Fresh fruit and vegetables for everyone

13 Aug 2020 Fresh fruit and vegetables for everyone image

#SaveGreengrocersFightCovid

One of the best ways to stay healthy is to eat healthy. Not only does healthy, locally grown produce boost your immune system, it also helps prevent diabetes and heart disease. So, getting that food to all New Zealanders is vital in these very trying Covid times.

The most important aspect of our Covid response is keeping people safe. There are two aspects to that. The first is containment and locking down the borders to prevent the spread of Covid. The second is is about enhancing people’s immune systems through healthy food.

Under Level 3 lockdown, independent fruit and vegetable retailers are closed. They can do deliveries, and they can do click and collect. But they cannot open. It is possible to have these stores open and to safely sell produce. The safety protocols that dairies and supermarkets already operate under can equally apply to independent fruit and vegetable retailers. In fact, by having these stores open, the risk of transmission in supermarket cues is reduced because by having more outlets open - reducing the risk of transmission by less crowding. The logic for keeping these stores closed is if there are more outlets open, there is a greater risk. In fact, I think the opposite is true. However, the overriding and compelling argument is that by having these stores open, there is a greater chance for everyone to get the healthy food they need to fight off Covid.

In Auckland, around 60% of fresh produce is sold through independent retailers and farmers’ markets. Both these outlets being closed is reducing Aucklanders ability to buy the food they need. Across the rest of the country, this drops to 20%. Out in the country where there is no ready access to supermarkets, independent outlets are often the only place to buy fresh produce. So, no matter where there is a lockdown in New Zealand, the issue remains: where can everyone get their fresh produce?

During the last period of lockdown, the industry made an application to have these stores open. Initially, these stores were not even permitted to do contactless deliveries. Eventually, they were allowed to sell by click and collect at Level 3. Not everyone can use these processes, and the added complexity is a “turn-off” for some people.

We know from the last lockdown that the produce did not get to consumers. People just missed out. Closing independent retailers decreased the supply of fruit and vegetables. When supply decreases, prices will increase. This economic principle has shown to be entirely accurate with Stats NZ published today (13 August) that prices of fruit and vegetables have increased by almost 10%.

With the new Level 3 lockdown in Auckland, following strong support from growers, we renewed our request to open independent fruit and vegetable retailers. Click here for a copy of it. The request has the support of the horticulture industry because keeping these outlets closed not only restricts people’s access to fresh produce, but it also takes away their business: growers are selling less produce. This impact is making some growing operations unprofitable and pushing others out of business. The long term consequence for this is there will be less growing and, in the future, less supply.

There are compelling reasons for independent retailers to open under safe Covid controls. Not only will doing so ensure everyone has access to fresh, healthy, locally grown produce, but it will also ensure that we have the growing operations to provide food in the future. It’s time this decision was changed for our health today and tomorrow.

Mike Chapman, Chief Executive