Small-scale grocers are calling for an immediate cut in the prices of fresh fruit and vegetables in supermarkets as costs continue to rise.
Most important points:
- Small-scale food distributors say they can absorb increases in fresh produce prices
- Major retailers warn it will be many more weeks before fruit and vegetable prices fall
- Consumers are encouraged to shop locally to save money
Monique Lunn runs a fresh produce store at her family’s mushroom farm in Ballarat, Victoria, and said they run at a loss to make sure people aren’t priced to feed their families wholesome food.
†[Supply] is really hard but i’m lucky and i buy local first if i can.
“Unfortunately in Victoria in the winter we have to source from Queensland, which has been hit by flooding, because we just don’t have the temperature to produce the volume for our population.”
Ms Lunn said selling high-demand products at cost was a short-term ethical measure until supply caught up with demand.
“But now the lettuce has gone up again, so I found that many of my customers have switched to buying romaine lettuce.
“Kossla is a slightly cheaper option for people if they feel the iceberg is getting too expensive and we’re selling double packs of coleslaw for $4.”
Woolworths this week announced a price freeze on some “essential items” such as pasta, bacon and frozen peas.
Ms Lunn said if supermarkets were not willing to make similar sacrifices to their fresh produce profit margins, the federal government would have to step in, similar to how energy prices were capped this month.
“I think there could be some kind of capping, especially in times like this,” she said.
“Right now, the price of vegetables is really out of reach.”
Wayne Shields of Peninsula Fresh Organics sells its lettuce privately and through major supermarkets and has kept prices stable during the lettuce shortage.
“We’re crushed and it’s good in a way, but we’re trying to read the piece and understand the direction the organic industry is going,” he said.
“The conventional side has been hit by floods in Queensland and East Gippsland [and] labor shortages and farmers get tired of selling stuff below the cost of production.”
During the March quarter of this year, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showed a sharp 5.8 percent increase in fruit and vegetable prices and a 4.8 percent increase in meat and seafood prices.
A spokesman for the Ministry of Agriculture said that due to the perishable nature of fruits and vegetables, prices were sensitive to supply-side shocks, such as flooding.
“In normal times, fruit and vegetable prices recover relatively quickly,” said the spokesperson.
“However, there is a range of inflationary pressures in the fruit and vegetable supply chain, including rising fertilizer and fuel costs and persistent labor shortages in a tight labor market.
“ABARES [Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences] predicts that in the period 2022-23, farm prices [the prices that farmers receive] of grains, oilseeds and legumes will increase by about 10 percent, the prices of fruits and vegetables by 5 percent.”
The department did not answer questions from the ABC about possible price caps for supermarket profits on fresh produce, and a Woolworths spokesperson said there were no plans to include fresh produce in the company’s price freeze.
Posted † updated
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