The large supermarkets in the UK certainly dominate the market in more ways than one these days. Some blame the death of the great British high street on the rise of the supermarkets and from personal experience we agree this to be true. Small towns who once had busy high streets filled with shoppers buying their fruit and veg are now littered with empty shops or have charity shops popping up all over town.
As shoppers we can be lazy choosing to buy all our goods under one roof, while supermarkets undercut the prices of our high street shops so much that it simply put these stores out of business. Now the farmer is being squeezed by the supermarkets to sell their produce at very low rates bringing the farmers to their knees in some cases.
Many farmers are uniting in order to bring pressure on the big supermarkets with the view that united we stand divided we fall scenario. What can farmers do to get the best prices for their produce and avoid the squeeze big supermarkets place upon them? Let’s take a look at some solutions.
Many farmers are selling their produce at farmers markets up and down the country as another means of making money to keep their ailing farms going. We feel that we should all try to support our local farmers and go along just to see what is on offer. We visited a selection of farmers markets and many are now thriving due to local support. It’s a great way to get to know the locals too as many of these markets have supporting coffee outlets where customers can have a coffee and chat when they have bought their goods.
So what’s so great about a farmers market we hear you ask? Well, the produce is really fresh with some veggies only picked that morning. How much fresher can it get? Much of the produce sold at farmers markets tends to be organic which is our preferred choice, although not all is organic.
Then there is the personal touch with farmers engaging in conversation willing to answer any questions you may have about the produce, how it was grown and what can we expect at the next market. Conversing with the farmer means you are receiving expert knowledge and advice straight from the horses mouth as it were. Ask a supermarket assistant where the veg is from or what it has been treated with and they wont have a clue!
Buying locally of course helps the local economy as well as the environment as much of supermarket produce is imported food stuffs that can have travelled thousands of miles before landing on our shelves. The biggest surprise of all when buying from the farmers market is that item for item many of their fruits and vegs are cheaper than in the supermarket! Astonished? We were!
So, what about the supermarket produce? We found that fruit and veg in the supermarket is not as fresh as in the farmers market plus some of the supermarket produce is treated in order to look shinier or have a better look. As much of the supermarket produce is imported it loses some of its nutritional goodness in transit too.
Organic produce sold in supermarkets is very expensive, certainly much more expensive than in the farmers market. On the plus side it is convenient to shop in the supermarket with everything being under one roof and you can’t buy all your groceries at the farmers markets but for specific produce such as fruit and veg the farmers market for us cannot be beaten.
Supermarkets Have Farmers Over a Barrel
Farmers have little control over how much they will get for their produce when it comes to supplying big supermarkets. With supermarkets offering substantial discounts on selected fruit or veg items we wonder who covers the cost of these discounts.
Some farmers make little or no profit from their sales but with high street shops closing who else are they to sell to? In some cases even the packaging costs are swallowed by the farmer who can’t even choose who packages the food either.
Other problems like late payment to the farmers for their goods also affect the farmers livelyhoods. Dairy farmers have seen the lions share of the profits from the sale of milk go to the supermarkets with many going out of business as a result. Supermarkets are making vast profits by paying low prices to farmers while increasing theirs.
Many farmers are tied to contracts that state no agreed prices. The supermarkets seem to be able to do what they want such is their power. Farmers dare not complain for fear of punishment from the supermarkets resulting in them losing contracts and going out of business altogether. Supermarkets control the food chain to such an extent that they can set the price they pay to farmers even if it is at a loss to the farmer. Farmers seem to have nowhere to turn.
Supermarket price wars continue with the latest milk price reduction (March 2014) producing fear among farmers that they will once again end up making no money from their produce.
What Can Consumers Do to Help?
The only thing consumers can do to help is to vote with their feet and try to buy more locally although this isn’t always easy for customers with local shop prices being higher than the big four. Take a look at your local farmers market, there are bargains to be had and at least you will be helping the local farm in the process. Maybe a letter to your local MP could help?
Customers have to consider, do they want the best produce that is fresh and organic, while being priced reasonably or do they opt for convenience, by way of shopping in the supermarket where produce may be cheaper but is it better?
We have already established that some farmers markets sell fruit and veg that can compete price wise with the supermarkets and some sell is even cheaper! The battle between the farmers and the big supermarkets is far from over, while we hope in the meantime that farmers will get a better deal and not go out of business.