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farmers

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.