Okay, so this isn’t “major, major” like losing the Ms. Universe pageant, a possible reality the other day, what with Ms. Philippines’ idiotic answer that the vast majority of Filipinos may think was simply cute rather than a condemnation of the deteriorating state of education in the archipelago. Gosh, are beauty and brains really like oil and water? Younger folks forget or don’t even realize perhaps that a previous Filipina Ms. Universe answered her question 4 decades ago with something like “we don’t speak Tagalog at home, only the maids do”… But this post doesn’t have to do with beauty at all, just the absurd state of fruit pricing in our local groceries. I used to joke that I was getting good at “produce arbitrage” — that is the discovery and exploitation of illogical price differentials from various food sources in Manila. I get to the groceries so often that I should really be able to put together a live update on the blog (a la ticker tape style) on retail prices on the fifty most commonly purchased fruits and vegetables. If it were really easy to do this online, with say 50 volunteer readers adding their data by text every time they hit the groceries, we could really piss off the retailers big time… and save filipino consumers millions of pesos per year. :)
So here is what set this off. Yesterday, I purchased four Packham Pears at S & R in Fort Bonifacio for PHP169.95. They don’t sell them by kilo, only in packs of 4, so I weighed my pack when I got home and it was 1.33 kilos in weight, resulting in a price per kilo of PHP127.78 or roughly ($2.80 per kilo, or $1.29 per pound). On the way home, I stopped by Rustan’s Express in front of the San Antonio Church in Forbes Park, just two kilometers away from S&R, and which caters to many of the same customers as S&R. Both have rents to pay, airconditioning bills, staff, etc. While Rustan’s is a small outlet in this particular location, it has several groceries around the metro, and probably a similar if not LARGER buying power that S&R overall. I saw similar Packham pears for sale there, so I browsed at the price of their pears. A whopping PHP199.95 per kilo at Rustan’s, displayed on a pack of 3 packham pears! That is PHP72.17 or 56% MORE than the pears for sale at S&R just two kilometers away! THAT IS SIMPLY OUTRAGEOUS. OUTRAGEOUS. And this type of pricing absurdities continue because (stupid, spendthrift, clueless, careless, dopey, etc.) buyers tolerate it!
I have written posts on prices before, here and here, and on grapes, here. I know for a fact, through friends, that executives of several grocery chains in Manila read this blog for ideas, to see what’s in season, etc. And yes, I hope someone from Rustan’s is reading this right now. Because it will be hard to explain why their fruit appears to be so grossly overpriced. And it’s not just Rustan’s. I noticed a few weeks ago that butternut squashes from Dizon farms at SM Makati, were sold for 30-40% more than the exact same product at the Dizon farm stall in Market!Market! Mall. I realize that it is a free market, and consumers should beware, but this is absurd. Nearly every one I know, rich or not, complains about rising expenses, and yet, it seems that the buyers themselves tolerate such wide disparities in pricing of goods, both basic and more luxurious, like pears. We don’t grow pears in this country, and I would guess there are only a few shipments of pears (imagine how many pears fit into a 20 foot container?) to Manila per month, so it’s truly hard to figure out why the prices are so variable.
Just to drive the point of price disparities home a bit more… Let’s say you are a family of 4 with a combined monthly income of say PHP100,000. You will probably spend between PHP25-30,000 on groceries and food items per month. If you get screwed to the tune of say 10% price differentials based on where you choose to shop, then you stand to “waste” up to say PHP36,000 per year! That’s almost the full year’s tuition at a decent private school. So let your wallets do the talking, buy from retailers who offer the best prices on average and shun grocers that appear to be taking advantage of consumers… One final thought. Let’s say there are between 10,000-15,000 readers of marketmanila that visit the blog at least 2 times a month and live in Metro-Manila, and we assume that on average they influence the expenditure of say PHP30,000 in groceries and marketing per month. On an annual basis that would (at the high end of the estimate) mean roughly PHP5 billion in food/grocery/market purchases. If we all collectively saved just 5-10% because of smarter shopping, that would be a collective savings of PHP250-500 million! Yipes! :)