Prices of Regular Veg Outstrip Organics

Ordinarily, organic produce costs more than mass-market version, usual price difference in favor of mass-market produce is 20% to 30%; some vegetables the same or cheaper at organic groceries.

Certain fruit and vegetable prices have risen so much that they've reached and, in some cases, outstripped the prices of their organic counterparts, TheMarker found in a check conducted yesterday.

Among the fresh produce that can be bought more cheaply in organic form are tomatoes and eggplants.

Ordinarily, organic produce costs more than the mass-market version. Organic cultivation methods eschew pesticides and other chemicals, on which regular farming depends. The usual price difference in favor of mass-market produce is 20% to 30%, on average.

Yet TheMarker found that tomatoes and eggplants were the same or cheaper at the organic groceries yesterday.

It isn't that organics suddenly became cheaper than regular produce; it's that the price of mass-market fresh fruit and vegetables changes on a daily basis. But the trade agreements between the retailers and organic farmers are set for the growing season or for a year, says Yair Hirsh, chief executive of Live Marketing and Distribution, which handles organic produce. "The organic market works differently from the regular one," he said.

The idea behind the long-term marketing agreements is to protect the organic farmers during tough times. Right now, the tables have turned on the organic farmers: the long-term price for their tomatoes is lower than the "spot market" for the mass-market fruit, Hirsh explained. Tomorrow that could change - "regular tomatoes could as easily drop to 99 agorot per kilo," he added.

Meanwhile, Eden Teva Market and Nitzat Haduvdevan were yesterday selling organic tomatoes for NIS 10 per kilo. Teva Kastel wanted NIS 12.99.

At the open-air markets, where people believe they can usually get the cheapest prices for the freshest fruit and vegetables, tomatoes were going for NIS 12.80 to NIS 15 per kilo (in Jerusalem ) and NIS 15 (in Tel Aviv ).

Supermarkets in the cities were selling tomatoes for the same prices as the organic chains: NIS 9.99 per kilo at Super-Sol Sheli and Mega in the City.

The one neighborhood greengrocer TheMarker checked, in Tel Aviv, was asking for NIS 12 per kilo for tomatoes.

The reason the open-air markets were costlier than the supermarket chains is that the latter typically get a 10% discount for bulk buying. Also, in some cases they have agreements in place that smooth out sharp fluctuations in price. Also, the supermarkets sometimes deliberately sell tomatoes and cucumbers, a staple in Israeli households, as a loss-leader - they knowingly lose money on them in order to lure in customers.

The siren song of the organic eggplant

Eggplants were also cheaper at the organic chains than elsewhere yesterday. The organic stores were asking for NIS 6.99 to NIS 9 per kilo for the fruit, while the price at the Carmel Market in Tel Aviv was NIS 9 to NIS 10.

Super-Sol Sheli was asking for NIS 8 per kilo. Mega in the City, a chain run by the Blue Square group, charged NIS 8.50 for the pleasure. The neighborhood grocer in Tel Aviv charged NIS 8.

So was this pleasure of relatively lower-cost organic produce a nonrecurring event? Not necessarily. "I hope that toward month-end we'll be able to lower the price of tomatoes to NIS 7, because the growing season of the farmers in the Arava with whom we have agreements will kick in," says Guy Provisor, CEO and among the owners of the Eden Teva Market chain.

Various sources claim organic produce could be even cheaper. One fresh fruit and vegetables wholesaler claims the organic stores are buying their tomatoes for a pittance and are making money on the fruit hand over fist, even when charging less than the regular stores.