Friday, February 28, 2020     Volume: 20, Issue: 52

Santa Maria Sun / Eats

A frugal look at the prices of organic milk, butter, eggs, and bread at local grocery stores, in the face of rising gasoline prices


If you’re like me, you look to the gas pumps to decipher what you’re going to spend on your food essentials—the simplified reason being that high oil prices contribute to soaring food prices. 

When buying organic milk and eggs at Trader Joe’s, shoppers won’t be at the whim of the store’s sales and club card prices. Trader’s prices stay the same, which happen to be the lowest on organic pantry staples.

Since today’s gas prices are something out of a horror film, and AAA reports that Californians are paying the most expensive gas prices in five years (saying the state’s average as of this spring was $4.01), we’re feeling the pinch at the grocery store as well. 

I’m thinking about that Oroweat bread delivery truck I recently saw parked outside a Central Coast Vons that delivers organic artisan bread from Horsham, Pennsylvania. We’re paying for all that gas, with bread being close to $4 a loaf. I think we’re all hurting at the register.

The numbers have been showing for years that Californians are eating at home more than eating out—with statistics database Statista reporting that in 2016 only 20 percent of Americans visited full-service restaurants once a week. That means the majority of the food being eaten in Northern Santa Barbara County comes from grocery stores and health food markets, co-ops, farmers’ markets, online, CalFresh Food Assistance program, and—since we’re such an ag community—straight from our farmers and ranchers.  

According to a 2014 study by Stanford and Cornell economists, the top items Americans are buying at the grocery store are snacks and candy (15.8 percent) and meat and protein (12.8 percent). But among the regular items Americans are buying at the grocery store, bread is always a top purchase, with eggs, butter, and milk high up on the list. 

I would love to be able to buy all my bread at Pagnol at Third Street Bakery in Los Osos, but not all of us can do that, except for special occasions. So I made it my mission to find baseline prices for the four organic pantry essentials. 

Some of you may like to roll the dice and try Grocery Outlet with its varying inventory. And many of you pay for the Costco membership and brave the masses because buying in bulk makes sense for your household. I salute you! 

I chose instead the main grocery stores that offer organic goods up and down the Central Coast, the stuff my family doesn’t typically order online. The list features the (lowest) prices from a handful of Northern Santa Barbara County’s local, big grocery stores (if the store didn’t have all four items in organic, I left it off the list): 

Trader Joe’s is the big winner when it comes to prices on four organic pantry essentials, including butter, eggs, and half gallon of milk.

Trader Joe’s

Total: $14.96. Organic bread baguette: $1.99; a dozen organic eggs: $4.29; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.49; 1 pound organic butter: $5.19. 

Upside: Best prices. A friend of mine who worked at Trader’s told me the company trades with big companies worldwide that make the food, they buy in bulk, and then repackage it as generic. Also, TJ’s doesn’t have sales or club card prices, so shoppers always know what they’re going to get.

Downside: Everyone else and their mother knows Trader Joe’s has the best prices, thus parking and register lines can be a bit dicey. 


Total: $16.66. Loaf of organic bread: $3.99; a dozen organic, cage-free eggs: $3.69; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.69; 1 pound organic butter: $5.29. 

Upside: Price and variety of items for sale—gotta love a place where you can buy fluoride-free toothpaste, organic lunch snacks, local beer, organic coffee, and a quick gift for that upcoming birthday party. 

Downside: Temptation. I have the hardest time sticking to buying just groceries at Target, and I’m pretty sure the corporate office planned it that way. 


Total: $20.96. Loaf of store-brand organic bread (sale price): $3.99; a dozen organic, free-range eggs: $4.99; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.99; 1 pound organic butter: $7.99. 

Upside: A relatively wide range of organic choices, from store brand to name brand, with an accompanying variety of prices.

Downside: It’s a little difficult to sort through all the prices to find the best, which will fluctuate with sales. Plus the majority of the store’s items are conventional.  

Vons (pictured) offers a wide variety of both organic and specialty bread. Oroweat organic bread goes on sale for $4.49 a loaf, not the cheapest in the area, but it’s certainly reliable.


Total: $21.76. Loaf of organic bread (sale price): $4.49; a dozen organic, cage-free eggs: $5.79; half-gallon of organic milk: $3.99; 1 pound organic butter: $7.49.  

Upside: A pretty impressive organic selection, from cereals to produce. I’m told it’s because of demand—when you buy organics, they see the demand and fill it. Also, great local products, wine, and beer specials. 

Downside: The meat and deli sections are mostly conventional. 

Lassens Natural Food

Total: $31.85 Santa Maria; $24.66 SLO. Loaf of organic bread: $5.49; two cartons of half-dozen organic, free-range eggs: $4.98 ($2.49 each; the SLO location has one dozen organic eggs for $4.69); half-gallon of organic milk: $5.39; 1 pound raw organic butter: $15.99 (raw organic butter was the only kind in the Santa Maria store; the SLO store has 1 pound organic butter for $9.09). 

Upside: The Santa Maria store is comfortingly small and smells exactly how you’d want an inviting health-food store to smell: floral, herbal, and uplifting. Plus, there are lots of supplements to choose from.

Downside: The Santa Maria market doesn’t have a lot of variety, which made finding comparable sizes of butter and eggs difficult; the bigger Central Coast locations would be better bets for more options.

An Oroweat bread truck parked outside Vons in the early morning hours reminds us that high gas prices often mean the price of our food staples will rise too, especially when trucks come over from places like Pennsylvania.

I’m convinced that everyone here on the Central Coast struggles a bit to find that perfect grocery budget. I tend to bounce from store to store these days, hoping I will find the best deal on every healthy product in the cart—it’s such a dance to balance health, price, sustainability, and ease. m

Contributor Beth Giuffre needs a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter. Associate Editor Andrea Rooks contributed to this article. Send grocery lists of Eats ideas to

Nibbles & Bites

Mark your calendar for a celebration of all things new at Presqu’ile Winery. On Nov. 16 and 17, the winery’s new Executive Chef Julie Simon will be preparing food for the winery’s inaugural Nouveau Weekend, which will be celebrated from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. This year marks the inaugural release of Presqu’ile’s gamay nouveau! According to the winery, this wine is inspired by Beaujolais nouveau, traditionally released to the public at 12:01 a.m. on the third Thursday of November, and represents the celebration of the end of harvest season. To kick off the local 2019 nouveau release, the winery will be partying with an all-French playlist on the stereo, and the gamay nouveau flowing on tap. As they say in France, “Le Beaujolais nouveau est arrivé!” (The new Beaujolais has arrived!) The event is free, and food and wine will be available for purchase. Presqu’ile Winery is located at 5391 Presquile Drive, Santa Maria. Visit for more information. 

Editor Camillia Lanham is hungry for North County foodie events. Send tidbits to

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