Family owned vegetable store calls for big supermarkets to cap prices of fresh produce

Small-scale grocers are calling for an immediate cap on fresh fruit and vegetable prices in supermarkets as the cost continues to soar.

Monique Lunn runs a fresh produce store at her family’s mushroom farm in Ballarat, Victoria, and said they were running at a loss to ensure people were not priced out of feeding their families healthy food.

“[Supply] is really tough, but I’m lucky and I’ll buy local first if I can.

“Unfortunately in Victoria during winter we have to source products from Queensland, which has been hit with floods, because we just don’t have the temperature to produce the volume for our population.”

short-term sacrifice

Ms Lunn said selling on high-demand produce at cost was an ethical short-term measure until the supply caught up with demand.

“But now the lettuce has gone up again so what I found was a lot of my customers have switched to buying cos lettuce.

“Cos lettuce is a slightly cheaper option for people if they’re finding that iceberg is getting too expensive and we sell twin packs of cos lettuce for $4.”

Cos lettuce is currently cheaper than the iceberg variety.(ABC News: Brian Hurst)

Woolworths announced a price freeze on some “essential items” this week, such as pasta, bacon and frozen peas.

Ms Lunn said if supermarkets were not willing to make similar sacrifices on their profit margins for fresh produce, the federal government should intervene, similar to how energy prices were capped this month.

“I think there could be some sort of capping, especially at times like this,” she said.

“At the moment the price of vegetables is well and truly out of reach.”

Two women holding a box of mushrooms at their farmgate
Ballarat Mushroom Farm converted to a fresh produce store when farmers’ markets were banned in Victoria during COVID restrictions.(ABC Rural: Jane McNaughton)

Going organic

Wayne Shields from Peninsula Fresh Organics sells his lettuce privately and through major supermarkets, and has kept prices steady throughout the lettuce shortage.

“We’ve been smashed and it’s good in a way but we’re trying to read the play 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 are getting tired of selling stuff below cost of production.”

A man in a vegetable sorting shed
Farmer Wayne Shields says supermarket shoppers are flocking to organic lettuce as conventional iceberg lettuce prices skyrocket.(Supplied: Natasha Shields)

Over the March quarter this year, Australian Bureau of Statistics data showed a sharp rise in fruit and vegetable prices of 5.8 per cent and a 4.8 per cent increase in meat and seafood prices.

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