Buying organic food wherever possible is never going to be the cheapest housekeeping decision I ever make but for me it makes senses environmentally and ethically and therefore represents good value. That doesn't mean to say I don't look for ways of economising where I can though. One of the ways I save is by joining a buying co-op. A friend manages our trading relationship with Suma which means she coordinates our ordering, pays them centrally and receives the delivery for us and then we pay her and collect our goods, or in my case she drops them around to me in exchange for a cup of tea and a bit of a chat if there's time. It's important that we honour her role in the process and pay up promptly - electronic banking is great for this - so that she's never out of pocket for long and also order on time so that we don't jeopardise everyone else's order - there's a minimum spend but as there are about 20 of us in the group we don't normally have problems reaching it once every 6 weeks or so. It's also important that we collect our goods promptly or be in for her to drop them off as she lives in an ordinary terrace house so doesn't have vast storage facilities! In addition to reducing the costs, it also means we save on packaging as we can buy things like lentils, pulses, dried fruit, bread flour, oil, passatta and organic squash etc in bulk. It also means that we can get to try out different products sometimes as often someone will not want a whole case of 12 or 24 items but is willing to split them with other members. This means we get the cost saving without having to store large quantities of items.
As Suma supply some local shops we piggy back on to their normal delivery cycle in the area which means we aren't adding too much to transport journeys. You have to be a bit canny sometimes as not everything works out cheaper but a quick check on supermarket shopping sites every now and again can keep you on track - for example a quick check on my usual online supermarket (Ocado) this week and I saved 73p a bag on Doves Farm organic white bread flour, 32p a bottle on Rocks squash and 68p a pack on a 9 pack of recycled loo rolls. There are obviously other supermarket shopping sites out there but I've found that prices for organic dried goods and staples tends to be similar across the main providers. Fresh stuff tends to vary a little bit more and good deals can be had if you shop around but as I now struggle to go into an actual supermarket much less from shop to shop in town this works for me. As I'm not cooking for a big family I tend not to buy spices in bulk as I worry they will lose their potency before I use them up but buying loo rolls in bulk isn't an issue as they don't go off and I just keep them in a corner of the spare room and things like tomato paste, lentils etc all have such a long shelf life that I will definitely use them up before they become unusable (In this house best before dates are used as the advisories they are meant to be and I make my own judgements as to when something isn't edible). So if you are thinking of making changes to the way you shop this year and want to make the environmental cost of your food a consideration then I recommend exploring how a cooperative approach might work for you and in fact I have just come across this "how to" on the Sustain Web site. Now I've just got to wait for J to get here to put the box of squash and packs of flour away for me!!