Forget price wars and keep it local

As we approach one of the busiest food shopping days in the year, remember the old saying: keep your business in town if you want to keep your town in business, writes Ray Ryan.

Minister Tom Hayes visited the Weldon farm in Swords to see the quality of vegetables they have produced. Picture: Maxwells

Price wars are a disaster for the small local vegetable shops, which can’t compete

TODAY is usually one of the busiest of the year in the country’s butchers’ shops and retail food outlets.

This year the multi-million euro shopping spree is overshadowed by a vegetables pricing war between multiple retailers.

But that is only one aspect of the changes in the Christmas food retail business.

Consumer demands for more information about the sources of the food they eat and how it is produced have risen dramatically. A significant increase in online shopping has also resulted in outlets delivering food orders to households in refrigerated vans.

Consumers have a lot of choice. That has led to renewed appeals to support the Irish food industry.

Minister of State Tom Hayes, who has responsibility for horticulture, travelled to the Weldon family farm in Swords, Co Dublin, to see the operation at one of Ireland’s largest specialised sprout producers.

The family harvests sprouts from September through to March each year, but in order to meet Christmas demand about a third of their annual crop is harvested in December. This year, the family planned to harvest 400 tonnes of sprouts, which works out at over 13 million individual sprouts.

Over 30 people are employed on the farm this month to specifically harvest and prepare the sprout crop.

Enda Weldon outlined how the sprouts have to be cooled, graded, packed and on their supermarket customer’s shelves within 24 hours of harvest.

To meet consumer demand in light of this very tight timeframe the Weldon operation has been running 24 hours a day for the past 10 days.

It is a crucially important period because December sales determine the year’s overall profitability for Irish spout growers.

Enda Weldon urged consumers to support local growers by seeking Irish produced sprouts and other seasonal Irish vegetables this Christmas.

This year’s Irish sprouts are expected to be sweeter than normal due to high sunshine levels over recent months. Modern varieties produce a slower growing tastier sprout, deemed to be better nutritionally than the crops years ago.

Minister Hayes also urged consumers to purchase Irish produced vegetables.

Given the good weather over recent months, he said there is a strong supply of excellent quality Irish seasonal fresh field vegetables available at present.

He urged consumers to check the country of origin labelling on all fresh fruit and vegetables prior to purchase so they know exact origin of their produce.

“Where possible consumers should seek Bord Bia Quality Assured produce this Christmas so they can rest assured they are getting traceable, quality food that has been produced in a sustainable manner in Ireland,” he said.

That plea by the minister to support Irish food producers is also being endorsed by many other groups in the sector.

Supermarket chains have gone to great lengths to outline their support for fresh, wholesome and traceable Irish food produced in a sustainable way by farmers across the country.

They also point out they are providing consumers with good value, are bearing the full cost of reduced prices, are creating a lot of employment and boosting the livelihoods of farmers whose produce they purchase.

However, this year’s price war has ruined what should be one of the best weeks of the year for Irish producers, according to Sinn Féin spokesperson Deputy Martin Ferris.

He said it is also a disaster for the small local vegetable shops, which cannot compete.

IFA president John Bryan also accused retailer bosses, including the discounters, of making a mockery of the hard work of vegetable and potato growers in the run-in to Christmas.

Mr Bryan warned that any attempt to recoup losses from growers as a result of this below-cost selling activity will not be tolerated.

These 36 hours are also the busiest of the year for the members of the Associated Craft Butchers of Ireland.

Despite supermarket dominance, it says in its website that more people are realising the importance of local butchers, and the skills and information they can provide.

“Local butchers will be able to trace the source of their meat and tell you exactly where it came from, when it was slaughtered and by whom. ” The ACBI says most butchers in Ireland are independent, family run businesses, and buying from them helps to support local communities.

It quotes an old saying — “Keep your business in town if you want to keep your town in business” — and says this as relevant today as ever it was.


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