Healthy Food Costs More? Drop the Stigma

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By: Jenna Wallace

We’ve all said it before; Whole Foods, you mean Whole Paycheck. Consumers consistently associating high prices with healthier food is nothing new. However, what are the consequences of those thoughts and misconceptions? Based on new evidence, consumers not only think that healthier food equals higher prices, but they are acting on this misconception1. This means that it is more than likely that when you’re in the grocery store, if you compare two identical products and are searching for the healthier one, you choose the more expensive one.

Even conscious consumers can make these mistakes. The assumption is that if the products are the same, the more expensive one is better because it has higher quality ingredients, more micronutrients, etc. The problem with this mentality is that food companies use it to their advantage. The price of products marketed for healthy consumers are being driven up because food companies feed off the consumer’s lack of knowledge.

While, yes, some products are inherently more expensive no matter what brand you choose (i.e. almond butter due to environmental conditions), many products on the market have similar nutritional value with drastic differences in price ranging from affordable to astronomical. This causes consumers to value whatever the more expensive product is propagating1. For example, let’s say that you are presented with two identical products. One, is advertised as rich in prebiotics for a healthy microbiome and is far more expensive than the other. The other is advertised as rich in probiotics for gut healthy but marketed for less. Studies have shown that consumers are more likely to choose the first more expensive product, for a few reasons1. Prebiotics and probiotics are both essential for gut health. However, prebiotics may be less familiar to the consumer and this lack of familiarity can cause consumers to lack judgment on how much such things should cost. Similarly, the wording (healthy microbiome vs. gut health) while essentially the same message, can make consumers believe that a “microbiome” is more important than gut health.

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What is a consumer with healthy intentions to do? First, educate yourself on products you’ve been considering or are interested in. Walking into the health market with information and knowledge is essential, in a world of advertising that feeds into your lack of knowledge on specific health terminology or information. Then, compare ingredients and nutritional facts. Look at certifications like organic, non-GMO, certified gluten free etc. These labels require money from the company, so startups may be charging more to cover those costs. However, just because something is gluten free, doesn’t mean it costs an arm and a leg. For example, rice is naturally gluten free. A package of rice that says ‘gluten free’ should cost the same as an identical package that doesn’t explicitly say ‘gluten free’. Finally, search around for the best price on your favorite products. From personal experience, even more affordable grocery stores can have increased prices on certain diet-specific items. I am vegan and can’t consume gluten so many products that I consume daily are more expensive at Publix simply because their clientele doesn’t consume huge amounts of veggie meat replacements and gluten free granola. Those same products generally cost less at health food stores, because they are focused on people like me with dietary restrictions. Also, don’t be afraid to buy some foods at one store and other things online at places like Vitacost. This website can be a great resource as well as health food market. There are tons of reviews from actual consumers on thousands of products that you see in grocery stores.

The best way to continue a healthy diet on a budget or just for a reasonable cost, is to stay educated and vigilant and vote with your dollar. Consumers have more control than they think, when it comes to dictating what we see in the grocery store and how much it should cost.


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