While the pandemonium and panic buying that enveloped grocery stores a few weeks ago has levelled off, consumers are still paying a premium for certain varieties of fresh produce.
Capsicums, cucumbers, cauliflowers and celery have all been seen selling at premium prices around town, but grocers say that’s due to market forces at work outside the COVID-19 crisis.
Wiffens Premium Green Grocers owner David Irvine told Canberra Weekly they saw large fluctuations in produce pricing around the time social distancing regulations were introduced.
“Once you’d stocked up on toilet paper, it seemed everyone stocked up on lentils, potatoes, cauliflowers … If you could make a soup or a stew out of it, people were buying it.
“We’re only just starting to see that now with sweet potato, some potato varieties that when the panic buying started it went through the roof and then fell off a cliff.
“Two or three weeks ago we saw $100 for a box of cauliflowers and $90 for a box of broccoli, it’s right back to normal now for this time of year,” he said.
Mr Irvine said his trading with local suppliers has by and large continued operating as usual.
“Most of our relations with our local mushrooms, eggs, and orange growers have just been the same.
“It’s a funny situation, it changes every week. Each week you get better at managing the social distancing … each week it gets better and better, the customers get better at it too, which is good,” he said.
Mr Irvine said that pubs, clubs and hospitality venues either closed or operating in a limited capacity has caused the level of demand for some fresh produce to nosedive.
“Things like limes should have got dearer now but they’re still dirt cheap, people aren’t drinking Coronas anymore.
“Some of those items, you never used to think about how much got consumed in pubs and clubs until you realise you’re not paying what you did for those items last year … We’re getting back to what people are eating at home,” he said.
A spokesperson for Woolworths told Canberra Weekly that COVID-19 has had no impact on their fresh produce pricing.
“While drought and seasonal variations have had an impact on supply and availability of capsicum and cauliflowers, we expect the supply to improve in coming weeks,” they said.
The spokesperson said bushfires, smoke and drought over summer has significantly impacted fresh produce supply nationally, and that right now their supply chain is undergoing a seasonal shift from their summer food bowl of Tasmania and Victoria up north to Queensland, which feeds Australians in winter.
A Coles spokesperson said their supply chain team has worked “incredibly hard over the past six weeks to move stock into our stores, with volumes up to 40% greater yhan what we would ordinarily see at Christmas – which is ordinarily our busiest time of year”.
“The operating hours of all factories, suppliers, distribution centres and transport operators have been greatly extended,” they said.
Coles have been aided by state and local governments suspending restrictions on delivery times, while they have had to hire an extra 12,000 team members to help them cater for the boom in demand.