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Healthy food is affordable. You know this, so help prove it


The great recession cemented into many people’s minds that healthy eating simply isn’t affordable—especially for poor and working class families. Rising food prices, which hit the produce category particularly hard in 2011, support this thinking. But is the real problem the exorbitant expense of healthy eating or the fact that shoppers have been trained to believe food should be cheap and easy?

Last September, Mark Bittman wrote a powerful piece for The New York Times examining whether potato chips, fast food cheeseburgers and other junk food are really cheaper than healthy fare such as broccoli, chicken and salad. I literally jumped up from the breakfast table cheering when I saw the graphics accompanying Bittman’s article which showed that a dinner for four at McDonald’s costs more than twice as much as a dinner for four made up of roasted chicken, potatoes, salad and whole wheat bread and nearly three times as much as a dinner for four featuring rice and beans made with bacon, bell peppers and onion. 

Bittman also took on the argument that junk food is cheaper by the calorie and this makes it a better choice for people with less money. “Given that half of the people in this country (and a higher percentage of poor people) consume too many calories rather than too few,” Bittman writes, “measuring food’s value by the calorie makes as much sense as measuring a drink’s value by its alcohol content.” Amen!

As Bittman demonstrates, most Americans—including people on food stamps—can afford to eat healthy whole foods, including vegetables, meats, beans and healthy grains. Eating this way, of course, requires access to grocery stores that sell real food and the willingness to actually cook a meal. This last point may be the greatest barrier to healthier eating. For many people, hitting the fast food drive-through or choosing a bag of Fritos and a Slim Jim is simply preferable to cooking.

So what can you, as natural products retailers, do to bring healthier eating to all consumers—including those who may not yet be your customers?

The answer, as we explore in the February issue of Natural Foods Merchandiser, is plenty—even though, as Bittman notes, the “alternative to fast food is not necessarily organic.”

Joel Patterson, founder of Nature’s Green Grocers in New Hampshire, accepts food stamps in his two locations and brings in customers through a rewards program that pays back 5 percent of every dollar spent. Sunflower Farmers Market leverages volume discounts and minimizes overhead costs within its 35 natural products stores to stay true to its motto: “Silly prices…Serious food.” Native Roots opened a second location in downtown Oklahoma City to bring access to healthy, whole foods in an area that had been considered a food desert.

Along with providing access to affordable healthy food within your communities, your greatest opportunity for encouraging healthier eating is through education. Teach shoppers how food choices affect their well-being and, ultimately, their healthcare costs. Offer recipes for quick, healthy meals and tips on how to shop the bulk section. Host in-store demos of simple cooking techniques. Train your staff to explain to customers why the products you carry cost what they do. The options are many, and no retailer is in a better position to change the way shoppers think about food and its value than you.

As Patterson of Nature’s Green Grocer says, “We [as a society] place value on things like nice cars and big houses, but not always on nutrition.” What are you doing the help change this? Share your stories at

Discuss this Blog Entry 6

Anonymous (not verified)
on Feb 23, 2012

I go to local farmers markets, not only do they sell fresh product, being members of the community, the prices are low and they're very knowledgable, helpful, and have good customer service skills. As to natural body items, some need to be bought in a natural health store, while others like soaps, shampoos, etc. can be bought in larger quantities online and since I love being creative, I make my own, and makes for great variety also.

on Oct 22, 2013

Health is the precious thing and we all have to take care of our own health to stay fit all the time. For this we have to eat good nutritious food not fast foods. The fast foods can cause disease in our health. I am completely agreed with the statement given here that we can spent money for purchasing new car and new home but not in eating good nutritious food. Yes, we all know we also have some status in the society so that we need a stylish and luxurious car and home. Its fine but health is also necessary. So, its better to stay fit and also take proper care of our health as well as of our vehicles on which we are totally dependent now-a-days, I mean to say cars. Taking proper maintenance of cars mean we have to make a note of its functionality working and when we notice any error in its working its better to repair it from a good repair center to avoid car crash and car accidents like issues. Here, I have placed link of good repair center i.e. Mercedes Benz Repair Pacific Palisades by following it we can get good service with good price.

on Feb 15, 2014

To stay healthy all the time it is preferable to to eat proper food I mean to say healthy food. A balanced diet is a must. if we eat balanced food then we do not have to think a lot about our health. as mentioned in the last paragraph about the saying of Green Grocer that we can spend money on nice cars and big houses but we can spend on nutritious food. From my point of view, we have to give prime focus to our food and with this we have to spend money wisely. When we are supposed to purchase a car we have to go for a good one that meet our requirements. After having a car we have to do its proper maintenance so, that it will run properly and smoothly. I have a Lexux car and when I face any problem related to my car I prefer to go for a good Lexus repair center in Winston-Salem so, that my car will get better service and I have to pay reasonable price for it.

on Jun 5, 2014

Healthy foods are affordable as well as tasty, there is an misconception among the mass that these healthy foods cost a lot and they are not tasty. Here is a good note to prove it wrong but the best way is to set examples to others. We should always opt for healthy food and show others that this is what cost less and are good food as well. Same way we opt for car services at a higher cost and always have a misconception that cheap servicing might cost much more. Ones I visited a BMW mechanic Boca Raton and was amazed by the result. A cheap service and that too of a world class quality. We should sometimes opt for the best at the least price so that they can get there motto fulfilled and that is to provide good service at a low price.

on Aug 14, 2014

We do believe for good health food is necessary and we should have healthy foods to make development of our health.So to manage the same we need to have good and protein rich foods. In this world when we are planning for having a good status in the society, we need do show off about style, luxury cars, luxury materials etc. So that's the only thing we have to maintain it and do take care of all like we need to go for selected car servicing center for Service of Car . That's what make us proud about our Car and make other feel us about our health and wealth.

on Oct 31, 2014

I agree with that! Healthy food is affordable and not all expensive foods are healthy. My wife usually checks the label of the food when having a grocery. Good things she’s living in a healthy lifestyle so she knows how to check what foods are healthy and what foods aren’t. So I should say, buyers should know how to read labels because that would help them choosing the right and healthy foods to buy. If the price does matter, then just go for vegetable. 100% healthy and of course, affordable. ;)
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