Grapes of Wrath… :)


It always amazes me how erratic, variable and unstable the prices of some groceries are at supermarkets and stores within walking distance of each other in Metro-Manila. I realize in a free market, there are absolutely no price controls; however, in a competitive market, prices should naturally reach a justifiable/equilibrium level where supply and demand intersect. In the latter example, intelligent, rational and informed consumers are the “police” of the system. And only if the buying public acts on price distortions will retailers be more careful about how they price their goods, and in some cases, practically fool the consuming public. Take red seedless crimson grapes, for example. Not exactly a day to day commodity, but something that many readers might at one time or another have purchased or consumed. I suspect it is just about after the peak of the table grape harvest in California, and a bijillion kilos of grapes are making their way to markets all over Asia, including the Philippines. I have taken to making grape shakes at home once a day or so. They are a part of my self-designed diet, and with 15-20 grapes per shake they make a refreshing, naturally sweet drink that costs less than a can of Diet Coke…

Surprisingly, grape prices in Manila are wildly variable, and if you don’t constantly frequent several groceries in Manila, you might not have noticed it. So here is my little post on “grape arbitrage” and I do wish there was a blog out there that only posted comparative prices of various groceries from stores around Manila. Last weekend, at the FTI Taguig market, one of my fruit sukis offered me red seedless Crimson grapes at PHP180 a kilo. After a bit of posturing, they brought the price down to PHP170, but I didn’t bite. Why? I had just seen the grapes on a special offer at SM grocery Makati at PHP118, a real steal, considering the same grapes in a California grocery are currently priced at $0.99 a pound or roughly PHP93 a kilo. That means that even with freight imputed, the grapes were well-priced. Imagine if ripe Cebu mangoes (currently roughly PHP90 a kilo in Manila, were exported to California? I sincerely doubt they would be at a Vans or Kroger’s for say PHP130 a kilo! Then today, I went back to SM and the prices had gone up, and the special was over, but the grapes were still a reasonable PHP154 a kilo. A little later, I happened to go to Rustan’s at Rockwell to pick up a beef mechado, with the lard inserted into the middle, and I spied aggressive signage around the crimson red seedless grapes and it very proudly screamed : “Buy One Take One, PHP399.95 per kilo!” In case you don’t have a calculator, that is PHP 199.97 a kilo, or 30% higher than SM, AND you have to buy 2 kilos to boot! And really now, are their grapes normally PHP399.95 per kilo, or did they just double the price for the promo. Egads, there should be laws against that type of pricing/promotion…

Frankly, I find it incredibly annoying.

Rustan’s : PHP199.97 a kilo (but you have to buy two kilos)
Market Suki : PHP170 a kilo
SM Grocery : PHP 154 a kilo

And don’t get me started on the fruit retailer at the basement of Rockwell, or the ones at Salcedo market, either of which might be charging up to PHP240+ per kilo for exactly the same grapes that probably were flown or shipped over in the exact same container. So buyers beware. Know your prices or get royally shafted. :(

Note: October 26 and I just checked prices again:

Rustan’s Rockwell PHP279.95 a kilo
Basement Fruit Vendor, Rockwell, PHP250.00

So there can be as much as an 80%! difference in price within just minutes of each store, all in upscale, mall settings. Outrageous!

Count this as Marketman’s Consumer Report #3, and here was #2, and #1. :)


35 Responses

  1. Hmmm, this is not directly related to the post, but when I saw the picture of grapes, I remember what one office mate said about these imported fruit… that they are sprinkled/sloshed in formalin, to keep them looking fresh. I really don’t know if it’s true but it truly makes me think. After all, their travel is quite long.

  2. I have been buying grapes lately too, as I find them cheap now. To be honest though, I havent been looking at the per kilo price. But I have been buying in SM so I am getting the good deal I suppose. Oh MM, dont even get me started on the langka (jackfruit) price in the Salcedo market, what was it? P240 per kilo I think.. In the FTI market, I could get that for P80 per kilo! Gahh!

  3. Thanks for the info MM, I actually always buy my fruits in Salcedo market and Rustans :(
    I guess I have to check out SM Makati next time and compare the prices.

  4. Blaise, I doubt grapes are sprayed with a poisonous formaldyhyde or formalin, though they are treated with chemicals to prolong life, as they are generally shipped in chilled containers. There was some noise many years ago about the effects of the sprayed insecticides, but I haven’t found anything in a cursory google/net search that the table grapes are NOT safe to eat. There is mention of various gases, etc. used to extend life by essentially keeping bacteria and molds at bay, but nothing as sensationalistic as formalin. If your officemate has some credible documentary references, that would be good, but if not, I wouldn’t be one to spread something that may not necessarily be accurate… To be absolutely sure, I guess you could peel the grapes, a step which my mom actually used to do…

  5. We normally soaked them in salted water for at least 5 min. then wash again in running water. just have California seedless grapes tonight and it only cost me P120 here in Singapore.

  6. The formalin story is something you hear through the grapevine but if it is proven to be true then Marketman would soon be raisin hell about it.

  7. formalin in grapes? a few years back there was a report about local veggies and fish bering dipped in formalin. i guess that’s what keeps us asians younger-looking and better-preserved than our caucasian counterparts… (joke!)

  8. Lee, to make raisins they take the grapes above and add sulphur, something that is often done to other types of dried fruit like apricots, etc. Often I hear of stories such as worms in burgers (worms are much more costly than beef per gram), coke in coke (can you imagine the price of a can of coke today if it really had coke?), gaas or kerosene to was kalamansi to make them shiny, etc. and I really need to have some proof these days before I believe any of it. I am sure some nasty stuff IS applied to some of our produce, but I need more facts…

  9. MM, you are not alone in price wars. Even here in the US, if you are not aware of prices of fruits, veggies or other grocery items…we are being duped too. It just gets to a point that you are tired of comparing the prices in their flyers and then think about the gas that you use just to go to the other store to purchase a cheaper item…so in the end, we end up where the produce is cheaper but meats are a bit pricier and so are the rest of the grocery goods… O well, but it is good to keep an eye on everything you buy.

  10. I grow grapes too in my small farm in morocco but we have a different problem in there, we cannot be able to increase our price as prices are controled by agricultural agency. relatively we always have a good and abundant produce in there and we dont use spray chemicals or any pesticides. From our vines were picked by local dealers and its up to them to pack and usually exported in europe or in the middle east. A kilo of it basically sold at moroccan dirhams 2.50 (Php 15.00)the least defective fruits can still be sold at the cheapest rate of dirhams 1.00 and maybe delivered to the local winery. Surprisingly since i worked in the middle east. I myself buys grapes and always looks those from morocco, A kilo of quality grapes from morocco is Qrs.30.00 (Php.370.00) a price which is almost 25 times!!!! Well that is what i called open-cheating considering that transportation is cheap…The problem again is we cant eat our money so still we dont have a choice, swallow it and dont even think of the price….

  11. Millet, You are right! during the late 80s, formalin were used to prolong the life of vegetables and i saw it with both of my eyes…but formalin is better known to be used on smoked fish or “TINAPA”, a concoction of soy sauce, H2O & formalin..the purpose of using it is to prolong the life of the smoke fish and make it looks firmer, a cheat that most customers dont even know. strong competition usually prompted this dangerous method of altercation and even no known arrest had been taken to prevent this. I wonder if this method is still practiced in the philippines???

  12. there is a thin line between preferential pricing and tied selling, and I guess a buy-one-take-one-deal hovers in between. Perhaps if a vendor will not sell a kilo for a reasonable price when he/she normally would i.e. a retailer not a wholesaler, that was obviously a tied selling.

  13. nice post MM. Hinde po ba ang DTI ang bantay ng prices of goods? I was at Farmers Market last Sunday and grapes were priced at 125-140 per kilo depending on the stall. If the stall is at the main street of the market its 140, pag sa mga side streets or alleys 120.

  14. actually, my tito who is an importer of non-tropical fruits said that grapes, apples and other similar fruits are irradiated with x-rays or gamma rays which kill the bacteria and “spoilers” on the fruit. it also makes the ripening enzymes within the fruit act a little slower so that they reach the point of destination intact. however, the rays are only very low so it is safe for human consumption.

    and question MM, do you think that the amount of produce bought by a store would directly affect the price of the grapes? i’m thinking that SM buys in huge bulk that’s why they get to charge a lesser price, compared to small players like those in the Salcedo market.

  15. by the way, natuwa ako on your comment about coke in coke. actually, the original (as in the formula used in 1800s) coke really used coca leaves which left a significant amount of cocaine in the drink. however, today, coke only uses cocaine-free coca leaves that are especially treated to take out the harmful drug effects but leave behind its distinct flavor.

  16. emsy, yes, original formulation of coke was for “medicinal” purposes. Maybe I would have liked the original one better…hahaha. I’m kidding.

  17. We used to have grape growers in La Union though when I tried their produce 15 years ago, the grapes were quite sour. I wonder if they are still being grown and if the crop has improved? Nice if we could produce quality grapes locally.

  18. In Cali they sell good quality mangoes for about a$1.50 a piece, at Costco’s (Guimaras kind) or at some Indian stores. So I had a feast of mangoes when we went to Ilo-ilo for P45/kilo last April (got sick on the way to Guimaras so wasn’t able to go heheheh). It was unbelievably cheap and boy was it so good. I promised my daughter she’ll get to taste ’em too when she visit.

  19. Hi MM,

    Thanks for this post. Now I’ll be more wary when buying stuff. I tend to get easily attracted by the Buy 1 Take 1 gimmicks in supermarkets that I overlook computing the real value. Sadly its an effective gimmick by store owners.

    By the way, nice choice for a title. I thought this post had something remotely associated with Lebanon or Israel!

  20. I once saw an Italian consumer tv show (RAI) recommending to the consumer-audience the grapes with seeds rather than seedless ones because the former was healthier – grapes with seeds contain more anti-oxidants. But I reckon MM’s grape shake will turn out gritty and bitter with the seeds!
    Anyway, I love fruits with pips and often stay away from the seedless varieties, despite being hassle-free and convenient to eat. And personally, I find it even fun to ‘spit out’ the pips – reminds me of who-spits-out-farthest-watermelon-seed contests I used to do when I was little child …but this time I do it with grapes – they’re more sophisticated chi-chi fruit hehehe…

  21. Speaking of price differences, almost everything is more expensive in Rustan’s and their other sister outlets. I think it is also a way of setting their market apart from others. While Rustan’s has its buy 1 take 1 offers (which don’t always mean it is cheaper), SM prices their fruits and vegetables by the half a kilo. Initially they sound cheaper but if you do your mental math, their prices are often more expensive than other supermarkets like Cash & Carry. What is it with the half a kilo pricing? Do they assume most can’t compute? Amazingly, one really has to take note of prices in different stores. Even S & R is not always the cheapest place to shop for many items. It is interesting how you noted prices of grapes in these places.

    Salcedo and Legaspi market is also an expensive place to buy fruits and vegetables. Consumers think they are getting a bargain under the guise of “market”. They cater to people to normally do not like going to the panlengke. Of course it is much more pleasant to shop under the acacia trees but pay a lot more.

  22. Vendors price their wares according to their market. Salcedo and Legaspi cater to the upscale, so. SM is pang-masa. But even within SM Hypermarket, one product can sell with different prices. There’s a box of “branded” fresh basil at P50-75, while a “generic” styro square packed with more leaves than the branded one sells for about P14-17 only. No marked difference, sometimes the generic leaves are even fresher. They say it depends on the price of the suppliers. Same in Landmark – a plate sells for P25 in one rack, and an exact same item is priced P35 in another display case. Pays to shop around first before going to the cashier.

  23. Hi MM, Just to share prices of australian seedless grapes in sydney , it’s about 9.99 AUD!! It will become cheaper in December which is about 3.99. I see US grapes and cherries during the latter part of the year . Philippine mangoes are not allowed here which is a pity. Australian mangoes are less sweeter! They are about 2 for 5 AUD or 25 AUD a box! There is an unripe “piko” variety that I bought from a Vietnamese store for 3.99/kg yesterday which is good with Alavar bagoong alamang!

  24. The fruit retailer at the basement of Rockwell sells really pricey fruits. I once asked how much the sweet bangkok tamarinds were selling for and the kuya said 200 i think, hello 100 lang kaya yun sa cash and carry, and it’s the same brand!!

  25. I was just in the Philippines recently for a holiday and was very surprised at the price variations of food sold in different locations over there. I found that produce sold in local markets were a lot cheaper than in supermarkets. Though i seem to be charged more as i’m not very fluent in the language lol. Here in New Zealand you can actually buy imported produce cheaper than locally grown ones… the science of economics.

  26. this is a tad late… but regarding comment # 21 on the seeded vs seedless variety, if i am not mistaken, seedless grapes are genetically modified(same with seedless watermelons), and thus, are considered less natural than the seeded variety. i don’t know about antioxidant contents though. now i wonder, is it more environmentally-friendly to consume seeded grapes, than the seedless ones?

  27. irene, even the doughnuts at Dunkin’ Donuts in Power Plant Mall, Rockwell are priced double, if not triple, what they’re priced at other Dunkin’ Donuts outlets. Then again, there are more varieties (of the expensive kind) and they’re about 10% bigger (I think).



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