remember my exact numbers because it was a couple years ago, but they were less than the large bag of baby carrots per pound, but not the smaller convenience bags. Since then I buy the large bag of baby carrots. Not only do I save money and prep time, they get wasted much less often. I am so glad you did this for other vegetables. I found your site searching for powdered milk math. I am checking it out. Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow this is so helpful! I did a similar experiment with fresh whole carrots versus fresh baby carrots. I love the convenience of baby carrots, but not the higher price. Then one day after I spent 20 minutes peeling 5 pounds of whole carrots and throwing away the peels, I weighed them to see how much they truly were per pound. I don't remember my exact numbers because it was a couple years ago, but they were less than the large bag of baby carrots per pound, but not the smaller convenience bags. Since then I buy the large bag of baby carrots. Not only do I save money and prep time, they get wasted much less often. I am so glad you did this for other vegetables. I found your site searching for powdered milk math. I am checking it out. Thanks again!

    ReplyDelete
  5. Wow, great job!

    That said, have you factored in electricity? My parents used to have a large garden and when I was a teenager we stored our bounty in a gigantic old freezer.

    Well, in my mother's quest for trailing every penny she hit upon our electricity bill. So one day she invited an energy adviser from a local charity. His first action was to pull the plug on the freezer. It was too old and not very efficient. By his calculations we were spending way too much money on electricity to keep our stuff frozen. It was almost as much as buying it. When factoring in all the work in the garden making our own produce took us, my parents decided to sell the garden.

    We could have gotten a new freezer which would have fixed the problem, the charity even offered us an interest-free loan with low rates for this purpose. But my parents were never big fans of garden work, plus they had both gotten new and demanding jobs. My father could come home only over the weekend and my mother went from part-time to full-time work. With three children on top of it, the garden simply became too much too handle.

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  6. What you made is basically a costing sheet. This is how food costing SHOULD be done for anyone selling food products of any sort.

    I have kinda wondered the same to myself on a lot of this, some things I will make myself, other things I won't. I can get pretty basic ingredients in large quantities really inexpensive and make my own crackers, plus they don't have the preservatives either which I like.

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  7. OMG I love google docs and I love you! Thank you for doing these experiments! you are a frickin genius!

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