As a homemaker, a mother, and now a grandmother, I have for many years loved puttering around in the kitchen, trying new recipes, and seeing just what homemade foods and treats I could make for my family. It was not until I retired and started my own cottage industry jelly business that I really concerned myself about the economics of homemade, made from scratch foods. It was always about preparing the best quality foods possible for my family.
It is more cost-effective to make your own quality jam or jelly. Most store-bought brands cost between $3 and $4 a jar. On average, it costs about $1.75 to make a jar of jam or jelly at home. However, if you use fruit or berries from your yard the price is reduced to $1.35 per jar on average.
There is quite a bit more to fully answer the “cost-effectiveness” question. Read on and I will give you all the details including:
- What is the cost of buying jam/jelly?
- What is the cost of homemade jam/jelly?
- How does the quality of homemade jam or jelly compare with those products that I can buy?
Keep in mind when reading the following information that the estimated price for homemade jelly and jam is figured for an 8-oz. size jar. Most of the commercial brand comparisons are 12 to 18 oz. sizes.
What Is the Cost of Buying Jelly?
Here are some examples of the prices for top name brands of jam, jelly, and preserves from a grocery store:
- Smucker’s Natural Jam at $3.99 for 27.25 oz.
- Bonne Maman Preserves at $4.89 for 13 oz.
- Smucker’s Jam at $4.39 for 18 oz.
- Polaner All Fruit Spreadable Fruit at $3.79 for 15.25 oz., and
- GreenWise Organic Preserves at $2.99 for 12 oz.
How Much Does Homemade Jelly Cost?
The price of someone else’s homemade version ranges from about $5.00 for an 8-oz jar of Mayhaw jelly from a farmer’s market to $11.50 for a 12-oz jar from a specialty online store, and that is before they add shipping charges.
What About Budget Jelly or Jam?
The cheapest jelly we can buy would be a small jar from a dollar store for as low as $1.00. On a recent trip to a Publix supermarket, I discovered that their absolute cheapest is a Publix brand of Strawberry Jam at $2.00 for an 18 oz. jar, and Apple Jelly at $1.89 for 18 oz.
Just keep in mind that while you can go to a discount store and buy a cheap jar of preserves, even paying as low as one dollar, the quality will in no way comparable to homemade jam or jelly.
What Is the Cost of Making Homemade Jam or Jelly?
Most of your costs are obvious such as the cost of fruit, sugar, pectin, lemon juice, and any other ingredients you put in your jelly, along with jars, lids, and rings. But, there are also some one-time costs and some “unseen” costs that should be considered.
Let’s talk about some of those costs. For this example, we will use the standard Mayhaw Jelly recipe of 5 cups of fruit juice, 7 cups of sugar, and one package of pectin.
The Cost of Ingredients
The cost for the fruit you use is all over the spectrum. If you or someone you know grows fruit, then there will be no cost.
Most of the fruit I buy is somewhere between $5 and $10 per gallon, and I’ve paid as much as $30 a bushel for peaches. Most of my jelly, however, is made from Mayhaws, a berry that looks like a small apple and is native to the deep South. I buy Mayhaws from my sister for $10 per gallon, so we’ll use that for our example.
From a gallon of Mayhaws or any type of fruit, you can expect to extract enough juice to make 3 batches of jelly or approximately 15 cups. Each batch will produce 8 or 9, 8-oz jars of jelly, so you can expect to have at least 25 jars from the gallon of fruit. So, $10 divided by 25 means that the cost of the fruit for those three batches of jelly is 40 cents per jar.
- Average Fruit Cost= .40/Jar
The best price for sugar in my area is $4.99 for a 10-pound bag, and there are approximately 18 cups in a 10-pound bag or .28 per cup. Since there are 7 cups of sugar in a batch of Mayhaw jelly at .28 per cup, the cost of sugar for one batch is $1.96.
Since we are using a gallon of Mayhaws in our example, or 3 batches of jelly, the cost is $1.96 x 3 = $5.88. Then divide the number of jars we expect to get from the 3 batches, or 25, into $5.88, and we find we are paying 24 cents for the sugar in one jar of Mayhaw jelly.
- Average Sugar Cost= .25/Jar
You can make the same cost analysis with a sugar substitute, feel free to adjust this cost accordingly.
Sure-Gel and Ball Fruit Pectin are two popular brands of commercial pectin, each box of which sells for approximately $2.25. Since it takes one box of pectin per batch, divide the cost of the box by the number of jars of jelly you get from the batch. Using our Mayhaw jelly as an example, since you can get about 8 jars of jelly from each batch, 2.25 (pectin) divided by 8 (jars) results in a cost for pectin of 28 cents per jar.
- Average Pectin Cost= .28/Jar
You can save some of this cost by investing in bulk commercial pectin.
Since jam and jelly only require a couple of tablespoons of lemon juice per batch, that cost is negligible and we will just ignore it for this comparison.
The Cost of Supplies
With the exception of fruit, jars are usually the largest expense when making jam or jelly.
Unless you already have a lot of good canning jars or are able to find a good supply from yard sales, we will assume for these purposes that you buy your jars at a large retail chain for approximately $10.00 per dozen. This means your cost per jar is about 83 cents.
Average Jar Cost= .83/Jar
Lids and Rings
When you buy jars at retail, the lids and rings will be included in the price of the jars. If you are recycling jars, lids and rings can be purchased for approximately $4.00 per dozen, or about 34 cents each. But for this comparison, we will assume you are buying new jars with lids & rings included and will not add extra for them.
- Lids and Rings Cost= Included in jar cost
Additional Costs Involved in Making Homemade Jam and Jelly
Most of you who have been “keeping house” for a while now will have everything you need to make jam and jelly. The list of necessary items includes:
- A heavy pot or Dutch oven made of stainless steel, copper, coated cast iron, or coated aluminum to cook the jam or jelly in,
- Some large mixing bowls or dishpans to wash fruit and strain juice into,
- A casserole pan large enough to boil 8 or 9 jelly jars in to sterilize,
- A pot to boil water for the lids,
- A large stockpot to cook fruit in to extract the juice and to use for a boiling water bath,
- A canning rack to put in the stockpot to hold the jars during the boiling water bath,
- A colander to strain the juice through,
- A large stainless steel spoon for stirring the jam, jelly, and fruit while cooking,
- A funnel,
- A lid lifter to lift lids out of boiling water or a fork can be used as a substitute, and
- A timer.
I have always used my regular kitchen stuff and only a few years back got large mouth funnels and a kit that contained canning tongs, lid lifter, and a measurer. So chances are good that there are very few items you would have to buy to get started.
At such time as you discover you are an avid canner and will be making jam and jelly a lot, that will be the time to start adding to your collection of designated canning equipment. Even so, these would be one-time expenses and should not be included in the cost of your jelly.
Before going out and spending a lot of money on canning equipment, check to see if a family member has something they are no longer using and see what you can find at local yard sales and thrift stores.
I have often been told that I should be including the cost of the electricity being used in making jelly or jam, but I’m always cooking anyway so I’ve never felt the need to see just how much extra electricity the jelly-making process uses.
I probably should be checking this out because I make so much jam and jelly for my jelly business. But, if you wanted to find out, there is a very good energy use calculator at http://energyusecalculator.com/electricity_stovetop.htm.
For this example, I have not included any electric cost for making this jelly.
What Is the Total Cost of a Jar of Mayhaw Jelly?
Let’s add it up and see what we get:
|Jars, Lids, and Rings||.83|
If you stop to consider that if you had fruit trees in your yard or managed to get free fruit from any source, your total per jar would only be $1.35, which is darn cheap for a fresh fruit product that is made just the way your family likes it!
The Impact of Bulk Ingredients
The cost of canning is significantly reduced if you buy many of your ingredients in bulk. For example, the most cost-effective way to buy pectin is in bulk from one of the online companies such as Amazon.com.
Their price, the last time I checked, is $3.99 per pound plus 5.99 for shipping for a total of 9.98 per pound which makes approximately 8 batches by using 4 tablespoons per batch (my recommendation). That means you are paying $1.25 per batch (9.98 divided by 8 = 1.25), or 15 cents per jar ($1.25 x 3 batches = $3.75 divided by 25 jars = 15 cents).
- That’s .15/Jar when you buy pectin bulk versus .28 per jar if you don’t.
Quick note: You might be thinking that I cannot multiply because 3 x 8 = 24, not 25. But, when making jelly with this recipe, sometimes you get 8 jars and sometimes 9, with an average of 8.5. So, when I make 3 batches on the same day, I normally get 25 8-ounce jars of jelly, and sometimes 3 or 4 extra ounces which I pour into a recycled baby food or pimento jar which, incidentally, reseal very nicely.
Quality Comparison of Homemade Jelly Versus Store Bought
As we mentioned above, there are basically three different sources for jelly that we should compare to our homemade version:
- The cheapest jelly we can buy
- An expensive top name brand of jelly
- Someone else’s homemade version.
- The cheapest jam we can buy would be tolerable if that was what our budget demanded that we buy, but the quality of the cheap jam would in no way compare to homemade jam made from fresh, ripe, and juicy fruit that we just picked from our trees.
- An expensive top name brand jam would compare favorably with our homemade jam and would be very good if the consumer did not have access to good homemade jam.
- If we were to buy someone else’s homemade version from a farmer’s market or a specialty store that sells homemade canned foods, we would more than likely find the taste and quality to be very similar to our homemade jelly, without the secure knowledge of the quality of the ingredients used in its making.
The fruit I pick from my yard or the blackberries I get from a field just down the street is fresh, ripe, and more flavorful than the fruit in the supermarket.
For taste and quality, there is simply no comparison – home-made is much better, in spite of the fact that making a batch of jelly from start to finish takes quite a bit of work.
Where Should I Get the Ingredients?
If you find you are hooked on making jam and jelly and plan to do a lot of it, that would be the time to start keeping an eye out for deals on the ingredients you need and start buying them on sale.
Here are 10 tips on where to get fruit:
- Naturally, you will start with fruit that you grow in your yard or on your property.
- If you know where there is fruit in a wooded area, check with the owners to see if you can harvest it.
- If your neighbor or friends also grow fruit, see if you can buy some when it is in season or see if you can trade for something that you grow or offer to give them part of the jam/jelly that you make.
- Check your local shopper to see if there is a you-pick farm in your area where you can go and pick your own fruit. Here is a website that has been particularly useful for me http://www.pickyourown.org/.
- Visit farmer’s markets in your area.
- Check out roadside produce stands.
- Ask your County Agent for suggestions on finding local fruit.
- Check out people who sell produce from the back of their truck during the spring and summer when fruits are in season.
- Consider using frozen fruits and juices.
- Visit festivals in your area like strawberry festivals in Louisiana and Florida and peach festivals in Georgia.
The important thing for fruit is to get it while it is in season. If you cannot can it right away when you buy it, you can always freeze it for use at a later time. If frozen properly, you will still get that fresh-fruit taste for your jam and jelly.
Anytime you can buy sugar for 50 cents per pound would be a good time to pick up extra bags for your canning.
Many grocery and dollar stores run a buy one get one free promotion from time to time.
Buying in bulk from a wholesale business or a store like Sam’s Club is also a great idea.
Your best chance of saving money on fruit pectin is to buy in bulk online from a company like Amazon.com which has an excellent selection of products. Just keep in mind that you have to pay shipping charges and that adds to the cost of your finished product.
Commercial fruit pectin in single packs rarely go on sale, and you have to be careful because it does have a shelf life.
Something else to consider is making your own fruit pectin if you have a large supply of tart green apples or consider making your jam with a pectin substitute.
Tip: Sometimes gelatin or jello can be used as a thickener instead of pectin.
If you have access to free or at least inexpensive fruit, but it is fruit that is fresh and flavorful, there is no doubt that you can make homemade jelly for only a few cents more than the cheap stuff. Plus, you will have the pleasure of knowing that you have created a healthy and delicious jam or jelly that your family is going to love!
Additional Ways That Making Homemade Jam and Jelly Can Save You Money
Gifting your homemade jam and jelly will save your family the cost of going out and buying gifts.
For the $1.75 per jar jelly that you can make using the example above, you would have a gift that others would pay much more for. For example, a 10-oz jar of Mayhaw jelly from one website costs $6.99 plus shipping charges or a 16-oz jar sells for $9.99 plus shipping.
Besides, most people are very appreciative of a homemade gift that shows they are special to you, and you would not be able to go out and buy a gift for $1.75 that would be as well-received as your homemade jam and jelly!