03 February, 2012

Nigella Versus the Supermarkets

Melbourne Herald Sun, Friday February 3, 2012

Nigella Lawson walks into a quaint old-fashioned greengrocer's and spouts lovingly about the beautiful vegetables and fruits in their handsome cane baskets.

She picks up a pair of eggplants, holds them above her ample bosom and drools about how fresh they are. Meanwhile your wife wonders why you have suddenly developed such an interest in TV cooking shows.

For the most part, though, buying fruit and veg is not such a sensuous experience. We dash into the supermarket, grab a few spuds and greens, and rush off to prepare for tonight's dinner.

Greengroceries are a staple that we cannot live without, and they represent $15 billion of our annual spending. As we know from the posters and ads that follow us from the kinder to the nursing home, we should all eat more fruit and vegetables, they are good for us and necessary for our daily health.

Not that we have been taking much notice. Surveys by researchers Morgans show that in the past eight years our spending on fresh fruit and vegetables has barely changed.

What has changed is where we buy our greens. The supermarkets have put relentless advertising pressure into pulling us into the stores, knowing that once inside we won't buy the potatoes without the meat, gravy and trimmings.

So the category becomes a "lost leader". That's where the supermarket cuts the price of goods to below cost just to drag the customers in. It's the same trick they have been using with milk.

There's a lot of this going on right now, if you leaf through the pages of this newspaper. Coles lost a lot of ground in their produce department under the relentless advertising of "Woolworths the fresh food people". Morgan's found a severe drop of Coles market share against Woolworths, from 2005 to the present day.

This week Coles launched their campaign slashing their green prices by half. What's surprising is that it took them so long to respond to the challenge.

In the fresh foods area, Woolworths sell $8.6 billion as against Coles' $6.3 billion. In greens the proportion is greater - 26 per cent versus 19.6. Coles had to fight back.

Unfortunately this battle between supermarkets makes everyone else become the tortoise in the field when the elephants fight. Already the two giants, Coles and Woolworths, own half of the business, with just one third of the nation's expenditure going to fruit shops and traditional markets.

The vicious price-slashing is easily done by the huge corporations that will just budget the losses as marketing expenses. For the little strip greengrocers it will be further pressure in their decline.

And it's no point in turning for help from governments of either colour. As far as they are concerned, cheaper grocery prices make them look good and as in the past two decades, when questions of unfair competition are raised they will look the other way.

So it comes down to us as consumers to change our buying behaviour. We are more aware of good food than in the past, thanks to shows like MasterChef and My Kitchen Rules, and celebrities like Jamie Oliver and of course Nigella.

We need to use this new enthusiasm to give support and encouragement to the Marios and Kostas and Borises of the shopping strips. They understand their vegies, know them far better than the schoolkid trimming lettuce in the supermarket.

Get talking to them to learn more about a bigger range of greens and exotic dishes. Oh, and keep your eyes open for lovely ladies and lads who take the time and care to smell the fruit.


1 comment:

Greg Perkins said...

Ray. Discovered recently an amazing fruit and veggie shop in Park more run by Vietnamese selling an wonderful selection of quality fruit and veg from all parts of the globe like banana shallots and pieces of sugar cane and green almonds still in their outer shell. Red yellow and black tomatoes matched with a number of passionate and enthusiastic staff. Worth a visit.
Maintain the range. Greg