Reality and perception constantly influence our behaviours and actions as consumers. This page takes a closer look at this aspect as it relates to fruits and vegetables.
Consumer perceptions can be summed up pretty fast as follows:
Where do these views come from? How did we get the idea it is easy to grow fruits and vegetables? Where does it say they need to be cheap? And this expectation of uniformity...that is reasonable for golf balls and tea bags possibly.... but fruits and vegetables?
So, what are perceptions? I like to think of them as deviations from the norm, caused by having experienced a different reality over time.
How many of us have a veggie garden? Or a few fruit trees in the lawn? Those of us who do, are most likely to grow these fruits and vegetables as a hobby, out of interest, as a way to connect with the past maybe, and to have a 'fresh air event' amongst the things we do. Not so long ago though, our grandparents and their parents before them grew fruits and vegetables to survive. For most of the population of previous times, the equation was quite simple. If you didn't grow something you could eat or trade you went hungry.
Most of us city dewellers have lost touch with the soil. We might still walk on it every day, but it is now covered in lawn, filled with a herbaceous border or covered in bark to make sure the place keeps looking tidy.
Had we preserved our connection with the soil, we would know that Mother Nature does not punch out apples that are totally uniform, that the taste of produce alters based on the state of ripeness at harvest, storage conditions and handling care, and that it takes effort to grow a decent crop.
And surely, efforts deserves to be rewarded?
Let' stay with the cost aspect of fruit and vegetables. Here are the factors that surely have to be taken into consideration when we make a judgement as consumers about the price of fruits and vegetables.
The ins and outs of the fresh produce supply chain are discussed elsewhere on this site. So let's assume in order to keep the argument simple here, our lettuce grower sells his crop directly to a supermarket.
The supermarket merchandise team is responsible for setting the retail price. The retail price, typically displayed prominently near the produce, is what the consumer bases her value perceptions on. In many countries the price the consumer pays for her head of lettuce includes Sales Tax, Goods and Services Tax or Value Added Tax. From the balance the retailer needs to pay the grower, meet the cost of getting the lettuce from his distribution centre onto the shelf, allow an amount for shrinkage, make a trading profit and achieve a return on investment.
In order to keep the lettuce supply flowing, growers, retailers and any trader operating in a facilitating role in the process need to earn sufficient money to keep on supplying. Their needs have to be balanced against the consumers' value perception of lettuce as that determines a price ceiling beyond which one shouldn't move if one wants to sell volumes of lettuce.
The challenge for the entire Fruits & Vegetables Trade is to redefine what value consumers need to place of fresh produce. All crops. Period.