Green, Lifestyle

Cheap Vegetables. Should we do something about it?

December 23, 2013

Cheap vegetables – at what cost?

I gasped when I walked into Aldi last week and saw the discounted vegetables for sale at just 8 cent. Dumbstruck was an understatement. As a vegetable grower questions flew around my head. If retailers can sell a bag of Brussels sprouts or carrots so cheaply, what percentage of that would the farmers who produce the vegetables be getting?

Since that morning, prices have dropped even more to just 5 cent and a spokesman for Lidl was quick to phone the Joe Duffy show and tell listeners that Lidl would be taking the hit, that farmers wouldn’t suffer as a result of the undercutting price war.

Supermarket VegetablesPhew, we can all take a big sigh of relief and fill our trolleys with fruit and vegetables, happy in the knowledge that we aren’t putting farmers or their employees out of business….. or can we?

I’m glad the farmers protested over the weekend. Their actions made me wonder why they were bothering if they weren’t loosing out as we were being told?

The reasons behind their demonstrations were explained in the Irish Times on Friday when a potato grower stated that he had received €299 for a tonne of spuds but just four weeks later that net price had dropped to €100.

The newspaper quoted the farmer as saying “Retailers always say they are footing the bill. When they do a promotion for the first week they don’t drop the price for the farmer but the week after they say ‘This is now the market price.’ ”

It appears that until Minister Simon Coveney carries out his recent promise and does something concrete to support farmers who supply the retail chains, the farmers who signed contracts under the belief that they would be respected are going to suffer the consequences of the price wars.

Carrots in a supermarket

What’s wrong with buying cheap vegetables?

Apart from farmers not being sufficiently paid to grow, care for, harvest, operate machinery, pay employees and distribute the vegetables that take months to develop:

Cheap vegetables degrade the real cost of food. Meat farmers have told us for years that we’re not paying enough. A supermarket chicken should cost us €24 not €4 but so many people are used to buying cheap meat, can you imagine the uproar and hardship if it were changed? There would be riots! Vegetables are sold cheaply enough without devaluing them any lower. As a result of rock bottom prices, shoppers are left with the illusion that vegetables don’t cost much to produce. They do.

Small greengrocer and farmers markets simply cannot compete with supermarket chains selling vegetables so cheaply. They might as well pack up and go home. Their sole living is based on selling nothing but vegetables, unlike supermarkets they have nothing else to sell their customers.

Shoppers are bulk buying. This might work with tins and boxes but not with fresh vegetables. Trolleys are being wheeled around supermarkets stacked with cheap offer veg, more than could possibly be eaten over the festive period. What are the chances of all those bags of sprouts being eaten or blanched and frozen? Quite likely nil, and so the food waste mountain grows higher too.

It’s unsustainable. Commercial farmers will not be able to continue to grow vegetables if they’re not being paid enough for them. They already have to discard veg because they’re not the right size or shape for the supermarkets, loosing potential profits in the process. How much more do farmers have to have to do to satisfy the retailers and ultimately the customers they’re contracted to supply?

Why are retailers selling cheap vegetables?

The reason is solely to entice shoppers inside. Once we’re in their shops we wont just buy the vegetables, we’ll buy the cakes, the chocolates, the gifts and the booze too. We might even switch from our regular supermarket and do all our shopping with these different stores who ‘care about us’ at this expensive time of year.

Well I for one really hope this campaign backfires on retailers. I was charity bag packing in Dunnes Stores at the weekend and it was interesting to hear several shoppers who, like me, say that they will not be buying the cheap veg. They too felt it was a disgrace and would not support it.

Some folk might say, “it’s okay for you, you grow your own and can afford to buy vegetables that aren’t on offer.”

I say, “I would rather go without and shop ethically and responsibly than support such gimmickry and see farmers and their families suffer as a result of price wars that aren’t for our benefit at all.”

I hope you’ll see through the supermarkets sales methods too.


  • Reply Elaine Rogers December 23, 2013 at 2:53 pm

    Myself and my husband have been growing veg and fruit for a number of years – it is not cheap!!! And that’s only the cost – time and loving care, attacks from wildlife etc etc all add up – but it’s so worth it for too many reasons to mention here – but taste, texture, and knowing how my food is grown are right up there – great blogpost Dee

    • Reply greensideupveg December 23, 2013 at 3:10 pm

      Thanks Elaine and yes great points, there are so many reasons to grow our own and the whole supermarket debacle is just another one!

  • Reply –|– December 23, 2013 at 5:48 pm

    I honestly was wondering straight about the first part of the sentence: ” gasped when I walked into Aldi” – when even organic growers shop there, while at the same time expecting people to buy (their) local produce, things can only deteriorate. Everyone with only the slightest conscious awareness should stay clear of Lidl, Aldi and the rest of them

    • Reply greensideupveg December 23, 2013 at 6:50 pm

      That’s all so very well but as a family of five, four of whom are almost eating adult portions, I don’t have the time or quite frankly the budget to shop in small shops as much as I would like to. We do support our small village shop and frequently bought pig feed that was €3 per bag more compared to the town shops – because we wanted to support them. The farmers markets coincide with working hours and/or child activities and our shopping budget, like many other families, can only stretch so far. It’s one of the reasons we grow our own vegetables. I was however, under the illusion that the supermarkets, cheap or otherwise supported Irish farmers and workers. When I shop in them I choose to avoid altogether buying apples flown from Spain or strawberries out of season. I do have a conscience and a choice and it’s one of the reasons I write honestly, to inform others who might not be aware of why buying cheap veg isn’t a good idea and why I don’t pretend that I’m above shopping in supermarkets or discount stores just because people might think more highly of me. Finally, I don’t sell organic vegetables but grow them purely for my family’s consumption if your comment was about me – I teach people how to make choices.

  • Reply Madeline McKeever December 23, 2013 at 11:46 pm

    As long as there are more farmers than there are buyers of produce, the prices will fall as the farmers compete against each other. I don’t see how the smaller shops and growers can continue in this economic climate. The end result will be one or two supermarket chains controlling all the growers, and all the food. The only way around this that I see, is for farmers to give away the food they grow for free, and collect ‘farm assist’. Most of us would be better off, and have a higher quality of life. However we would all have to do it at the same time or it wouldn’t be fair on the growers still trying to make a living from selling food.

    • Reply greensideupveg December 24, 2013 at 11:39 am

      I wish I knew more about the commercial aspects of vegetable farming Madeline as I really don’t know the answer. Surely giving food away for free won’t help either though it would be an excellent demonstration that would surely be picked up by all the major news sources and give the topic front page publicity. It’s a shame there isn’t a regular consumer type tv programme that could help to educate the general public about what’s going on in many areas like this.

      • Reply Madeline McKeever December 24, 2013 at 9:59 pm

        I think the best way is to buy directly from the grower, either at a market or through a box scheme. We give power to the multiples by shopping in them. Things are not necessarily cheaper in them, than sourced directly from farmers, especially if you get together with friends and buy in bulk.

        • Reply greensideupveg December 24, 2013 at 11:02 pm

          You’re right of course. If only there were more of them! It’s one of the reasons I encourage community gardens so that people can go and pick their own. My first Saturday job as a teenager was in a greengrocer shop but there are so few of them now. My mum in law has been telling us that they’re spoilt with farm shops in the UK. But I only know of one farm gate seller here and he’s closed during winter. I wonder how things will turn out.

  • Reply Lorna Sixsmith (@IrishFarmerette) December 24, 2013 at 10:37 am

    It really is mad. It seems they may have listened to our arguments that supermarkets were discounting too many chocolate/fatty foods and should be discounting healthier foods but this is like the world has gone mad. I can remember one satsuma being 5p – one!! and we thought it was good value, I think I was about ten at the time.
    You’re right – it is only going to encourage people to think that the food they are eating should be cheap and cheaper. I dread to think how this has affected the income of vegetable farmers.
    Great post Dee. I was going to write about it when I came home from shopping yest but hadn’t the energy and have another ‘ranty’ post in store so am glad you have written it.
    Hope you and yours have a lovely Xmas

    • Reply greensideupveg December 24, 2013 at 11:44 am

      Thanks Lorna, it’s a topic that as a vegetable grower was bubbling away and just had to be written! Happy Christmas to you all 🙂

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