Ugly veg – bitter fruit of drought
It's no longer just rising food prices in grocery stores that are reminding shoppers about the impact of the drought.
Starting about a week ago, Pick n Pay began displaying signs that apologised for fruits and vegetables that they say fall below their normal quality standards.
The signs, put up in grocery stores nationwide said: “Sorry, some of our fruit and vegetables are not up to our usual standard. The severe drought is taking its toll. However, to keep supporting our farmers and to provide you with the option to decide, we will continue to stock these products.”
David North, a strategy executive with the Pick n Pay Group, said in an e-mail that the grocery chain decided to display the signs to give customers a transparent choice about the appearance of the fruits and veg they purchase.
“In a small number of cases, suppliers have made available some fresh produce which, while perfectly good to eat, does not conform exactly to our specifications, for example on size or shape. We have highlighted these products to our customers, indicating that we are giving them an opportunity to support our farmers, reduce waste and buy perfectly nutritious local products,” he said.
North stressed that the produce is not inferior or unsafe to eat in any way, but it simply doesn’t have a generically cosmetic appearance.
For example, on the shelves of the Pick n Pay in Auckland Park, Johannesburg, some of the apples flaunted black speckles, a handful of potatoes looked half their regular size and a few tomatoes looked greyish.
The manager of the Auckland Park Pick n Pay, Trinity Shai, said that the apology signs had gone up last Tuesday.
“Before the signs went up, a few customers had complained about the size of the potatoes and such,” he said.
Many Pick n Pay customers voiced their support of the policy.
“I think the signs are good because it means that the prices won’t increase as much,” said University of Johannesburg student Sbonga Ndlovu, as he picked up a lopsided lemon.
“Food is getting so much more expensive. I used to spend R500 a month, and now I spend about R1 000 for the same food.”
Lerato Mahlaba, a Johannesburg resident who has been shopping at Pick n Pay for six years, agreed, saying, “Now we just need lower prices. So far, we’ve seen higher prices and not as nice a quality for our produce.”
Pick n Pay did implement the policy to ensure that “any price increases are kept to a minimum” and to “support our farming community”, according to North.
However, executive director of AgriSA, Omri van Zyl, said that he did not believe that the fruit and veg sector of the agricultural industry had seen a significant enough decrease in production to warrant selling produce that fall below standards.
“From our farmers’ perspective, we haven’t seen a dramatic lapse of quality as far as production is concerned and have not yet seen a drastic drop in the veg production,” he said.
Still, he offered that the consumer standards are often different from general standards for food.
“We cannot compromise quality for availability, but clearly if there’s not enough vegetables around, you’ve got to make do with what you can get.”
Executives from other grocery outlets, Woolworths and Spar, could not be reached for comment on their fruit and vegetable supply.