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:

  • fruits and vegetables are easy to grow
  • it is reasonable to expect uniformity in size, shape, consistency and taste
  • ditto seasonsality
  • fruits and vegetables are cheap because they  cost next to nothing to produce

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.

  • A commercial grower, producing a crop of lettuces, for example, needs to have acquired skills in horticultral production techniques and in commercial crop management. He has trained himself and invested into his education.
  • Our grower runs a business.  It happens to be growing lettuces.  Regardless of the type of business involved, two basic business rules typically apply.  Firstly, the business needs to generate an income for its owner; secondly, the business needs to generate a return on capital invested.
  • There are costs associated with growing.  The cost of land, the cost of labour, the cost of raw materials, the cost of storage and distribution, the cost of marketing, the cost of selling.  And last but  not lest, the cost of compliance.
  • Fruits and vegetables are commodities and whilst the cost of production is something that can easily be calculated by anyone with good record keeping and accounting skills, determining the selling price is a different kettle of fish altogether. 
  • At times of low demand and high supply growers struggle to get their costs back. At times of high demand and low supply, growers can make a decent profit.  
  • And typically no season is the same as the one before or the next one, because one factor that growers cannot control is the weather and all it entails.


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.



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