There are many irritants in the local food acquisition scene. Often the supplies are highly erratic. Folks are prone to hoarding when something is available, therefore stocks are wiped out and we go months before they are replenished. Stuff always seems to be near their expiry date. Weather, bugaboos and storage issues sometimes result in crushed, moist, bug-infested goods. Canned goods are sometimes dented and worse, rusting. Stores are semi-stocked, out-of-stock, or have no idea what kind of stock you are looking for. Sales staff often DO NOT KNOW what products their store carries, and fewer care to know. Basically, it is a tough food retail scene, and if you knew enough, and had the time to hit several stores a day, you could arbitrage or take advantage of price differentials from one store to the other. Little real competition, too many supply chain disruptions related to transport, customs, storage, pilferage, etc. and a less than demanding clientele with a lower than expected total buying capacity that are happy to take whatever is put on the shelves. To keep my pantry well-stocked, I resort to visits to several local purveyors, I have balikbayan boxes sent from the States several times a year, and if I get to Europe I do the same from there. Short trips to nearby cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore fill in the remaining gaps. But even worse than supply issues, are the incredibly unreliable prices of goods across the city. And here is one of the worst examples I have come across in recent monthsâ€¦
I like chives. They are a great garnish and their subtle onion flavor is terrific in sauces, soups and other dishes. They were almost impossible to get fresh until the last few years when a few enterprising farmers in Tagaytay and elsewhere finally started growing them, primarily in greenhouses. At certain times of the year, they make it to the retail food stores. Last weekend, I was at Santis delicatessen and spotted a nice bundle of locally grown chives. Perhaps about Â¾ of an inch in diameter, the roll was priced at PHP40 and without thinking too much, I decided to buy it. I figured PHP40 wasnâ€™t so bad, other herbs were typically in this price range. Then a few seconds later, I walked not 50 meters to a Rustanâ€™s shop and lo and behold, they had chives in the chiller, approximately the same amount or maybe a little less for just PHP10.75 !!! Yikes, that is a 300% difference for essentially the same product at the same location! I just wanted to scream, race out of the grocery with arms flailing and stuff a food retailer with a whole bunch of chives. Now Rustanâ€™s isnâ€™t known for its low prices, so their having chives at 1/4th the price of Santis next door was just outrageous. OUTRAGEOUS. I am so annoyed. And donâ€™t leave a comment and tell me this is trivial. That stuff happens. This is just a sign that things here are totally screwed up in many ways indeed. Can you imagine a few months ago, a researcher for the DTI (Department of Trade & Industry) in the Philippines contacted me by email to ask ME to give HIM the prices of basic vegetables (HIS LIST) from my market forays so that they could complete their market price comparison reports from the comfort of their desks instead of going out to the markets themselves??? Does the word kapal mean anything to them? You can just imagine the tone of my email in replyâ€¦
So hereâ€™s what I plan to do about it. I had wanted to initiate this effort before, but just didnâ€™t get around to it. Sometime in the next month or so, I plan to visit maybe half a dozen groceries, warehouse stores, delis or specialty food shops and do a price comparison on say 10-15 food items and publish the results here on Marketmanila. If it works well and the reader response is good, maybe I can do this price analysis once a quarter or soâ€¦ What do you think? Even better, if readers volunteer to cover one store in their area, we could have price reports from across the country and the Metropolitan Manila area. Then stores might take notice and start to do something about it. But for the first attempt, I need to identify a basket of say a dozen goods that will have a very high likelihood of being available at all outlets (a difficult condition right there) that I shall rush to over a two day period. And just so I donâ€™t get sued by the groceries that I SHALL NAME, then I plan to BUY the whole list of goods at each and every outlet rather than stealthily taking down prices and risking the wrath of roving security guards. So here is the question for you. What five to ten items would you like to see a price comparison on? Please leave a comment and I will try to figure out the most popular requests and give this thing a try. Letâ€™s not get too esoteric just yetâ€¦ maybe ketchup, chicken, milk, ice cream, chocolate, skyflakes, bread, etc. Many thanks in advance for your comments.