The thought of fresh produce gets most of us excited about dinnertime. The thought of trekking out to the nearest farm with our shovels, not so much. It’s far easier to go to the produce section of the local supermarket. Even if this means the fruit and veg isn’t technically ‘farm-fresh’.
With farmers’ markets now popping up in both town and countryside, produce fresh from the farm is much easier to come by.
The question is: where is best to buy our fresh produce? Direct from the farmer, or from the supermarket? Let’s take a look at the issues both face.
The Pressure on Supermarkets
Supermarkets have made for bad headlines in recent years. Delaying payments to suppliers, misreporting taxes, pushing out the little guy. None of it sounds very ethical. So it seems odd to be feeling sorry for the pressures they experience. But like any for-profit business, they need to stay in the black.
Supermarkets face the following challenges to keep supplying us with great value products.
Produce Is an Important Source of Revenue
When was the last time you visited a supermarket and saw the bread aisle first? Or the tinned tomatoes and beans? My guess is never. We’re always faced with the fresh produce first.
This is because fresh produce sold quickly is a good source of profits for a supermarket. They want us to fill up on these items first, before we start thinking we might have too much in our trolley.
Without fresh fruits, vegetables, meats and cheeses, supermarkets would struggle.
The Cost of Produce Lost to Spoilage
The more delicate a product is, the shorter its shelf life and the higher its chance of spoilage. Supermarkets need to factor in this cost and it is reflected in the price to us.
It’s likely that fresh produce has travelled further to a supermarket than to a farm shop. This decreases its shelf life, so the supermarkets are under pressure to sell it quickly.
The Freshness of Produce
Today’s consumers want the freshest produce possible, so locally sourced goods make sense. Supermarkets do source from local farms. But preferred supplier lists mean they’re more likely to buy produce from elsewhere in the country or from abroad.
There’s a seasonality aspect to harvests and not all fresh produce is available locally all the time. Fresh, never-frozen strawberries in December have to come from sunnier climes. This incurs travel costs both in money and environmental terms.
Competition From the Farmers Themselves
It’s in the supermarkets’ best interest to buy local produce at a rate that discourages farmers to sell it directly to us. When a farmer and a produce buyer agree on a price, it relieves competition for the supermarket.
Keeping up With Demand
Supermarkets are designed to offer everything from dairy to doughnuts in one place. Their model is founded on the idea that a customer will come to them for all their food (and household) needs.
If the farmers win and take part of their revenue away, it will result in higher prices for everything else. This will ultimately have a negative effect on us as consumers and our food budgets.
Do Farmers Face the Same Pressures?
Not quite, but it certainly isn’t all plain sailing, or profit.
A farmer that only offers one crop is rare. Customers visiting a farmers’ market are looking for baked goods or crafts or a variety of fruit and veg.
A farmer who only offers one crop is quite literally putting all their goods in one basket. So even if they only grow one crop, they need to be selling a lot more.
Having more to offer means investing more time, money, and farming resources.
Someone needs to staff a farm shop or market stall and has to interact with the customers. This takes time away from other pursuits.
Whether that’s working on the farm or having some leisure time after tending to crops or looking after livestock. Or, it means paying someone else to run things.
There also needs to be a display for the produce being sold. In some instances, this can be the back of a truck or some crates. In competitive market environments, more elaborate ideas are needed to capture the interests and imagination of potential customers.
Double the Businesses!
A farmer running a farm and selling at a farmers’ market is not simply increasing profits by selling produce at the market. That farmer is now effectively running two businesses. This may or may not result in a profit on the farmers’ market sales.
So, Who Does Come out on Top?
Unfortunately, that’s not a simple question. The answer varies based on the challenges of the supermarket and the farmer.
We consumers win in both cases. Fresher produce is available if local farmers choose to sell through farmers’ markets. Generally cheaper produce is available at supermarkets. We get an extra bonus if local farmers have sold directly to our local supermarkets.
Supporting local producers while balancing variety, cost and convenience works out best all round. Take the time to shop at the farmers’ markets in your area. Ask the staff in supermarkets where the produce is sourced and make your preference for locally sourced goods known.
You’ll reap the rewards with great tasting, seasonal produce. Plus you’ll enable local farmers to continue to support their families. Win-win!