The Real World Food Challenge

I do triathlon. I love to cook. I believe in fresh yumminess. I am intensely interested in all things food related.

I also tweet, write (this blog), and read (non fiction, fiction, twitter, cookbooks, recipes, other blogs – you name it).

The other day two of the tweeting blogging triathletes I follow, Megan and Sonja, unveiled a little challenge.  A challenge to see at what price others could replicate Sonja’s home delivery of organic produce.

Taking a step back, I thought this challenge would also give me a chance to also think (and write) about some of the great services I have found.  And also some of the musings I have when it comes to eating good food.

The challenge

The challenge started when Sonja tweeted a photo of her organic produce delivery.

How good does this look?

Megan then wondered if she could replicate this organic bounty, but for cheaper, at her local Whole Foods.  With her list in hand, off she went.

The list…

The result?

Sonja: $38.66
Megan: $51.18

My attempt

I asked Megan if I could participate in the challenge.  Now, living abroad adds a bit of a twist to things – foreign exchange.  But it also is interesting to show just how much organic has penetrated the UK market (in comparison to the US). 

I have a couple of additional constraints on my participation.  First, I order organic fruit/veg boxes for weekly delivery from Abel & Cole.  Because I menu plan around these items, and because my food ordering is done for the next week already, I told Megan I was not going to actually purchase the goods – but I would be able to show their cost.  Next, I do all of my grocery shopping online.  This is one of the great things the UK has to offer – near complete penetration of the market with online grocery order / delivery offered to all.  I am a huge fan, as it enables me to arrange deliveries around my lifestyle.  Also we do not have a car, so it means I can easily get bulk heavy goods delivered (cleaning products) without hassle.

To enable a full cost comparison, I visited 3 sites – Abel & Cole (all organic); Ocado (Waitrose delivery for central London); and Tesco.

Only one of these sites offered an all organic option – Abel & Cole.  The others did not have 100% organic for everything on the list.  None of the site had collard greens, so I substituted kale.  And some of the quantities and sizes of the items varied according to site.  I did my best.

The results?

Abel & Cole (all organic):  £31.92 ($49.80)

Ocado (non organic kale, fennel, beansprouts, kiwi, pomegranates, also pomegranate arils only not whole fruit): £26.20 ($40.87)

Tesco (non organic beansprouts, pomegranates, kale, avocado, fennel): £22.96 ($35.82)

I used £1 = $1.56 as my exchange rate.  Wanting to be sure of the levels of purchasing power parity between the UK and US, I also cross checked The Economist’s Big Mac Index, which showed that in October the UK was about 2% undervalued compared with the US.  I thought with the exchange rate swings we have had during the past two months, that this was an acceptable parity level so I did not further correct the exchange rate.

As far as the cost goes…  Things pretty much came out the way I expected.  Abel & Cole, as a niche company specialising in organic only produce deliveries, was most expensive.  And Tesco, the largest of the UK supermarkets, was the cheapest.  I did not consider delivery charges.  But if we do add these to the equation, suddenly Abel & Cole and Ocado are pretty much neck in neck.  Tesco is still the cheapest.  For further info…  Tesco delivery costs £5 with 2 hour windows.  Ocado delivery charges are also about £5 but they offer a one hour window.  Abel & Cole on the other hand adds a 99 pence delivery charge, but they deliver anytime in the day so you need to be either at home or ok with your produce being left on your property for you.


I enjoyed this challenge not only to from the comparison shopping point of view, but also because it made me think about the choices I make – with regard to what I eat, who I shop with, and what I value.

I often hear people say that they eat organic because it is “better”.  Better…  A number of studies and reports have considered this topic through the years, most recently with a Danish study release in early November.  There is a lot of conflicting evidence around.  So I think that rather than look to the scientific (which is my natural inclination), when it comes to organic, it is a value choice for me.

For me, organic means no pesticides.  It means I don’t have to worry about residues in my body from the food I make at home.  And I like to think that when it comes to organic it also means that I am buying from farmers who are compensated fairly for their produce – this one of the key things that appeals to me about Abel & Cole and their products. 

Reflecting on the shopping list, the products did not include any of my staples.  There were not enough green vegetables for me, only one root vegetables (carrots, potatoes, turnips, parsnips, sweet potateos, celeriac – I get at least two of this list included on my own weekly deliveries), no onions (essential for cooking!).  The list was high on fruit and not as balanced as my own weekly delivery.  If I had purchased this list, I suspect I would be making a lot of smoothies / juice.  But if that is the purpose of the delivery, then wouldn’t it be better if the sellers offered fruit for juicing (like Abel & Cole does). 

I found it really interesting that even including exchange rates and niche seller dynamics, my list was still cheaper than Megan’s from Whole Foods.  We have Whole Foods in London – I guess that would be the ultimate comparison!  But I think this shows that in the UK we have a wide variety of organic available, from any store (not just a specialist shop like Whole Foods but even the largest chains) and even our specialist shops seem to be cheaper than US alternatives.

Finally, once again this shopping challenge made me thankful – I am lucky in the cost difference for organic doesn’t bother me so much.  But this topic – eating well on a very limited budget – is also something that I want to experiment with in the new year.  I often hear it said that it is impossible, but I simply don’t believe this.  So in the New Year, I am setting aside a period of time to eat on a budget of £25 a week, all meals, for two people.  I will publish more details about that when I am closer to doing my own challenge.

So – what does this challenge make you think of?  Can you replicate Megan’s shopping list for cheaper than $38 (£24), all organic?  Would you?

5 responses to “The Real World Food Challenge”

  1. I really like this post. I have been getting Abel & Cole fruit and veg for a while now and love it. I do try to eat organic as much as I can but i do think it comes at a price. Perhaps i will try your challange at some point.

  2. Oh thank you!  With my own lower budget challenge I plan to post my motivations and “rules” in January – but I have to get the timing right, as I am travelling for work that month, and want to do it when I am in London.

    As for Megan and Sonja’s challenge, I would be curious how Whole Foods London stacks up.  Or a local open aired / farmers market.  But I doubt you could get all the food at the market at this time of year (well, maybe Borough)…

    Let me know if you want join the budget challenge. grin

  3. Wow, that is very interesting. I have to take fault for the fruit heavy basket. Having a 5 year old daughter means we go through a lot of fruit. And the lemons, that’s really my fault, I have at least a lemon a day, and use them to dress salads often, so that’s where the 5 lemons came from. More root veg, yes I agree, and I am happy that door to door lets me add additional items to my box as well.

    I had some potatoes to use up, so I didn’t add more root veg. I LOVE celery root, but it’s seen as a fancy specialty item here and is quite costly, but oh I love it mashed!!! Mmmm.

    Thanks again for your input. I am now intrigued about what the price of the box would be if I didn’t go organic at all. I would like to see those numbers too.

  4. Hi Sonja, I did the comparison with non-organic items from Ocado and Tesco, just to get a better idea of the “organic premium”…

    Ocado has the list at £19.79 ($30.87) for the basic range of produce (non organic).

    Tesco came in at £16.43 ($25.63).

    Definitely an eye opener as to how much the organic premium really is…

    Oh – my favourite salad dressing is olive oil and lemon – even with a simple lettuce and finely chopped green onions it is just wonderful – we use a lot of lemons at home too. grin

  5. I love that you can shop online in the UK! Good point about all the fruit – we have a 3-year old so we eat a lot of fruit, too. Root veggies are more “in season” right now and are something we normally buy this time of year too. I had a lot of fun with this challenge and enjoyed your post.

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