DOLE romaine lettuce was 83% more expensive than the Basic Necessity lettuce displayed right beside it at S&R today. Boo to DOLE!
Really, a price differential of say +141% for lettuce in the Makati/Taguig area? I have been eating a lot of lettuce lately, trying to cut back on calories and trying to avoid the kitchen in this wicked summer heat. But as usual, the range of prices for a produce item such as romaine or cos lettuce in Makati/Manila is simply mind-boggling. Outrageous, even. Perhaps most grocery shoppers aren’t as price-curious (read: frugal) as I may be, but just read on to see how much more you might be paying for your produce it you don’t pay closer attention to the cost per kilo of a particular item.
I have gotten used to having 3-5 suppliers at major groceries bringing in the exact same veggies, but at differing prices. It is to me simply a confirmation of how utterly inefficient local Philippine production, wholesaling, distribution, logistics and retailing in the Philippines is in the dark ages. Grocery owners can’t rely on any one supplier or wholesaler, so they pit several against each other. But the prices still sometimes present such huge spreads per item that shopping in the vegetable section of a grocery is becoming almost more challenging that going to a wet market where you can rely on sukis to help you out. It’s totally annoying having to hunt through several piles of plastic wrapped produce to see which one is the most reasonably priced.
Take romaine, for example. Now grown in several parts of the Philippines, from the Mt. Province to Tagaytay to Cagayan de Oro, this sturdy lettuce so essential to a proper Caesar salad is available say 85-90% of the year. Last weekend, I asked my suki at the FTI Saturday market, Mary, who brings produce down from the Benguet wholesale market, how much her romaine was. She quoted PHP120, but for a suki, brought it down to PHP110. She did add, however, if I bought in bulk, she could swing PHP100 a kilo. And on further inquiry, nodded when I asked if wholesale prices in Benguet might be in the PHP60-80 range. Going backwards further, that probably means farmgate, or close to farmgate prices are probably just PHP30-50 a kilo! Of course along the way there are middlemen and women, paths to be trodden, ticycles and trucks to be ridden, perhaps some tong to be paid, tolls, gas, cargadors, and some 10-20% of the leaves to be discarded before they make it to the big city. But hold that thought, PHP40? at the farm in Benguet, PHP110 RETAIL at the FTI AANI Saturday market in Taguig.
Fast forward to an hour ago and I was at S&R Price Club buying some fruit and vegetables. I noticed that there were some three suppliers of romaine lettuce, stacked SIDE by SIDE, if not one LEVEL above another LEVEL in the chilled produce cases. Basic necessity had very healthy fresh looking romaine hearts (means the outer leaves have been discarded) for PHP144.95 per kilo. Not more than a foot away, DOLE Philippines had their romaine at PHP264.95 a kilo! That’s absurd?! Why would anyone in their right mind buy the lettuce that cost 83% more?! Now, wait a minute, you say, perhaps DOLE’s came from Mindanao (where they are consolidating produce from farms not their own, sticking on their label, transporting them and garnering a hefty premium apparently)… or that one was grown in Tagaytay… honestly, does that really matter to the average buyer? Not, I think. And it’s not like there is any or much value added, as the lettuce is as it appears when it was harvested. Was it washed in a anti-bacterial wash?, was it raised organically? (yes, I would pay more for that), is it fair market pricing so that farmers were paid more for their toil? or is the plastic they use better than others? Of course it’s a free country and all, but I just find price differentials like this for commodity products, displayed side by side, to be outrageous. And there is NO VAT on raw, no value added produce, so taxes can’t be the issue. And if you look at almost any other product in the produce section that is “branded” you will find some significant differences in prices, but not necessarily any difference in the quality of the produce. So wake up and crunch the lettuce, the next time you shop, take a good close look at the price per kilo, and you may just end up saving yourself a pretty penny, or peso, or thousands of them over a few months time.
Btw, I quickly checked wholesale and retail prices for romaine in the U.S., and they are far, far below Manila prices, as I suspect they would be for the spectacular produce from the Vietnamese highlands or farms in Thailand. So if only importing these types of goods weren’t hindered by logistics, customs, etc. (but wait, vegetables and fruit should have next to ZERO tarrifs according to ASEAN agreements) we would be paying HALF as much than the most expensive suppliers locally. And that’s probably including airfreight from California. Doubly absurd, if you ask me. As a nation, we don’t really manufacture very much any more, nor do we apparently grow very much that is competitively priced. Even rice is cheaper elsewhere. :(