Food costs are largely determined by the time and resources it takes to do all of the steps required to get the product from the farm or manufacturing facility to your local store. And like everything else on the market, supply and demand also plays a part. Here's the skinny on why some food items are so expensive.
A more expensive price tag usually indicates higher quality, but this isn't always the case when it comes to food products. Brand name foods are often produced by the same manufacturer as generic or store brands, but the brand names cost significantly more. This is because brand names need to advertise and market their products, and these costs are built into the price of the food. Generic brands rarely advertise, so the savings are passed along to the customer. Advertising and marketing in the United States is a major expense -- a full page print ad in a national magazine can hit five figures. And production costs for a TV commercial usually runs hundreds of thousands of dollars, which doesn't even include the cost of air time.
Farmers that use agrochemicals have operations that are heavily subsidized by the government. Agrochemicals weren't developed with taste, nutrition or the environment in mind, but they help to produce abundant amounts of food by allowing farmers to grow fruits and vegetables faster and cheaper. Organic foods are grown without using pesticides, chemical fertilizers, growth hormones or antibiotics, which is considerably more labor intensive than larger, non-organic farms, and organic farmers don't receive any subsidies from the government.
Without the use of pesticides, hand weeding is necessary and paying labor costs is more expensive than paying for the pesticides. Organic farms use manure and compost, which is much heavier and costlier to ship than chemical fertilizers. The cost of organic certification is also a significant line item in the budget of an organic farmer. So all of these costs are passed on to the customer willing to pay for all-natural food products.
Some foods cost more money because of the simple fact that they're hard to come by. Everybody knows that when the demand is greater than the supply for any product, the cost is going to go up. Many of these same foods require more human resources and labor to acquire or produce. Saffron is a spice famous for its distinctive taste and considerable expense, due to the staggering number of flowers it takes to produce a very small amount of the spice. Macadamia nuts are also on the pricey side for the same reason -- only trees that are at least seven years old can produce them. Truffles are extremely expensive because of the labor required to put them on your plate and the fact that they only exist in a few regions. Despite a lot of effort, these underground fungi have never been able to be artificially cultivated. Locating truffles is a very time consuming and labor intensive operation, which is why this delicacy can cost anywhere from $500 to $2,000 per pound.
Did you know? It requires 50,000 to 75,000 flowers to make one pound of saffron. That's enough flowers to fill a football field.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Callahan, Beth. "Generic Vs. Name Brand: Which is Better?" Associatedcontent.com, January 24, 2007http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/124818/generic_vs_name_brand_which_is_better.html?cat=46
- Simon, Ellen. " Why Does Organic Food Cost More than Conventional?"
- Environmental News Network, July 6, 2005.http://www.enn.com/top_stories/article/13887
- Spevack, Ysanne. Why is organic food more expensive, and when will it change?" organicfoodee.com, 2009.
- "Truffles - Fungus of the gods." Interesting Thing of the Day, June 2, 2004.http://itotd.com/articles/203/truffles/
- "World's Most Expensive Foods." Wackyarchives.com, March 20, 2008.http://www.wackyarchives.com/featured/worlds-most-expensive-foods.html