Spend Responsibly - GoodGuide Your Groceries Our first challenge is actually what spearheaded this entire project.  As you may know, I’m currently home on mat leave with our second baby and, as such, am pretty much living the domestic dream.  My life is spoon-feeding and laundry with the odd random interruption to bandage the torn knee of my nearly 3 year old.

I go to the grocery store nearly every day.  And as I’m roaming the aisles, I get to thinking, “what am I saying with my dollars”?  I switch brands a lot because of price or because I’ve heard something on the news about one company or another, but there are so many choices that I have to admit I really have no idea what (or who) I’m supporting.  And this has got me kind of worried.

I’m certainly not an economist, but I remember from my intro economics class that consumer power is essential to how capitalism works.  Consumer power is the way to keep corporations in check.  It’s our way of voting on the behavior of companies and telling them what we want.  If that’s the case, I’m basically voting without even knowing who is on the roster let alone what their platform might be.  Given this, do I have a right to “tsk tsk” when I hear a horror story on the news about what a corporation might have done to its employees (think Bhopal), to the environment (think BP oil spill), or to the health of its consumers (think Chinese baby food scandal a few years back)?  Because, when it comes right down to it, I voted for them.

Well, I no longer want to sit back, but I also don’t have hours and hours to pour over who did what for each grocery item I buy.  Because of this, Carl and I decided to start blogging about the options, but when we started to actually research the companies and products, we reached two conclusions.  First, neither of us know the first thing about these organizations or how to measure them.  Second (and thank God), someone else does and they are already providing this information for free.  There’s a site out there called GoodGuide.

Let me tell you, this made our lives a lot easier.  We then decided that instead of blogging about the different companies, we would perform a sort of experiment about how hard it is to make these changes in our own lives (honestly) and hopefully that will inspire some of you to make changes in your lives too.  After all, no one wants a Bhopal or an oil spill on their conscience.  Especially me.

Our Challenge

So, here’s what we plan to do this week.  We are going to take our actual (uncensored) grocery list and list out all of the brands that we normally buy along with the prices we usually pay.  Then we are going to go on the GoodGuide site and look up what the best alternate brand may be.  This isn’t always straightforward as we don’t always value the same things in equal portions, but we are going to look for companies that have best of breed health, environmental and societal (labor, fair trade, etc) practices.  Once we have our new grocery list, we’ll go shopping for these items.  I’m interested to see how long the research takes, how long the shopping takes, and if we can actually find all of the products in our local grocery store.  I’m also very curious about the cost impact of spending responsibly.  We’ll share all of our findings with you.

Updated June 3, 2011 by Andrea

Our Tale

For those of you who’ve been following us on facebook or twitter, you know that it has been a busy week.  If you’re not interested in all of the gory details about our hunt for responsible spending, by all means, skip to Our Findings and spare yourself.

Making The Grocery List

Our Grocery List is a yellow pad of paper that sits on our kitchen console table. It’s realtime. By that I mean it gets updated as we discover we’ve run out of something or (ideally) when we use the last of something. We update it almost hourly as we run out of this or that. No new time commitment here.

Finding Good Brands

We then hit the GoodGuide site to find their recommendations for the items on our list. Of the 30 items on our list, GoodGuide suggested good brands for 21 of them.

The others?  7 of the items were fresh fruit, veggies or meat, which are only scored for health. Our first “a-ha”: we need to come up with a separate strategy for buying produce. We decided to focus on buying local for now – and to leave this out of our analysis. (If you’re interested in buying local, check out our Go Local challenge.)

Once produce was ruled out, we had only 2 gaps. Ketchup and Sugar. As an aside, I do find it odd that I couldn’t find Heinz ketchup even though it is the picture beside the Condiments category in GoodGuide.  Regardless, we decided to stick with good old Heinz ketchup since the company had an acceptable rating overall. We also stuck with Redpath sugar, although we could use some more digging on Redpath specifically.

How was the whole experience? It took me about 4 hours to find and research the best alternative for these 21 items. For many items, I was able to just use the master search and presto – the results returned.  I would then just browse the details on the ratings to confirm that I was in agreement with the rating.

For a few others, I had to drill down by category to determine if the product existed. This was quite cumbersome.  For example, we eat PC Blue Menu Angus Burgers. (I know – not the healthiest – but it was the best BBQ day of the year.) When I searched “frozen hamburgers”, GoodGuide came back with a couple of options: Shoprite Ground Beef Burgers (4.3) and Great Value 100% Pure Beef Mini Hamburger Patties (4.4). Both scored so low that I was reluctant to consider either of them. I then changed my search to “frozen meat burgers” and was flooded with countless meatless burgers, which are clearly much healthier than hamburgers, but weren’t going to do anything to satisfy our long-stifled BBQ craving. After scrolling endlessly, I found Applegate Organic Meat Burgers, which scored a 6 overall. A little better, but quite a process. Still, the stakes are high, so I deemed it worth it.

Like I said, the master search was definitely the way to go for me. GoodGuide apparently has apps for androids and iphones that allow you to get information realtime while you shop. I think this would make it much easier once you’ve done some baseline research and have a general understanding of both the market and your own preferences. We’re likely going to use this app going forward for any new brands that we haven’t previously seen or that GoodGuide hasn’t rated. That’s my take. I’m interested to hear what others have found, so please post a comment if you’ve tried.

Finding Our Usual Brands

For 8 of the 21 items, I was not able to find a rating for the brand we currently use or any product by the same company that I could use to extrapolate.

In most cases, the brands we couldn’t find were store label and local brands. Our second “a-ha”: how the heck do we get the skinny on store label and local brands? (Remember, I still want our PC Blue Menu Angus Burgers.) We did a little bit of research on store brands, but we still don’t have enough details on these. For now, if we could find the suggested alternative, we bought it. If we couldn’t, we stuck with our store brand.

Shopping

Now the fun part begins. I’d like to preface this by saying that we have a 2 (nearly 3) year old and an eight month old, so any pain brought on by not being able to find what we wanted quickly was amplified ten-fold by the fussy family factor. (M-O-M-M-Y, I WANT TO GO HOME. NO DADDY, I WANT MOMMY. WHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) We went to 4 stores to find the items on our list: 2 Superstores, 1 Sobeys and the local health food store. We found most of the items we wanted at the first Superstore and a couple of additional ones each at the “big” Superstore and Sobeys. We didn’t find anything additional at our local health food store. All in all, it probably took close to 5 hours with travel time. The good news: now I know what brands are stocked where. In future, I will stock up on the items that are only sold at Sobeys or the “big” Superstore and just get them when I’m there for other things.

Of the 21 items we’re including in this challenge, we couldn’t find a better brand for 4 items. For those items, we stuck with our usual provider. Thank God – I got to keep my PC Blue Menu Angus Burgers for the BBQ. (And really, the guy on the commercial seems so sweet and honest.) The others we kept were cheese, juice and (unfortunately) sweet potato fries. (See details in our Grocery List.)  We’ll continue to research these along with our usual sugar brand, but that is a task for another day.

If you’re interested in even more details about this fun and exciting process (NOT), please check out our Grocery List .

Our Findings

Another Chore?

Do the laundry. Cook dinner. And now GoodGuide the groceries too? I’m not going to lie. This was a lot of work. The good news: now we know. Going forward, we’ll GoodGuide each item as we write it down on the grocery list rather than trying to find time to research 30 items at once. As time goes on, the number of items we need to research will get smaller and smaller as our knowledge increases. Even within this one week, we were able to gain an understanding of many of the so-called “good” and “bad” brands. We think that we’ll spend less than 30 minutes per week in a month’s time.  We can manage that.  (If you’ve been doing this for a while, we’d love to hear your thoughts on the time commitment. Are we out to lunch?)

If you live in a large (or even large-ish) market, you’ll likely have a much easier time with the shopping.

The Gaps

I’ve asked GoodGuide to rate sugar and ketchup. I’ve also asked them about their thoughts on produce and store brands.  And about local brands that might be missing from their database.  In the meantime, we’ll continue to do our best to find out what we can about these companies.  If a good alternative exists, we’ll likely buy it instead.

Money Money Money

Our new groceries cost us 7.4% more than our old groceries. (You can see for yourself on our Grocery List.)  At first, this seemed like a bit of a sacrifice, especially since we are jobless for the time being. Still, the more we thought about it, the more we realized that the 7.4% we were saving was actually savings the companies we supported were passing on by cutting corners. That $7.84 per week is what’s reinforcing poor safety practices and procedures, inefficient use of resources and poor labor and trade practices.  I feel like I’m getting kind of preachy here, so I’ll stop now. Let’s just say we decided we could afford it – or couldn’t not afford it. (If this challenge were about shoes or purses, I might be singing a different tune, so I’m not judging. A girl has her limits.)

The Goodness

I read a study a while back about a market segment called LOHAS (Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability) consumers – loosely translated – people who care enough about health, environmental and societal issues to spend a little more on brands that align with their views. I think the study actually said that they would spend up to 20 percent more. Apparently, these consumers make up about one quarter of the US market. So, if all of the people who care take the time to find out where their dollars are going (how they are voting with their dollars, if you will), organizations might get the hint. It might just push us past the tipping point and make a stronger world for our children. Now that’s pretty cool.

I just couldn’t resist closing with this: The cost of spending responsibly this week – $7.84. Going to bed at night with a clear conscience – priceless! (Ok, except the darn diapers.)

See you all next week!

 

 

Interested in our other challenges?  Check out The Goodness Challenge.

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

For those of you who’ve been following us on facebook or twitter, you’ll know that its been quite an interesting week. Here’s the process we went through. If you don’t want to read all of the gory details, by all means, skip to Our Findings and spare yourself.

 

The List

Our grocery list is easily the most frequently accessed document in our household. We update it almost hourly as we run out of this or that. As such, making the list was the easy part.

 

Finding Good Brands

We then hit the GoodGuide site to find their recommendations for the items on our list. Of the 30 items on our list, GoodGuide suggested good brands for 21 of them.

 

The others? 7 of the items were fresh fruit, veggies or meat, which are only scored for health. Our first “a-ha”: we needed to come up with a separate strategy for buying produce. We decided to focus on buying local for now – and to leave this out of our analysis. (I foresee a future Tales of Goodness challenge on buying local.)

 

Once produce was ruled out, we had only 2 gaps. Ketchup and Sugar. (I do find it odd that I couldn’t find Heinz ketchup even though it is the picture beside the Condiments category.) Regardless, we decided to stick with good old Heinz ketchup since the company had an acceptable rating overall. We also stuck with Redpath sugar, although we could use some more digging in this instance.

 

How was the whole experience? It took 3-4 hours to find and research the best alternative for these 21 items. For many items, I was able to just use the master search and presto – the results returned. For a few others, I had to drill down by category to determine if the product existed. This was quite cumbersome.

 

For example, we eat PC Blue Menu Angus Burgers. (I know – not the healthiest – but it was the best BBQ day of the year so far.) When I searched frozen hamburgers, GoodGuide came back with a couple of options: Shoprite Ground Beef Burgers (4.3) and Great Value 100% Pure Beef Mini Hamburger Patties (4.4). Both scored so low that I was reluctant to consider either of them. I then changed my search to “frozen meat burgers” and was flooded with countless meatless burgers, which are clearly much healthier than hamburgers. After scrolling endlessly, I found Applegate Organic Meat Burgers, which scored a 6 overall. A little better, but quite a process. Still, the stakes are high, so I deemed it worth it.

 

Like I said, the master search was definitely the way to go for me. GoodGuide apparently has apps for androids and iphones that allow you to get information realtime while you shop. I think this would make it much easier once you’ve done some baseline research and understand both the market and your own preferences. We’re likely going to use this app going forward for any new brands that we haven’t previously seen or that GoodGuide hasn’t rated. That’s my take. I’m interested to hear what others have found, so please post a comment if you’ve tried.

 

Finding Info On Our Existing Brands

For 8 of the 21 items, I was not able to find a rating for the brand we currently use or any product by the same company that I could use to extrapolate.

 

In most cases, the brands we couldn’t find were store label and local brands. Our second “a-ha”: how the heck do we get the skinny on store label and local brands? (Remember, I still want our PC Blue Menu Angus Burgers.) We did a little bit of research on store brands, but we still don’t have the details on these. For now, if I could find the suggested alternative, I bought it. If I couldn’t, I stuck with my store brand.

 

Shopping

Now the fun part begins. I’d like to preface this by saying that we have a 2 (nearly 3) year old and an eight month old, so any pain brought on by not being able to find what we wanted quickly was amplified ten-fold by the fussy family factor. (M-O-M-M-Y, I WANT TO GO HOME. NO DADDY, I WANT MOMMY. WHAH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) We went to 4 stores to find the items on our list: 2 Superstores, 1 Sobeys and the local health food store. We found most of the items we wanted at the first Superstore and a couple of additional ones each at the “big” Superstore and the Sobeys. We didn’t find anything additional at our local health food store. All in all, it probably took close to 5 hours with travel time. The good news: now I know what brands are stocked where. In future, I will stock up on the items that are only sold at Sobeys or the “big” Superstore and just get them when I’m there for other things.

 

Of the 20 items we’re including in this study, we couldn’t find a better brand for 4 items. For those items, we stuck with our usual provider. Thank God – I got to keep my PC Blue Menu Angus Burgers for the BBQ. (And really, the guy on the commercial seems so sweet and honest.) The others we kept were cheese, juice and (unfortunately) sweet potato fries. We’ll continue to research these along with our usual sugar brand, but that is a task for another day.

 

If you’re interested in even more details about this fun and exciting process (NOT), please check out our Grocery List.


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About the Author

Just a small town mom trying to make the world a better place for my kids. One small change at a time.

3 Responses to Spend Responsibly: GoodGuide Your Groceries

  1. Carl Carl says:

    This is our second week “goodguiding” our groceries. I’m enjoying the experience as it makes me feel good knowing that I can direct my dollars towards “good” companies. And surprisingly, some of the products taste better; such as Annie’s Cheddar Bunnies baked crackers (move over Pepperidge Farms Goldfish!). Our 2-year old also approves of them. Sold!

  2. Andrea says:

    For those of you who are curious, we’re still going with this. We’re finding it much easier this week. I had a suggestion for those of you who have real jobs and don’t have the time to “blitz” your whole grocery list. Just pick 1 popular item each week and GoodGuide it. Before you know it, you’ll be done!

  3. Carl Carl says:

    We’re still going strong with the “GoodGuide” way. Andrea and I are now talking about purchasing an iphone so that we can utilize GoodGuide’s phone application. This will help us do the analysis on-the-fly at the grocery store.

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