According to many market research studies, the general populous requires the following attributes when out shopping for food, especially fresh fruit and veg; a broad selection all year round and at a price that is deemed value for money (aka cheap). Now, as the world has evolved in our post modernisation era and as we creep into the digital age this “want” has become easier to achieve from a retailers perspective.
Gone are the masses of independent growers with their non-standardised shape, colour and prices replaced instead with a nice safe supply of perfectly formed identical looking cheap products, happy times hey. So how did they manage it….
Economy of scale is one factor, after all one mega grower only has one set of overheads whereas 100 little growers have an equal number of cost burdens. Also let’s not forget that our mega grower has huge negotiating power when fixing prices of overheads with other businesses, the more money you bring to the table the more the other party will concede to get a slice of the action. On the other hand, when taken to an extreme as is the case today it can become awe-inspiring just have a look at the greenhouses of Almeria in Spain where the “greenhouse” is the size of the Isle of Wight and can be seen from space.
Quick global transportation is another, you can get anything to any corner of the world in 24hours or less nowadays. Just browse your local veg section and see the huge diversity of originating countries involved in helping create that awesome display of colour and freshness. So those items grown in Almeria can be on your local supermarket shelves in a matter of hours.
The cost of the produce being the other pillar of support for this global mega-industry has its consequences too. Sticking with our example of Almeria you will find that no longer does the nostalgic memory of our veggies being nurtured by a friendly, wise old man from the soil as the adverts would have you believe. No, it is more cost effective and indeed essential (if you want fresh tomatoes in winter) to do away with the soil part completely, oh and ditch the old man as he is not efficient enough. Now we need miles and miles of identical rows of plants grown from fertiliser bags and drip fed the exact volume of nutrients at the right time to promote growth. Lob in a computerised system to monitor it and an automated picker and you can ditch the staff, more cost savings.
Finally, you are there with a mountain of produce that has cost the absolute minimum to produce and is due in the UK this afternoon, no problem, just need to do one more thing…
Ditch the “ugly” ones, after all no one wants to eat an ugly lettuce, it must look like the ones on TV or in our cook books, perfect, green, round and the correct size. So the ugly ones don’t get to go to the UK, only the beautiful ones. It has been calculated by many sources that around 1/3rd of all fruit and veg grown gets disposed of because it is not deemed beautiful, think on that for a moment.
So there is a lot a play when you go to your local supermarket and browse the fruit and veg section and it is awesome you can have a green salad in the depths of winter… that is until Mother Nature has a strop as she is oft prone to do. Back to Almeria and we are looking at over a billion pounds worth of produce heading to the skip and a void in your local shelf space.
So members of the UK populous think on these issues when you look at your reduced or even empty veg sections over the coming weeks and wonder if a partial return to the classic scene of our wise old man in the garden growing your seasonal produce wouldn’t be such a bad idea after all…