Small-scale grocers are calling for an immediate cap on fresh fruit and vegetable prices in supermarkets as the cost continues to soar.
- Small-scale food distributors say they are absorbing increases in fresh produce prices
- Major retailers warn it will be many weeks before fruit and vegetable prices lower
- Consumers are being encouraged to shop local to save money
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
A Department of Agriculture spokesperson said due to the perishable nature of fruit and vegetables, prices were sensitive to supply side shocks such as flooding events.
“In normal times fruit and vegetable prices tend to recover relatively quickly,” the spokesperson said.
“However, there are a range of inflationary pressures across the fruit and vegetable supply chain including increasing fertilizer and fuel costs and continued labor shortages in a tight labor market.
“ABARES [Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences] forecasts that over 2022-23, farmgate prices [the prices that farmers receive] of grains, oilseeds and pulses will increase by around 10 per cent, fruit and vegetable prices increase by 5 per cent.”
The department did not answer questions from the ABC about potential price caps on 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