I am never really sure if some of my posts really have any relevance- I don’t always feel like publishing a recipe, so I end up with an editorial, a rant or sometimes a load of I don’t know what. It usually makes me feel better, and hopefully it gives someone else to think about or consider.
The small action of a local retailer has ignited a back and forth battle in my head- some products that they purchased were returned to us because they were deemed to expensive for them to resell. Our understanding when we first started participating about 3 years ago with this retailer was that they would honor a fair price of the products they were purchasing, giving the local smaller guy something they didn’t get with the big chains. This doesn’t seem to be the mandate anymore- businesses grow and business plans change, I think it’s understandable. A few times last year we were faced with that fact: this guy will give me this product for half that, will you match it? Human emotions are predictable- they start percolating whether or not we want them to, they also make it easy to take business personally. Why do they want a deal – don’t they appreciate the hard work?
I never understand why people choose to support local, but choose to buy it through a middleman. I will give you a real life scenario of why this is perplexing to me: We attend a market where there are a few vendors selling apple cider- $4.50 per 2L jug direct to the producer. In this cost, the producer needs to pay for the ingredients- even if the apples are grown by the same person, there is a cost to producing them- they need to pay for the labor of making it, the bottles to put it in, with the proper labelling, and then a fridge to store it in. The return on a bottle direct from the producer is decent, but what happens when it goes to a retailer that wants to support local? I had assumed they would knock it down to $3.75 or $4. I’ve always thought that the producer should be able to sell their products for a better price then anyone else: if the “support local” retailer took it at what I thought, they could sell it at $5 and make a buck.
I was not prepared to find out that one of these producers charge $2.60. Another example: one of the major chain grocery stores promotes buy 1 get 2 free, which is awesome for consumers. The major chain does not take the hit on the “2 free,” the supplier does. As far as the major chain is concerned, if the supplier wants to continue to be the supplier- they will suck it up and deal.
That is insanity. Insanity bottled up and being sold for $2.60. As a “buy local” supporter, I have a problem with this. As a local producer, I have an even bigger problem with this. Retailers need to pay for display, electricity, staff, etc, I get it. Does the local consumer know that there is this big of a discrepencey? What right do they have to make so much compared to the producer? If a retailer is selling items at the same price or lower then the producer, then the producer isn’t getting what they should- whether or not they know it.
While I don’t participate heavily in the farming side of our business, Matt and I talk (and talk and talk and talk) about what we are going to charge for produce when we go to the market- both of us are trained chefs, and we’ve worked in places that demanded quality and paid a fair price for it. We have found that the previous generation of farmers (in general) don’t recognize the quality of their own products, so they cover their costs and grumble that they make no money. However, the guy down the street is charging a wholesale price of $0.50, where we would charge $1- he’s not making money and he’s messing up the marketplace for us when we are putting the same amount of work into the same product. Of course a retail outlet is going to go down the street.
I am by no means standing on a pedestal looking down on all of those who don’t have time to go from producer to producer buying their local groceries- I fully admit to buying stuff at the grocery store. We are busy, we also don’t have the time do it and sometimes we don’t have the money to pay for the artisan quality. I can tell you that I am a little more picky in what I buy at the grocery store because of this kind of thing, and sometimes I will choose not to buy and wait for market instead. For those folks who need the buy 1 get 2 free specials for financial reasons, please take advantage- the farms that I know supply for these sales know that some people that need the sale. I can also tell you that some of our customers have slowed down buying direct from us in lieu of shopping at the local retailer- and this is what hurts. “I’ve stopped shopping at market because it’s just easier to go there.”
My point here is that just because a store has advertised that they support local, doesn’t mean that they are fairly supporting the buy local movement. What we as producers need to think about is are we going to sell to these places- is it worth it or is it just making us busy? What you, the consumer, need to think about is where you stand in this and who you would like to support- handing money over is essentially casting your vote.
I wrote everything preceding this paragraph a while ago, this past week has been a good example of outlandish behavior of some people to make a buck or save one, dictating what they want to pay. I can only urge you once again to support your local economy (I don’t just mean food or agriculture- do what you can to stimulate any sector), but do it with intelligence! Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your retailers or artisans and tradespeople, if they deserve your hard earned cash, they will give honest answers.