The market for any good or service is affected by countless factors. On the demand-side, things such as incomes, relative prices, expectations of price changes and tastes determine the shape and position of the demand curve. For the supply curve, it’s factors including costs of production, the profitability of alternative goods and in some cases, the weather or natural disasters. It is this last factor, which has presented Weetabix with problems.
An established breakfast cereal and brand, Weetabix is well-known for producing a range of high quality products. However, production of some of its most popular products has been stopped, as the quality of the British wheat used to make the various cereals was called into question. Last year, we had little summer to speak of and this led to the ‘worst harvest we have seen in decades’, so much so that the quality of the wheat was not sufficient to be used in making the breakfast cereal. This has caused production to cease on certain products and shortages have already begun to emerge, with some shops completely selling out and facing no prospect of being re-stocked.
Weetabix is now owned by a Chinese state-owned company, but still prides itself on using locally sourced wheat. However, with the weather affecting the harvest, wheat from abroad has had to be used, aiming to reduce the gap between demand and supply. The UK is typically an exporter of wheat, but with the poor harvest has come a drop in the amount of wheat produced and thus exported by some 2m tonnes – this is back to a similar level as was seen in the 1980s. A spokesman for Weetabix said:
Normally they’re proud to claim Weetabix is not just British wheat but from within 50 miles of Burton Latimer … They have had to source a bit from outside the UK, but Weetabix is still proud to say it sources its wheat within the UK … weather permitting.
Supply will be increased once wheat from abroad is used, but it is expected that this will take a couple of weeks. In the meantime, if you’re a consumer of the traditional Weetabix, you don’t need to worry, as it’s the less-known cereals that have been affected. The following articles consider this external factor and how it affects the supply of a product.
Weetabix products hit by poor wheat harvest BBC News (22/4/13)
Weetabix supplies hit by dismal harvest The Guardian, Rupert Neate (22/4/13)
Weetabix move to scale back production and re-engineer process is a commendable one The Grocer (20/4/13)
Britain’s disastrous wheat harvest halts production of Weatbix Minis and Oatibix Mail Online, Leon Watson (22/4/13)
Bad weather threatens wheat harvest Channel 4 News, Tom Clarke (3/4/13)
Weetabix halts production of Minis after poor harvest Farmers Weekly, Philip Case (22/4/13)
- With a poor harvest, which way would you expect the supply curve to shift? Illustrate this on a diagram.
- How should this shift in supply affect the market price and quantity of wheat, assuming all else remains the same?
- How can this example can be used to explain the interdependence between markets?
- With shortages possibly emerging, what might happen to demand today? Illustrate your answer on a demand and supply diagram.
- Does sourcing wheat from local areas give Weetabix a competitive advantage? If so, how might it be affected if it does choose to import wheat?