Picking pears
Something’s off

This week Shepparton cannery SPC announced a 40 per cent cut in its peach and pear intake to its Victorian fruit growers because Woolworths was buying its home-brand canned fruit more cheaply from China and South Africa.

The story sounded so familiar that I went back and found article after article from the last two decades describing this scenario over and over.

It’s like a death in slow-motion – Coles and Woolworths keeping farmgate prices down, starving the fruit canning sector of investment and then undermining farmers further by importing cheaper and cheaper canned fruit.

All the while publicly professing their proud support for local farmers.

Back in 1999, a House of Representatives inquiry described the grocery market as “heavily concentrated and oligopolistic in nature” expressing concern about predatory pricing and unconscionable market conduct.

Twenty-five years later the story hasn’t changed.

After a while all my articles blurred into one another and I began imagining a story about how it all works between a produce buyer and a fruit grower….


Something’s off

I can’t stop looking at the picture in the Supermarket’s Annual report – there’s me and the Produce Buyer out in my orchard, sun shining on glossy leaves, he’s beside me, we’re smiling and holding up a case of my pears like they’re the most precious treasure.

He joked it was our wedding portrait and we’d be together forever.

Now when I look at it closely, something’s off. It’s his eyes, like he’s scanning for something in the distance…a better deal maybe.

So many things seem off to me now like when the poms from Tesco came over to run the Supermarket.

He got some training and then told me the Supermarket was saving me on supply chain costs which it had to charge me for.  He sounded weird as if he was reading out the words.

When I said I didn’t understand and the charge sounded funny, he got upset and shouted that I just had to pay it or there would be a range review.

I pointed out that I only sold one product so a range review would be pretty quick.

He didn’t say anything. 

I paid the supply chain efficiency rebate the next month.

Same for the marketing rebate he charged for that celebrity chef they brought in to sell more fruit and veg. They didn’t sell any more pears and I didn’t get a rebate off my rebate.

He always used to call on the first day of summer to ask how my pears were.

But the longer things went on the less he asked and the more he told.

He said everything had to be just right, that it was customer preference driven.

First it was what size the fruit had to be and how it had to look, but then it was what pear variety I was allowed to grow and what chemicals I had to use and when.

When things weren’t just right he’d lose it and I’d have to take my pears back home and dump them.

He told me I had to keep enough pears to cover the busiest season but when he didn’t take them all I wasn’t allowed to sell what was leftover and they all had to be dumped too.

I said I’d have to put my prices up if he wanted me to dump pears and he’d just laugh it off.

When I heard about more cuts at the cannery I was worried, but he told me I’d be okay with my fresh fruit.

I couldn’t help thinking that if the Supermarket would import canned fruit why wouldn’t they bring in fresh fruit too.

He said it would never happen and that the Supermarket had always backed Aussie growers as long as we could keep on top of our costs.

I believed him and kept on top of my costs.

But that was before I got the email – he said he was sorry, the cost of living, the Aussie dollar, his hands were tied.

They said much the same on the news, like it just happened, like there was no one to blame. 

Now I keep looking at my big dumb smile in the Annual Report picture and wonder if anyone’s going to call and ask how my pears are going?

This week Fruit Growers Victoria manager Michael Crisera said growers were “surprised” by SPC’s announcement and that 18-months ago they had been “encouraged to plant peaches”.

Have a great week


Supermarket banner with fruit grower


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