Independent Grocers Prove their Resilience

By Hari Yellina
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Growers have more ways to sell their products than ever before, thanks to the internet, Facebook marketplaces, farmers markets, and distribution partnerships. However, there are still advantages to the tried-and-true central market structure. The fresh produce supply chain handled the various city lockdowns, food service disruptions, labour shortages, and supply issues over the past two years, according to an online forum held as part of the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences’ (ABARES) Outlook conference in March. Both central markets and supermarket direct contracts were discussed at the event. While the global epidemic caused wholesale dealers many hassles and losses, most were able to work around supply issues and dig deeper to finish the job.

This was backed up by a slew of reports from greengrocers who source from the marketplaces. During the peak of the coronavirus outbreak in Australia, the usual tales about food shortages on shop shelves and transportation problems jeopardised fresh supply lines emerged. However, the independents, the ladies and gentlemen who manage the neighbourhood fruit and vegetable shop, seemed to just source from other vendors and continue on with their business. One greengrocer described the independence of not being bound by purchasing agreements to acquire fruit from a limited number of producers in an online article, as something that helped the business stay afloat. During the hard times, the central markets system kept many, many people fed with minimal fanfare.

One can only image the frantic, possibly tense phone calls between supply managers and growers attempting to figure out when a truck will arrive, what condition the product will be in, and how this will impact payment. Growers should not be put off by new means of selling because it adds variety and helps to balance supply and demand. However, the traditional route of passing through the central markets should be acknowledged because of its continued relevance in the Australian food system and long history of feeding Australians.


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