AUSTIN -- Most families search for convenience, quality products and good prices when they grocery shop. So which stores save you the most money when you want organic products? We decided to find out.
What's for dinner?
That daily dilemma is not always so easily solved when you're feeding a growing third grader.
"I just look for the right price and just make sure it's healthy," said single mother Laura Hinson, who tries to dish up good food on a budget. "But I know organic versus non-organic. It's made my bill go up a lot."
With Trader Joe's opening its first Austin location two months ago, many people like Hinson wonder.
"I want to see where I should shop,” she said. “Should I drive an extra 15 minutes when there might be a better deal somewhere else?"
So KVUE spent a month comparing prices for a family spaghetti dinner at Trader Joe's, Whole Foods and Central Market – three stores that pride themselves on no preservatives, no artificial colors or flavors.
What we found is that you don't have to take a big bite out of your budget to feed your family.
We started with the noodles. Whole wheat organic spaghetti costs exactly the same at Trader Joe's and Whole Foods: $1.39. Central Market's spaghetti cost 20 cents more: $1.59.
Many of the other products including the spaghetti sauce varied in size. So we did the math to find the price per ounce.
Trader Joe's and Whole Foods' spaghetti sauces cost exactly the same: nine cents per ounce. Central Market's sauce cost six cents more at 15 cents per ounce.
"With higher ingredients often times there might be a higher cost," said Leslie Sweet, spokesperson for H-E-B.
She told KVUE the tomatoes in the Central Market sauce come from Italy.
No matter how you slice it, you can't beat the deals on bread. The sizes varied but at every store the bread cost the exact same: 17 cents per ounce.
Keep in mind though that only Whole Foods and Central Market bake their bread fresh daily.
Serving up a salad is cheap and easy at all the stores. However it's cheapest at Trader Joe's where it’s 40 cents per ounce. You'll pay 50 cents per ounce at Whole Foods and 60 cents per ounce at Central Market.
Central Market doesn't offer organic salad mixes in a bag - just a clam shell.
"That extends the life of the lettuce," said Sweet.
Central Market and Whole Foods had the best prices. We got a gallon of organic milk for $5.48 at Central Market and $5.49 at Whole Foods. At Trader Joe's we paid 50 cents more: $5.99.
Nothing goes better with milk than brownies. Again each package is a different weight and requires different ingredients.
Whole Foods doesn't have a store brand brownie mix. So we chose the cheapest on the shelf: the Madhava Ooey Gooey brownies. They tied with the Central Market brownies on price at 29 cents per ounce. You'd pay a dime less per ounce ($.19/oz) buying brownies at Trader Joe's.
Trader Joe's is known for its so-called Two Buch Chuck which launched in 2002. The Charles Shaw brand of wine now sells for $2.99 in line with Whole Foods' Three Wishes ($2.99) and Central Market's Cul-de-Sac ($2.98).
Buy it by the case at Central Market and Whole Foods and save even more.
"Anytime you buy six bottles of wine at Whole Foods Market, you're going to get a 10 percent discount," said Whole Foods community relations coordinator Rachel Malish.
So who saves you the most? For this spaghetti dinner -- Trader Joe's. The entire dinner cost us less than $20 ($19.63).
We paid a $1.50 more at Whole Foods ($21.13) and about $3.50 more at Central Market ($23.19).
It's proof that serving up an organic dinner on a budget can easily become mission accomplished at any of these stores.
But price is one thing, taste is another. So we invited some Central Texas families to a KVUE taste test to see which stores products they liked best. To see the results go here.
You can also see the spreadsheet from our month of shopping trips here.