Tag: supermarket

Nectarine Thief Ordered To Pay $1.25 In Reparation

Eyeing The Fruit Stand John George Brown 1831-1913

Eyeing The Fruit Stand
John George Brown

Now I have heard it all.  To save me repeating myself, readers should start by checking out this link on the NZ Herald website before reading on.    Go on, do it now!

Done? Good!

Here we have a scallywag who thinks it is ok to wander into a New Plymouth supermarket and start eating the food on display, which happens to have been nectarines, on the basis that he had no money to pay for them.  The court case was heard in Kaitaia and  defence counsel claimed that her client had been living on the streets of Gisborne.

The first thing that comes to mind is that its a long way between New Plymouth, Kaitaia and Gisborne.  Several hundred kilometres in fact. And to cover this distance one needs money…. But we don’t have the money to pay for a nectarine?  The second thought is – do our courts really have nothing better to do than prosecute a young layabout who helped himself to one piece of fruit?  Court costs, judge’s salary, defence counsel’s  fees, the mind boggles.  The third tought  – there is a whole social argument hidden here in the trenches.  We are mammals which need to eat when we are hungry and drink when we are thirsty, otherwise we die.  Yet our societal structure has evolved to the extent that we actually need this artificial invention called money that drives the concept called trade in order to provide sustenance for ourselves.  Have we gone too far? And lastly – back to the commercial reality we are a part of, like it or not – what does the produce industry have to do to get consumers, including judges, to understand the true value of fruit?  $1.25 in reparation is quite ridiculous from that perspective.  All it will do is drive the message home that fruit is of very little value and its ok to help yourself.  I wonder what the sentence would have been  if Master Casford had opened a can of Coke instead?

The Nonsense Continues

I had the weekend edition of the NZ Herald sitting around on the dining room table all weekend, pondering whether I should add my 5 pence worth to the article entitled Fruit, vege bargains at supermarket in theweekend edition. Then I sat down to watch the 6 o’clock news tonight.  First up –the milk price again. The Minister of Agriculture, David Carter,  now suggests that a Parliamentary Select Committee should investigate milk prices.  The CEO of the Consumers Institute made ridiculous comments on camera about a “secret manual” she alleged Fonterra uses to set milk prices and a TV One reporter found that supermarkets sell 2 litres of milk for $3.60 compared to $5.20 at a dairy and $5.60 at a service station. Doh.  Oh really?  Ah, there is a story that has gone off the rails.  That does not fit the intended direction –because we all know its supermarkets which engage in price gauging right?  Carter, luckily for him, was interviewed on Q & A this morning, rather than in the evening.  His “I never buy my milk at the supermarket and I would encourage consumers to shop around” wisdom therefore went unchallenged.  Let’s get some of the facts straight.  Supermarkets are in the volume business which works really well for them with processed food; milk for example.  Milk will always be cheaper in a supermarket  than in a dairy or service station, so please stop wasting time during the news bulletin and instead report the real issues we want to hear about.  When have you last seen a super market chain advertising  milk or bread at special prices or even as a loss leader?  The answer is “you have not” as it simply does not happen. The same goes for eggs by the way. They could, but they typically do not!  Accusing supermarkets on price gauging on those products is therefore an exercise akinto shooting oneself into one’s foot!  Back to the Herald’s fruit & veg story.  At a time of extreme shortages, you can rely on supermarkets to exert pressure to keep the prices down. Not because they want to be good citizens but out of self interest.  They have worked out a few years back that consumers have a pain threshold. When cauliflower prices go beyond $3.99 per head retail, consumers pull the hand break.  Tomatoes at $20 is pipe dream territory of unheard proportions.  Food & Grocery Council CEO Katherine Rich also has a thing or three to learn about the fresh produce value chain, judging by her comments in the NZ Herald story.  Of course, the produce will be fresher at a farmers market – if it has been locally grown and is being sold by the grower himself.  And of course, supermarkets are subject to greater controls and attempt to offer produce of greater uniformity.  And where do we think the produce supermarkets does not buy disappears to, hm? Whilst it is great that we as a society are focusing back on the basics, i.e., the quality and availability of our food and its price, there is a lot of nonsense being talked out there and the sooner that changes the better.


I was in Europe in the last week of May to attend the Spring Meeting of the International Federation for Produce Standards Board being held in Rotterdam.  While there, I was able to enjoy a very well organized and fascinating industry tour arranged by IFPS member association Frug I Com, which took in a range of fresh produce sites that included glasshouse, packing and retail operations.

As always, I had my “what’s happening in the nearest supermarket fresh produce department” eye open, and this is what I saw:

This is a wall of panklaar – and a very large and well stocked wall it was.  For non-Dutch speakers, panklaar literally means “ready for the pan” or “immediately useable”.  Basically, it was a dizzying array of prepared fresh produce in various combinations and permutations for the householder to take home and cook with no fuss, no mess and no phone call to mother for instructions required.  Flatmate heaven!  How long before the Europeans have this available via vending machine at the railway station?

And look at what can be done with potatoes:

Anybody could cook well balanced, varied, fresh, nutritious, 5+aDay meals at home with this sort of prepacked produce available at the local supermarket – no excuses.

Thing is, I don’t see this in New Zealand supermarkets.  And I have spent quite some time since taking these photos wondering why I don’t see it.

Is our fresh produce industry not capable of producing this type of pre-prepared, value added packaged product?  We have some very innovative people in our industry, so surely the answer is no.

Is there not the demand for it?  Well, there are some “soup mix” prepacks of prepared and chopped vegetables in NZ supermarkets, so that’s a start.  And with all these chef-led supermarket adverts on the TV these days, how hard would it be to create a market?  Remember Alison Gofton’s Food in a Minute series causing a run on Watties’ frozen pompom potatoes?

Is there not the scale of market to make this possible?  How much does Europe’s much bigger population base make this type of prepack operation feasible, sustainable and worth investing the capital, versus doing it here for only 4 million people?  Would we be only talking about the one or so million urban dwellers here in Auckland?

Questions, questions, questions.

And here’s another one for you thinking fresh produce people out there:

Just exactly when is the NZ fresh produce industry going to be taking up this type of product development?

Railway Waggons, TV Shows & Produce

A couple of news items on National Radio caught my attention this morning.  The first one related to Kiwi Rail’s intention to buy more rolling stock from China instead of having the waggons built from scratch in its own workshops in Lower Hutt and Dunedin .  The second item concerned the intended sale of TVNZ’s Avalon Studios.  They also are in Lower Hutt.  Predictably, the supporters of those facilities are getting ready to head for the barricades, suggesting not building one’s own railway waggons or not producing one’s own TV shows makes no economic sense whatsoever, given that a) the competence exists and b) the economic necessity to preserve as many jobs as possible should be obvious to even the most dimwitted inexperienced politician. The counter argument suggests that it makes perfect economic sense to buy goods and services offshore if one’s own capacity is insufficient or if one’s own cost of production cannot match cheaper labour sources offshore.  Chuck a couple of accusations related to xenophobia into the mix, interview a minister or two and the debate takes on a life of its own.

As I was pondering what I was hearing, I could not help but think that there is a connection with the produce industry.   The old colloquial term of market gardener, for example, implies something doesn’t it?  It implies that the individuals concerned produces his or her produce for a market.  Where could one traditionally find market gardeners?  Around the towns.  Where were the markets located? Inside the towns!  Being a market gardener therefore suggests a degree of proximity to the locality where the produce meets the consumer.

Is This Really The Solution?

At the beginning of the 20th century Auckland’s market gardens used to be where the Ellerslie racecourse is today.  As the city grew the gardens shifted to Mangere.  Evidence of that can still be seen between the airport and the Manukau motorway. After the second World War, Pukekohe increasingly gained in importance as Auckland’s fruit and vegie bowl.   These developments played out all across the country to a greater or lesser degree.  A lot of Wellington’s vegetables used to come from Otaki initially.

The produce supply scene is changing on two planes.  Firstly, the corporate supply chains at wholesaler or retailer level distribute parcels of produce around the country based on what is the most efficient source on the day.  Gisborne lettuce can be found all over the country as can South Auckland tomatoes. Growing produce locally is therefore no longer a necessity. Secondly, the volume of imported produce, particularly imported vegetables destined for the process industry, is rising drastically.  On the other hand I saw a Turners & Growers press release recently which announced the company is now the largest exporter of Peruvian asparagus into Japan.

What does this mean?  Ask an economist and he will suggest that the sensible way of going about business is to produce goods and services in the most cost effective way.  And if that is China, so be it.  Sociologists will argue that basic functions like food production need to conducted within spittting distance of the people the food is intended for.  Governments are beginning to to grapple with the concept of Food Security.  History tells us that as societies progress, its members no longer want to perform the more basic job function but are looking for more complex tasks to take on.  Germany invented the term Gastarbeiter in the sixties, guest workers, for the mainly Southern European unskilled labour force which was imported to do the jobs Germans no longer wanted to do.  The Communist regime suffered from the same malaise.  East Germany brought in thousands of North Vietnamese workers for exactly the same reasons.  New Zealand did the same with Pacific Islander in the seventies – and today our industry has the RSE scheme for very similar reasons.

Helen Clark called agriculture and horticulture sunset industries ten years ago and substantially reduced government investment into our industries, wishing us to concentrate on developing high tech export solutions instead.  And yet – horticulture and agriculture are part of the very fabric of our society.  We need to eat to survive.  We need food. How much responsibility do we need to take for this individually apart from doing our hunting & gathering in the local supermarkets? 

The answer, I suggest, lies somewhere in between. As a country we cannot afford to be too reliant on commodity exports.  Yes, prices might be good for a few consecutive weeks, months or even years – but low entry barriers, over- supply and changes to demand will always create a  roller coaster effect .  It is just a question of “when.”  Conversely we cannot afford to go exclusively high tech altogether and import all our food. We can afford this neither financially nor as a society.

What we need then is a mix of sensible commodity production, value adding processing industries and mechanisms which allow us to generate, harvest and market intellectual property along our entire value chain.

Who Gets To Drive The Produce Bus?

What comes to your mind when you see a vehicle like this?  Brightly coloured, two front bits and no rear end, a re-engineered middle and a ruddy great banana on the top of the roof?

I don’t know about you, but what comes to my mind is that this very cleverly put together promotional vehicle reflects the state of our produce retail  industry.

The two front bits represent respectively the supermarkets – Foodstuffs (New World, Pak N’ Save) at one end and Progressive (Countdown/Wooolworths/Foodtown)  at the other.  The ‘bit in the middle’ is the rest of the retail industry – the urban green grocers, the fruit shops at the edge of town, the gate sellers, the farmers markets, the opportunitists at the roadside selling produce from their vans, the office fruit bowl stockists and the internet ‘box of stuff’ vendors.

There are several questions that play on my mind in connection with this state of the retail industry:

  • How big are the two front bits, i.e., the supermarket produce share, really?
  • What is a realistic level for the supermarket share of produce sales before it disturbs the industry value chain equilibrium?
  • To what extent is ‘the middle bit’ dependent upon the two ‘engine drivers’ for its well being as opposed to being in control of its own destiny?
  • How will the local New Zealand model be impacted by international trends in the next five years?

Let me start with this observation.

Fruit and vegetable ranges stocked in supermarkets are continuing to reduce, driven by item based shrink and profit consideration at both merchandise and buying office level. Buyers and category managers whose performance is judged by the profitability of narrow product categories are not prepared to gamble by stocking niche products.  Store staff with insufficient training are not best placed to sell non-mainstream produce.  So if I am looking for whitloof, fennel and red currants, I know that I will not find those in the supermarkets.

This thread will be continued over the next few weeks and comments are as always welcome.