Growers concerned about 'vegie wars'

STEPHANIE VANICEKBusselton Dunsborough Times

Busselton vegetable growers have found themselves on the front line, as fruit and vegetables become the latest battleground in the supermarket discount wars.

Coles announced this week it would cut the price of selected fruit and vegetables by up to 50 per cent, possibly triggering a new price war with rivals Woolworths.

This comes only 12 months after a milk price war between the two grocery giants slashed the price of milk to $1 a litre.

Busselton sweetcorn-grower Ken Sue believed the short-term consumer benefit from fruit and vegetable price cuts could have detrimental long-term impacts on Australia’s fresh food industry.

Mr Sue said local growers were already feeling the strain of increased production costs, and predicted it would not take much to push some out of the industry.

“Any price cuts shouldn’t be passed on to the grower, or they are just going to say I’m out, I’m not going to produce any longer,” he said.

Mr Sue said price cuts would place pressure on all growers to drop prices, as consumers take advantage of the cheap prices on offer.

Busselton Farmers Market owner Neville Elson said there were fears independent grocers and small retailers could be priced out of business.

“The cost of living is getting higher and people are watching their bottom dollar and taking advantage of cheaper prices,” he said.

South West MLC Adele Farina slammed Coles’ decision to slash prices, joining calls for an overhaul of competition laws to reduce it and Woolworths’ share of the market.

“Coles are not engaging in this price war for altruistic reasons, it’s about increasing its market share and eliminating the competition – fruit and vegetable stores and farmers markets,” she said.

Ms Farina predicted that with slim returns, farmers might leave the food industry, but said competition ensured good grower returns and low consumer prices.

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