Beware of cheap food!
Now that cherry season is finally here, you have probably noticed that the big grocery chains, Safeway, QFC and Albertsons, are offering cherries for sale at a very cheap price. Here at FreshLocal we know that our suppliers can’t compete with that price, and so here at the store we can’t either. Our cherries are organic, and the supermarket offerings are not, but still, you might wonder, why shouldn’t you take advantage of the “bargains?”
Well, there’s a good reason in this case, and probably in every similar situation (they happen often). Here’s the story. Last year was a bumper crop year for cherries. Orchards produced record crops of delectable fruit, and following the law of supply and demand, prices came down. The supermarket chains contract for their supplies far in advance, and they made contracts for this year’s fruit based on last year’s prices. (Of course, they have far superior bargaining power over any orchard in making those contracts.) We know what the weather has been like this growing season, and agriculture in general has suffered to the point that the governor last week declared virtually the entire state as a disaster area. The cherry crop suffered perhaps most of all, both in quality and quantity. The season will be shortened by weeks, and processing operations are curtailed. Still, those big orchards burdened with those now punitive contracts have no choice but to deliver, and all the smaller orchardists then suffer from the competition. They are all big losers.
The cherry supplies at FreshLocal and the farmers markets are brought to us by local people who travel to Eastern Washington each week to purchase fruit from small orchards know to them personally as producing high quality fruit. Sometimes they even pick the fruit themselves, but they always put tremendous effort and investment into the venture. Their fruit is perishable, and must be sold promptly, and their prices are more than fair for their circumstances. Our FreshLocal store has to mark up their prices to realize enough from sales to keep the store open. It’s plain to see what happens to all of us if you, our public, shops the bargains at Safeway instead of buying from us. Our suppliers bought the fruit this week, and we bought from them, but if you don’t buy from us this week, what will happen next week?
Meanwhile, the big growers with the punitive contracts have huge losses to face this year also. Maybe the governor’s disaster declaration with bring them some compensation from federal funds, but you can believe it won’t be enough. So the entire Washington cherry industry is being brought down this year by the big chains.
Big corporations value profits right now above anything else. Ironically, the supermarket chains are probably selling their cheap cherries at or below their own cost, creating “loss leaders” to bring the public into their stores to buy other products, boosting their overall profits. If the Washington cherry business is brought down in this bizarre year, they will use some other commodity next year to accomplish their goals. We the public will only lose.
We Americans seem to value cheapness in food above all else. Grocery ads always feature low prices, never high quality. People who very willingly, even proudly, spend whatever to buy cars, clothes and houses still want their food to be cheap. “You get what you pay for” applies to food just as much as everything else, however, even though in the case of food the diminished quality and supply often happens in the future.
It is in our own best interest then to look at the future consequences of our purchases today, and buy to ensure that we will have the food we want and need in years to come. We are counting on you.