This rather strange question has been central to a storm that has been brewing between various celebrity chefs, including Jamie Oliver and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, and the supermarkets. Supermarkets say that consumers don’t want irregular shaped vegetables, such as carrots, parsnips and potatoes. ‘Nonsense’, say their critics.
At the centre of the storm are the farmers, who find a large proportion of their vegetables are rejected by the supermarkets. And these are vegetables which are not damaged or bad – simply not of the required shape. Although these rejected vegetables have been described as ‘wonky’, in fact many are not wonky at all, but simply a little too large or too small, or too short or too long. Most of these vegetables are simply wasted – ploughed back into the ground, or at best used for animal feed.
And it’s not just shape; it’s colour too. Many producers of apples find a large proportion being rejected because they are too red or not red enough.
But do consumers really want standardised fruit vegetables? Are the supermarkets correct? Are they responding to demand? Or are they attempting to manipulate demand?
Supermarkets claim that they are just responding to what consumers want. Their critics say that they are setting ludicrously rigid cosmetic standards which are of little concern to consumers. As Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall states:
‘It’s only when you see the process of selection on the farm, how it has been honed and intensified, it just looks mad. There are many factory line systems where you have people looking for faults on the production line; in this system you’re looking for the good ones.
What we’re asking supermarkets to do is to relax their cosmetic standards for the vegetables that all get bagged up and sold together. It’s about slipping a few more of the not-so-perfect ones into the bag.’
In return, consumers must be prepared to let the supermarkets know that they are against these cosmetic standards and are perfectly happy to buy slightly more irregular fruit and vegetables. Indeed, this is beginning to happen through social media. The pressure group 38 degrees has already taken up the cause.
But perhaps consumers ‘voting with their feet’ is what will change supermarkets’ behaviour. With the rise of small independent greengrocers, many from Eastern Europe, there is now intense competition in the fruit and vegetables market in many towns and cities. Perhaps supermarkets will be forced to sell slightly less cosmetically ‘perfect’ produce at a lower price to meet this competition.
Hugh’s War on Waste Episode 1 BBC on YouTube, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (2/11/15)
Hugh’s War on Waste Episode 2 BBC on YouTube, Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall (9/11/15)
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall rejects Morrisons’ ‘pathetic’ wonky veg trial The Guardian, Adam Vaughan (9/11/15)
Jamie Oliver leads drive to buy misshapen fruit and vegetables The Guardian, Rebecca Smithers (1/1/15)
Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s war over wonky parsnips The Telegraph, Patrick Foster (30/10/15)
Asda extends ‘wonky’ fruit and veg range Resource, Edward Perchard (4/11/15)
Wearne’s last farmer shares memories and laments loss of farming community in Langport area Western Gazette, WGD Mumby (8/11/15)
Viewpoint: The rejected vegetables that aren’t even wonky BBC News Magazine (28/10/15)
Viewpoint: The supermarkets’ guilty secret about unsold food BBC News Magazine (6/11/15)
- What market failures are there is the market for fresh fruit and vegetables?
- Supermarkets are oligopsonists in the wholesale market for fruit and vegetables. What is the implication of this for (a) farmers; (b) consumers?
- Is there anything that (a) consumers and (b) the government can do to stop the waste of fruit and vegetables grown for supermarkets?
- How might supermarkets estimate the demand for fresh fruit and vegetables and its price elasticity?
- What can supermarkets do with unsold food? What incentives are there for supermarkets not to throw it away but to make good use of it?
- Could appropriate marketing persuade people to be less concerned about the appearance of fruit and vegetables? What form might this marketing take?
The enormous amounts of money broadcasters are willing to pay for the rights to show live football astonish most people. The figures have continued to rise despite the impact of a recession, slow economic growth and static or falling real incomes.
The deal to broadcast live games in the English Premier League (EPL) for the three seasons from 2007-10 was 65% higher than the agreement that ran from 2004-07. The recession did appear to slow growth down as the contract covering the seasons 2010-13 was only 5% higher than the previous one. However the total size of this deal was still a staggering £1.78billion or approximately £593 million per season. BSkyB was the most successful bidder in all of these auctions for live TV rights and successfully saw off competition from ITV Digital, ESPN and Setanta.
However in the last few years, BT Sport has entered the bidding process and has provided BSkyB with much stronger competition than its previous rivals. As a result, BskyB had to pay £2.3 billion in order to outbid BT Sport in the most recent auction. The three-year deal beginning in the 2013-14 season gives BSkyB the rights to show 116 lives matches each year. BT Sport also paid £738 million for the rights to show 38 live matches a season. In total this means that the EPL earns approximately £1billion per season from the sale of broadcasting rights in the domestic market – an increase of 70%!
The Champions and Europa League also auction the rights to broadcast live matches and there was a real shock when BT Sport recently announced that it had secured the exclusive rights to show all 350 live games in these competitions. Once again the figure it paid – just under £900 million for a three-year deal – took most people by surprise. It represented a 125% increase on the previous three-year deal with BSkyB and ITV. What was also surprising was that there was only one round in the sealed bid auction which suggests that BT Sport’s offer was well in excess of the one submitted by BSkyB.
Most of the initial reaction to this new deal has focused on its implications for the number of matches that will be available free to air: i.e. without having to pay for a subscription channel. The BT Sport contract does specify that the Champions League final and at least one match involving each British team will be shown free to air each season. However, this will be a significant reduction in the number of free to air games currently shown by ITV.
The new deal may also have implications for competitive balance in the EPL. This concept was discussed in a previous blog on this New Site Parachute payment problems for the English Football League and refers to how equally the most talented players are distributed amongst the teams in a league. This distribution will be heavily influenced by the degree to which the revenues of the teams in the league vary. Commenting on this latest contract Liverpool’s former managing director Christian Purslow stated that:
The fundamental effect of the BT deal will be additional wealth for England’s big teams. You will now have six teams (Manchester City, Chelsea and Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs) playing for four Champions league places with the other 14 teams playing for survival. Never again will the likes of Everton, Newcastle or Villa get near the top – the difference in revenues will simply be too great.
To understand this statement one has to examine how the Champions League distributes the revenue it raises back to the teams that participate in the tournament. One part of the distribution mechanism is determined by the sporting performance of the teams in the competition. For example all 32 teams that make it to the group stages of the Champions League receive a minimum of €8.6 million. Each win in the group games earns a team an additional €1 million while a draw earns €500,000. The teams that make it to the last 16 receive an additional payment of €3.5 million, the quarter finalists earn an additional €3.9 million while the semi-finalists each receive €4.9 million. For example in the 2012-13 season, Manchester United received prize money of €16.1 million for reaching the last 16, whereas Bayern Munich received €35.9 million of prize money for winning the competition. If broadcasting revenues for the Champions League increase across the whole of Europe then the size of the prizes will almost certainly increase.
Teams also receive a share of the broadcasting revenue generated by the Champions League known as the market pool. The total size of the market pool allocated to the teams in any particular country depends on the value of the deal between the broadcasters in that country and UEFA. In the 2012-13 season the total market pool to be divided between the four English teams in the Champions League was €86.6 million. This was the second highest figure behind Italy. In contrast the four Portuguese teams had just over €7 million from the market pool to share between them because the value of the broadcasting deal in that country was so much lower. The market pool is split between the clubs based on (a) their finishing position in the domestic league the previous season and (b) how many games they played in the Champions League from the group stage onwards. FC BATE Borisov were the only representative from Belarus so did not have to share the market pool with any other team. Unfortunately for them the size of the market pool was only €290,000. Manchester United received a market pool payment of €19.45 million.
Given the dramatic increase in value of the broadcasting rights the size of the market pool for the English teams will rise significantly in 2015-16 season. The battle in the 2014-15 EPL season for the four Champions League places will be even stronger and more intense than ever. As a result, the competition for the services of the most talented players will probably push up their wages to ever higher levels.
Monopoly money: Football’s TV war makes the rich unreachable’ BBC Sport (17/11/13)
Champions League TV deal in focus BBC Business (11/11/13)
Champions League: BT Sport wins £897 football rights deal BBC Sport (9/11/13)
Top Soccer Leagues Get 25% Rise in TV Rights Sales, Report Says Bloomberg (11/11/13)
BSkyB could face Premier League premium The Guardian (11/11/13)
Clubs benefit from Champions League revenue UEFA (23/7/13)
Sky pleaded with football officials to reopen champions league talks The Telegraph (11/11/13).
- What is a sealed bid auction? How does it compare with different types of auctions?
- Suggest some reasons why BT Sport were willing to pay so much more than BSkyB for the broadcasting rights for the Champions League.
- Do you think that the potentially higher revenues for the top clubs might actually reduce attendances at their matches? Explain your answer.
- Explain how the potentially higher future revenues for teams participating in the Champions League in 2015-16 can be discounted in order to give them a present value.
- Draw a diagram to illustrate the impact of the new broadcasting deal on the marginal revenue product of the most talented players.
- Is the labour market for the most talented players competitive or is it an oligopsony? What implications does this have their wages? How does your answer change if the labour market is a bilateral monopoly?
‘Farm-gate’ milk prices (the price paid to farmers) have been rising in the UK. In July they reached a record high of 31.4p per litre (ppl). This was 5.1ppl higher than in July 2012. There were further price rises this month (October). Sainsbury’s increased the price it pays farmers by nearly 2ppl to 34.15ppl and Arla Foods by 1.5ppl to 33.13ppl. Muller Wiseman is set to raise the price it pays to 32.5p per litre.
And yet many farmers are struggling to make a profit from milk production, claiming that their costs have risen faster than the prices they receive. Feed costs, for example, have risen by 2.12ppl. On average, farmers would need over 38p per litre just to cover their average variable costs. What is more, exceptional weather has reduced yields per cow by some 7%.
Meanwhile, in the USA, supply has risen by some 1.3% compared with a year ago. But despite this, the prices of dairy products are rising, thanks to strong demand. Cheese and butter prices, in particular, are rising rapidly, partly because of high demand from overseas. Demand for imported dairy products is particularly high in China, where supply has fallen by some 6% in the past couple of months.
The problem for dairy farmers in the UK is partly one of the power balance in the industry. Farmers have little or no market power. Supermarkets, however, have considerable market power. As large oligopsonistic buyers, they can put downward pressure on the prices paid to their suppliers. These are mainly large processing firms, such as Robert Wiseman Dairies, Arla Foods and Dairy Crest. They, in turn, can use their market power to keep down the price they pay to farmers.
Dairy farmers renew protests over milk prices Farmers Weekly, Philip Case (5/9/13)
Dairy farmers ‘lost more than 1p/litre last year’ Farmers Weekly, Philip Case (2/10/13)
South West farming businesses and producers still making a loss on milk South West Business (3/10/13)
Q&A: Milk prices row and how the system works BBC News (23/7/12) (note date of this)
Positive Dairy Trend: Rising Milk Production and Strong Demand The Farmer’s Exchange, Lee Mielke (27/9/13)
Chinese supply crisis to delay dairy price adjustment Rabobank (25/9/13)
China milk ‘crisis’ fuels world dairy price rise Agrimoney (1/10/13)
UK milk prices and composition of milk ONS
Combined IFCN world milk price indicator IFCN
- Give some examples of (a) variable costs and (b) fixed costs in milk production.
- Why may farmers continue in dairy production, at least for a time, even if they are not covering their average variable costs?
- What factors determine (a) the price of milk paid to farmers; (b) the retail price in supermarkets?
- Explain how dairy futures markets work.
- Could the milk processors use their market power in the interests of farmers? Is it in the interests of milk processors to do so?
- Why is there a Chinese “dairy supply crisis”? What is its impact on the rest of the world? What is the relevance of the price elasticity of demand for dairy products in China to this impact?
The news in many European countries has been dominated in February by the ‘horse meat scandal’. Small traces of horse meat may be the result of faulty quality control. But the significant amount of horse found in several processed meat products suggest fraud at one or more points in the supply chain from farm to supermarket or other outlet. Indeed several specific suppliers, from abattoirs to processors are facing criminal investigation.
The scandal has put the supply chain under intense scrutiny. Part of the problem is that the supply chain is often very long and complex. As the Guardian article states:
The food and retail industries have become highly concentrated and globalised in recent decades. A handful of key players dominate the beef processing and supermarket sectors across Europe. They have developed very long supply chains, particularly for their economy lines, which enable them to buy the ingredients for processed foods from wherever they are cheapest at any point, depending on exchange rates and prices on the global commodity markets. Networks of brokers, cold stores operators and subcontracted meat cutting plants have emerged to supply rapidly fluctuating orders “just in time”. Management consultants KPMG estimate there are around 450 points at which the integrity of the chain can break down.
Then there is the huge pressure on all parts of the supply chain to reduce costs.
Supermarkets use their market power to drive down the prices of the products they buy from their suppliers and this has a knock-on effect backwards down the supply chain. This pressure has intensified as real wages have fallen and consumers have found their budgets squeezed.
At the same time, beef and other meat prices have been rising as the costs of animal feed have soared. This all puts tremendous pressure on suppliers to add cheaper ingredients. Again to quote the Guardian article:
Manufacturers add other cheap ingredients including water and fat, and use concentrated proteins to bind the water and fat in. They may appear on labels as ‘seasoning’. One of the cheapest sources of these protein additives is pork rind. It is possible that horse hide is now also being used. The widespread adulteration of cheap chicken breast with pig and beef proteins and water has been uncovered in previous scandals. The beef proteins were derived from hydrolysed cattle hides. It is not illegal to use these protein concentrates so long as they are identified correctly to the manufacturer.
It is not surprising that if cheap horse meat becomes available to suppliers, such as from old horses towards the end of their working lives, some processing companies may be tempted to add it fraudulently, stating that it is beef.
The articles look at the issues of long and complex supply chains in the processed food industry and assess why they have evolved into their current form and the difficulties in regulating them.
Horsegate: heed economics of the cold chain The Grocer, Andrew Godley (16/2/13)
Horsemeat scandal: the essential guide The Guardian, Felicity Lawrence (15/2/13)
After the horse has been bolted The Economist (16/2/13)
Slavery, not horse meat, is the real scandal on our doorstep The Telegraph, Fraser Nelson (14/2/13)
Industry must take the reins on food safety Globe and Mail (Canada)Sylvain Charlebois (15/2/13)
Supply chains changed the growth model The Economist, Richard Baldwin (15/8/12)
Supply-chain management The Economist (6/4/09)
Tesco pledges to open up supply chain after horse meat scandal The Telegraph (16/2/13)
Horse meat scandal: Shoppers who buy ‘cheapest food’ at risk The Telegraph, James Quinn, Jason Lewis and Patrick Sawer (16/2/13)
Let Them Eat Horse Bloomberg, Marc Champion (15/2/13)
Scandal shows meat supply chain must be policed heraldscotland (14/2/13)
MPs push for new powers for FSA as officials seize yet more suspect meat Independent, Martin Hickman (13/2/13)
- Why do supermarkets and their suppliers use long supply chains?
- Explain the concepts of ‘countervailing power’ and ‘monopsony or oligopsony power’? How do they apply in the processed meat supply chain?
- Identify the types of transactions costs in the processed meat industry.
- In what ways do consumers (a) gain and (b) lose from such supply chains?
- Why is the problem of fraud in processed food supply chains likely to have intensified in recent years?
- How have supermarkets reacted to the horse meat scandal? Why has it taken the scandal to make them react in this way?
- To what extent is the problem simply one of inaccurate labelling?
- To what extent is there a principal–agent problem in the processed meat supply chain?
Two of the biggest publishing companies, Pearson of the UK and Bertelsmann of Germany are to form a joint venture by merging their Penguin and Random House imprints. Bertelsmann will have a majority stake in the venture of 53% and Pearson will have 47%.
The Penguin imprint, with a turnover of just over £1bn, has an 11% share of the English language book publishing market. Random House has a 15% share, with turnover of around £1.5bn. The new ‘Penguin Random House’, as it will be called, will have nearly 26% of the market, which should give it considerable market power to combat various threats in the book publishing market.
One threat is from online retailers, such as Amazon, Apple and Google, which use their countervailing power to drive down the prices they pay to publishers. Another threat is from the rise of electronic versions of books. Although e-books save on printing costs, competition is driving down prices, including the prices of paper books, which may make publishers more reluctant to publish new titles in paper form.
There has been a mixed reception from authors: some are worried that an effective reduction in the number of major publishers from six to five will make it harder to get books published and may squeeze royalty rates; others feel that an increased market power of publishers to take on the online retailers will help to protect the interests of authors
The following videos and articles look at the nature of this joint venture and its implications for costs, revenues and publishing more generally.
Videos and webcasts
Penguin and Random House merge to take on digital giants Channel 4 News, Matthew Cain (29/10/12)
Penguin and Random House confident merger will be approved BBC News, Will Gompertz (29/10/12)
Penguin Books and Random House to merge BBC News, Matt Cowan (29/10/12)
Random House and Penguin merge to take on Amazon, Apple Reuters, Kate Holton (29/10/12)
Pearson’s Penguin joins Random House Independent, Amy Thomson and Joseph de Weck (29/10/12)
Penguin and Random House sign merger deal Financial Times, Gerrit Wiesmann and Robert Budden (29/10/12)
March of the Penguin The Economist, Schumpeter blog (29/10/12)
Penguin chief: News Corp can’t derail Random House deal The Guardian, Mark Sweney (29/10/12)
Penguin and Random House confident merger will be approved BBC News, Anthony Reuben (29/10/12)
And so I bid Penguin a sad farewell Independent, Andrew Franklin (29/10/12)
- How does a joint venture differ from a merger?
- What types of economies of scale are likely to result from the joint venture?
- How are authors likely to be affected?
- Will the joint venture benefit the book reading public?
- The relationship between publishers and online retailers can be described as one of ‘bilateral oligopoly’. Explain what this means and why it is impossible to determine an ‘equilibrium’ wholesale price of books in such a market.
- What criteria would the competition authorities use to assess whether or not the joint venture should be permitted to proceed?
- What is likely to be the long-term outlook for Penguin Random House?
- Assess the benefits and costs of a News Corporation takeover of the Penguin division? This was an alternative offer to Pearson had it not gone with Bertelsmann. (News Corp. has the Harper Collins imprint.)