The price of food — Part III: Sausages

Do you think in terms of price or value? Since this series began, we’ve explored the idea that shopping at a farmers market represents better value than shopping at a supermarket and that, in fact, it can even be cheaper in the long run.

To help us shift the conversation from price to value, we’re doing some product comparisons using the 5 reasons why we believe you should shop at a farmers market. These reasons are:

  1. the food is fresher and therefore tastes better
  2. the food is fresher and therefore lasts longer
  3. the food is fresher and therefore is more nutritious
  4. the market connects people to each other and builds community
  5. the market keeps money local

The hard data

This series began with carrots, because everybody loves carrots. Now it’s the turn of sausages.

sausages-iga-packaging

Brand/product Supa IGA
thin beef sausages
Meringo Creek Farm to Plate
thin beef sausages
Supplier/grower address unknown Congo Road
Meringo, NSW
Distance from place of
purchase (as the crow flies)
unknown 8.7km
Packaging foam tray, cling film foam tray, cling film
Net weight 0.899kg 0.545kg
Number of units 12 8
Total price $8.11 $7.00
Price/100g $0.90 $1.28

As with carrots, the supermarket sausages are cheaper: by $3.80/kg (or $0.20/sausage). It’s worth pointing out here that both products were prepared by butchers. In the case of the Meringo sausages, the price is a set price based on a price per kilo. In the world of weights and measures, as long as the net weight is equal to or greater than the weight on which the set price is based, everything’s hunky dory. In this case, I got an extra 0.045kg of sausage at no extra charge (that’s 2/3 of a sausage! Woohoo!!). Whereas, the supermarket sausages gypped me 3 grams! I’m shocked. Seriously though, I’m using domestic scales, so let’s not quibble.

Now let’s look at our other five assessment criteria.

1. The food is fresher and therefore tastes better

The Meringo Creek Farm to Plate sausages were definitely fresher — I know because I can see they were packaged the day before I bought them. Also because I’ve been out to the farm and talked to Hughen, so I know the meat to make the sausages wasn’t stored for an extended time and I know how far it’s been transported.

I have no information about the origins or age of the supermarket sausages whatsoever. When was the animal slaughtered? When was the meat processed? Where was it processed? How long has it been stored? Where were the sausages made? I just don’t know. All I know is a preservative has been added.

As for smell and taste: with a product like sausages, ingredients count. If that’s the case, then the Meringo sausages are the superior product. Take a look:

Brand/product Supa IGA
thin beef sausages
Meringo Creek Farm to Plate
thin beef sausages
Ingredients cereal, binders, salt, mineral salt (450), preservative (223), flavours caramelised onion, cracked pepper, pumpkin

“Flavours”, eh?

Opinion on the smell test was divided between the testers. There was a marked difference in the smells. One child preferred neither — and ok, smelling uncooked sausages with your eyes closed isn’t for everyone, so she did well just doing something she didn’t really want to do. The other child and I definitely preferred the Meringo sausages. They smelled like food. I mean, they had actual food in them, like onions, pepper and pumpkin. And these aren’t even gourmet sausages… this is just how Hughen makes them. The supermarket sausages just smelled kind of sausage-y and… uninteresting. Not nearly as aromatic.

When it came to the eating, my blind taste testers could easily tell the difference between the sausages and could identify which sausage was which, but they hesitated to state their preference. They actually liked both (the problems with using kids for testing are starting to reveal themselves).

Eating the Meringo sausages is an entirely different experience to supermarket sausages. After a lifetime of regular snags, a Meringo sausage was revelation. Flavour. Lots of it. This, I thought, is what a regular snag should taste like. But the funny thing was, the three of us are so used to ordinary sausages, we still liked their plainness. After the excitement of the Meringo sausage, it was almost comforting to eat the boring supermarket sausage. I’d just like to point out that we often eat sausages from a local butcher and never normally the supermarket snags. The butcher’s sausages are also superior in taste to these supermarket sausages, but they are also plain compared to the Meringo sausages, and that’s what we were used to.

From my point of view, it was very interesting to reflect that we had come to expect so little from the humble sausage, when it can actually be a hero of the dinner plate. And it doesn’t have to be gourmet… just better. As I asked about the carrots in the last post, were they $0.20/sausage better? Is the extra $0.20/sausage worth it? I think so.

2. The food is fresher and therefore lasts longer

I’ve stated why I believe Hughen’s sausages are fresher, but does that mean they’ll last longer?

They were packed on 6th July and given a use by date of 11th July (5 days). I don’t know when the supermarket snags were packed, but I bought them on 7th July and they were given a use by date of 13th July (6 days).

sausages-mcfp-weight

The question of which sausage would last longer is less relevant than for vegetables, because when it comes to meat, we either eat it promptly or freeze it.

Here’s the interesting thing. The supermarket sausages had preservative (223) added. Hughen emphatically does not use any preservatives or artificial additives of any sort. Yet the supermarket snags’ use by date was only one day later than the Meringo sausages and I bought everything on the same day. Makes you think. Why add preservative for an extra day of shelf life? Perhaps the supermarket snags did last longer afterall, because I have no way of knowing how long they’d been stored or in transit before I bought them. But if I’m right, then lasting longer isn’t a good thing in this case.

3. The food is fresher and therefore is more nutritious

Nutrition diminishes over time, thanks to enzymes and respiration (and a lot more). While controlling the environment the sausages are kept in helps to slow the process, it doesn’t stop it. It’s likely the supermarket sausages were sitting around respirating (or whatever) longer than the Meringo sausages. But there is a far more important consideration when it comes to nutrition and it’s about what goes in, not what gets lost.

It’s about the animals. The best part of this gig is visiting the farms of our market’s producers. It’s a privilege to be invited onto their property and be given the deluxe guided tour. When we visited Meringo Creek Farm to Plate, Hughen didn’t stop talking for almost two hours… about the history of the farm, the animals, his husbandry, the pasture… it was inspiring. I have a damn good idea of what went into the Meringo sausages (and what didn’t). I have no idea where the meat for the supermarket sausages came from, what they ate, what was sprayed on what they ate, what else they ingested, whether they were stressed. No idea.

So while I can’t point to a report that would show the Meringo snags put more goodness in my kids’ bodies during that meal than the supermarket snags, I’d bet London to a brick they did.

And just look at the ingredients. The only additives to Hughen’s sausages is food. No salt. No binders. Yep, I feel pretty confident making this claim.

4. The market connects people to each other and builds community

Supermarkets rely on the anonymity of the food they sell. Their marketing convinces you that you’re far too busy to worry about things like where your food comes from and how it got to their shelves. Oh, but you can trust them to provide your family with the best… and cheap.  No need to ask how it can be so cheap. No no! Just trust them to look after your interests. But what has been sacrificed to achieve that price? There’s no way to know.

When you shop at a genuine farmers market, you’re buying your food from the person that grew it, harvested it, made it. Want to know something about these sausages? Ask Hughen! But be prepared for an extended answer… he’s very proud of what he does and rightly so.

There can be no greater trust placed in a person than eating the food they created. You are connected to that farmer when you eat. If that farmer lives in your community, then that connection builds goodwill and trust. You start to feel part of their success. You develop a sense of local pride, a consciousness of place, an awareness of local culture. This is what builds community.

Supermarket sausages connect you to precisely nothing.

5. The market keeps money local

Meringo Creek Farm to Plate is locally owned and — along with some off-farm income — supports a family. Hughen uses a local abattoir to slaughter his animals and a local butcher to make his sausages (with additional ingredients prepared from local produce). He transports everything himself.

The supermarket is also a local employer, so the supermarket sausages are supporting local employment. But they are also supporting a bunch of non-local businesses futher down the supply chain.

sausages-iga-weight

Overall, a greater proportion of the $7.00 I spent on local sausages went to local people than the $8.11 I spent on the supermarket sausages.

That $7.00 also contributes to local rates, farm inputs bought from other local businesses, repairs and maintenance using local contractors, perhaps music lessons for the kids in the family, or membership to local sporting clubs… if you have kids, it only takes a second to run through a long list of where your money goes just for their activities.

But for me, the most important thing to consider is the implications for the land. Meringo Creek Farm to Plate practises stewardship of the land on which they farm. The welfare of the land and his animals is Hughen’s first imperative. That $7.00 goes towards sustainable, regenerative farming with the added bonus of being in my neighbourhood. Not one cent of the supermarket sausages will have any positive impact on land in our region.

Which sausage?

My bias is clear. I believe the Meringo sausages are better in every way, but if you don’t agree, then perhaps ask yourself this question:

Is the extra $0.20/sausage worth the better taste, the reduced need for storage and transport, the better nutrition and the contribution it makes to the community and the local economy?

Or this one:

Is the extra $0.20/sausage an investment in healthier people, healthier soils and animals, effectively offsetting hidden costs, making it a cheaper sausage in the long run?

Tell me what you think in the comments below.

3 Replies to “The price of food — Part III: Sausages”

  1. Penny Cook says:

    Sensational piece of food comparison Kate. I think it’s a no-brainer and your investigation backs me up with its detail and logic. Thank you!

  2. Keitth Dance says:

    No doubt that Hughen’s ‘ bangers are better than IGA’s though Southlands butchery does a pretty good job as well and uses locally killed and grown animals.
    Problem you have the markets supply only a spit in the ocean of the communities food requirement even a small local community like Moruya. Therefore it will always be a select market that will only supply a fraction on the communities food supply. You are in the game to supply those that can afford to purchase fresh/quality food grown locally (though that can be challenged) therefore the price argument is not the issue. It is not the issue you need to concern yourselves with rather maintaining quality and building a larger and constant supply.

    1. sageproj says:

      Hi Keith.

      We don’t pretend a farmers market is the only solution to getting more local food on local plates, but a farmers market is more than just a place to buy food. It is also a place to learn about food and understand the implications of price vs value. I also buy the Southlands snags (and love them) and other cuts when I need them because I know John sources his beef from the local abattoir (and pastured chicken from Wandandian). But while the market supplies only a small fraction now, this is just the beginning. Part of our effort to rebuild the local food system is to help people understand the issues. We are doing that by raising the issue of price vs value. When more people understand, demand will continue to grow, as will supply. We don’t mind where that supply connects with the demand, as long as it’s locally.

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