I once interviewed Woody Harrelson while he sat on the floor of a psychedelic biodiesel bus, eating a puddle of spirulina, tahini and maple syrup. It was 2004, and he was in Eugene, Ore., promoting his activist documentary, Go Further, about making environmentally conscious lifestyle changes like eating organic.
After a sneak preview of the film, a college student asked Harrelson: “What about people who can’t afford to buy organic?” Harrelson brushed him off, saying we can all choose to afford it.
Easy for a movie star to say. Not so easy for real working families.
In my own three-person household, we try our best to buy organic while sticking to a fairly tight grocery budget. That means leveraging the best prices against what’s in stock at a bunch of nearby spots.
We usually fetch our organic produce from the Monterey Peninsula College farmers market, our cheese and organic frozen blueberries from Costco. Most packaged organic staples, like Greek yogurt and milk, are decently priced at Trader Joe’s. We reserve the occasional trip to Whole Foods for specialty items like bulk brewer’s yeast and rotisserie chicken. Safeway stocks a serviceable selection of organic basics like eggs and tortilla chips, too.
Not one of those markets is in our hometown of Seaside. And while the many local Latino mercados offer fantastic fresh salsas, their organic offerings are virtually nonexistent.
So when real-estate developers The Orosco Group finally filled a long-vacant supermarket niche in Seaside’s City Center complex with Grocery Outlet, I was disappointed, assuming they wouldn’t carry organics.
Sometimes it’s great being wrong.
The Seaside GroceOut, as we affectionately call it – though I’m not sure the store’s PR would approve – stocks a surprisingly diverse organic selection among the conventional inventory. I’ve found tomatoes in BPA-free glass jars, apple juice, rice milk, sprouted lentils, canned beans, raisins and Kettle chips – all pesticide-free, and often less than half the typical retail price.
GroceOut uses a model like Marshall’s, nabbing manufacturer overstocks and closeouts (some of them pretty close to expiration) at steep discounts. That means the Seaside inventory is constantly changing – the Niman Ranch bacon came and went pretty quick – but we can find most of our organic basics there most of the time.
As an experiment, I set out to buy organic staples at the Seaside GroceOut with a single Andrew Jackson (and pocket change). Here’s what I find:
• Dole organic bananas, 2.5 lb., $1.99
• Sun Valley organic medium brown eggs, 18-count, $3.99
• Renpure Organics Body & Shine conditioner, 13.5 oz., $3.99
• Health Valley Organic oat bran flakes, 12.65 oz., $0.50
• Pure organic triple-washed baby spinach, 1 lb. clamshell, $2.99
• Humboldt Creamery organic pasture-raised whole milk, half-gallon, $3.69
• Wholesome Sweeteners organic cane sugar, 1 lb., $2.99
The Whole Foods in Monterey doesn’t carry all the same items, but I try to find the closest matches, making the thriftier choice when presented with close calls.
• Whole Trade organic bananas, 2.5 lb., $2.48
• Cage-free eggs, 18-count (not organic), $4.49; or organic 12-count, also $4.49
• Nature’s Gate jojoba conditioner, 18 fl. oz. (not organic), $7.99
• Nature’s Path organic heritage flakes, 13.25 oz., $2.99
• Earthbound Farm organic spinach, 1 lb. clamshell, $5.99
• Organic Valley organic grass-fed whole milk, half-gallon, $5.69
• Wholesome Sweeteners organic cane sugar, 1 lb., $4.39
The bottom line: Organics at GroceOut are, as expected, a lot cheaper than the ones at Whole Paycheck (another nickname not approved by corporate).
The tradeoff: The deals are unpredictable. The cereal at Grocery Outlet cost literal pennies compared to its Whole Foods counterpart, while the bananas weren’t all that much cheaper.
The Whole Foods bulk bins, incidentally, offer some of the best values of the bunch: A pound of organic sugar, for example, beats even GroceOut’s packaged price at $2.69 per pound. And you can reuse your own plastic bag for zero waste.
We still frequent the MPC farmers market and TJ’s almost every week, Costco on occasion. But GroceOut cuts out most of our trips to Whole Foods and Safeway – while saving a nice chunk of change and making the store’s slogan, “Shop Us First,” household advice.
THE SEASIDE GROCERY OUTLET is located in the City Center shopping complex, 1523 Fremont Blvd., Seaside. 583-9133, www.groceryoutlet.com/Seaside-CA.