The Cost of Convenience

Last week I sent out a tweet about the mark up that some healthy foods receive. I finished one of my typical lunchtime swim sessions at the Lifetime Fitness pool and needed to grab a quick snack. My next meeting started in 30 minutes and I didn’t have time to go back to the office to eat lunch before the meeting. So, I planned to grab a little something to hold me over.

I swung by the cafe in Lifetime before leaving, scanned the offerings, and decided a banana was my best option. Shouldn’t be too expensive either…or so I thought.

The basket on the counter holding the bananas didn’t indicate the price of hand fruit, but I figured it couldn’t be too much. A banana at Starbucks is around 90 cents, still a considerable mark up from what you pay in the grocery store, but I figured I’d give it a go anyway.

Then my jaw almost dropped. The cafe employee rang up my banana and the price that came up on the register? $1.50! Yes, I’m not joking. $1.50 for a banana. The same banana you can buy at Trader Joe’s for about 20 cents.

So, like any well-intentioned millennial, I did what was only natural. I took to Twitter to voice the irony of the fruit’s pricing by a company that prides itself on health.

Here’s what I said:

And then the unthinkable happened. Lifetime responded via Twitter. And what was their response for the outrageous markup?

Yes, first, they apologized! Which I suppose begs the question: doesn’t apologizing assume responsibility for doing something wrong? And then they go on to say the real reason for the markup…convenience?  It’s a confusing argument, especially since I could probably walk to a convenience store down the road and buy a banana for half the price of what they’re selling it for. But either way, I wasn’t going to create a fight.  So what did I do?

I accepted their apology and kindly asked them the review their pricing. And to top it all off, Lifetime then goes on to “favorite” my tweet, I guess suggesting they agree with it or support it. So, who knows, maybe the next time I go to grab a banana at Lifetime the price might be different.

I didn’t write this post to call out Lifetime, though. Heck, I am a member and have found their facilities the most comprehensive for the price-point where I live.

But this does bring up the larger issue of healthy food access. The healthy alternative is sometimes the cheaper option (if you look at the complete nutrition profile and not necessarily cost per calorie), but our current food system is built on artificially inflated or deflated costs of certain commodities, which ultimately drives the availability of certain kinds of foods/food products. And from a public policy perspective, the financial incentives have to balance both farmer interests and public health. This is really hard to do, especially in trying to promote greater availability of produce.

So if the current food system makes it challenging for some people to afford healthy, whole food, like fruits and vegetables, should businesses then create additional barriers to access, especially for those who are at higher risk of diet-related health issues (i.e. lower income)? Or does this just further the growing gap in health status and outcomes between those who can afford the environmental conditions that keep people healthy versus those who can’t?

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