The price of The Grocer's fruit and veg basket is down 10% year-on-year as oversupply reduces the cost of peppers, cucumbers and apples. Michael Barker reports
Consumers can no longer claim it's too expensive to eat healthily. With prices plummeting across The Grocer's fresh produce basket, many fruit and veg items are noticeably cheaper than a year ago.
This month's basket is almost 10% cheaper than in November 2008 thanks to a combination of supermarket promotions in the fresh produce aisle and supply chain issues that have kept shelf prices down.
An oversupply of salad crops, for instance, has pushed prices of peppers down 8.6% and cucumbers 7.2% over the past year. Plenty of both crops were available as a result of increased Dutch plantings, so buyers could get their hands on cheaper produce than would normally be available, said one supermarket supplier.
Oversupply has also been a key reason for cheaper apples this autumn, with prices of the cheapest loose fruit falling 5.1% month-on-month and 16.5% year-on-year to just 57p/kg. European producers kept large volumes of apples in store early this year when the economic slowdown hit sales, but released them at low prices at the end of the season.
"Allegedly people were desperate to liquidate stock to get in new season produce in July and August," said Adrian Barlow, chief executive of English Apples & Pears.
The flood of fruit had the knock-on effect of leaving southern hemisphere crops on the market for longer, keeping prices down into the autumn, added Barlow. Prices would firm up in coming months as supply became matched to demand once again, he predicted.
Lemon prices are beginning to fall again after poor weather in producing countries in 2008 sent prices soaring by 50% earlier this year. A single lemon hit a high of 28p in June up from 19p in November 2008 but as supply returns to normal the shelf price is starting to come down.
"The retail prices had been static for years but prices rose when frosts wrecked the crop last year," said one importer. "Retailers are now trying to get the price back to normal."
The importer added that extensive promotions and low pricing in the face of the recession had brought down the price of oranges over the past 12 months.
Banana prices are 18.7% higher than they were a month ago as supermarkets push prices back up following deep-cut promotions that saw them fall as low as 38p/kg in September and October. Prices are now back to 78p/kg, but bananas still remain cheaper than they were a year ago.
The one item in the basket to have risen significantly in price recently is the pineapple, which has increased 29.7% to £1.76 in the past month alone. Importers of tropical fruit say pineapples have been sold almost constantly on deal this year, on two-for promotions and at £1 price points, as retailers battled against falling sales of tropical produce, but the fruit has come off deal in the past few weeks and has returned to its usual price.