Tag: supermarkets

The outbreak of E. Coli has already cost lives, but it is also costing livelihoods of farmers who rely on producing and selling agricultural produce. Immediately following the outbreak in Germany, the blame was put on Spanish producers of cucumbers, which lead to the destruction of tens of thousands of kilos of fresh produce, costing Spain an estimated £177m per week in sales. Although Spain is not the source of the outbreak, the problem has not disappeared and will now affect the whole of Europe: at least until the source is identified. Countries such as Spain, France and Germany are big exporters to Russia and these countries are likely to take a big hit with the Russian health service banning imports of EU vegetables. The impact of this action (together with other countries implementing similar strategies) has not only affected agricultural producers, but is also having wider impacts on other sectors, including transportation. If no-one wants to buy the products, there’s very little use for the companies and indeed drivers to deliver them.

The Spanish economy will be looking for compensation from Germany for the losses they incurred, when sales of fruit and vegetables practically ceased following Germany’s initial accusation. As the Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero said:

“We acted as we had to, and we are going to get reparations and the return of Spanish products to their rightful place. … I believe that any other interpretation or any effort to politicise the huge mistake made by the German authorities is totally unfair.”

The effects of this outbreak have spread to UK supermarkets and producers. The former have reported a slight drop in sales of fruit and vegetables, but have not taken this opportunity to drop the prices paid to British growers, which is particularly important for cucumber producers, given the high production costs. Sarah Pettitt of the National Farmers Union said she was ‘extremely encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers.’ In fact some believe that the outbreak could be good for UK producers, as consumers increasingly turn to home-produced products. While the source of the outbreak remains unknown, so does the future of agricultural producers throughout Europe, as well as all those that have any dependence on this huge industry.

E. Coli outbreak: UK cases rise to 11 BBC News (4/6/11)
E coli source hunted as growers fear sales slump Guardian, Robin McKie (4/6/11)
Farmers reel as outbreak hits demand Financial Times, Matt Steinglass and Victor Mallet (3/6/11)
Spain seeks compensation for E. Coli blame BBC News (3/6/11)
E.Coli: Economic impact on the agriculture industry BBC News, Richard Anderson (3/6/11)
Spain says Germany mulls EU aid over cucumber slur Associated Press (3/6/11)
Rose Prince: Cucumbers, diet and Prof Moth Telegraph, Rose Prince (4/6/11)

Questions

  1. Why have cucumber producers been experiencing falling profit margins in recent years?
  2. Could the outbreak of E Coli bring any benefits to the UK economy?
  3. What are the costs and benefits to Russian consumers and producers from the protectionists measures that have been imposed on EU imports of fruit and vegetables?
  4. Which sectors within the European market are likely to experience the biggest problems?
  5. Explain why the Chairman of the National Farmers Union was ‘encouraged to hear that the major supermarkets … are not using this unfortunate situation as an excuse to drop prices to British growers’. Why would supermarkets have an incentive to do this?

A number of UK supermarkets, including Sainsbury’s, Asda and Safeway, have been fined £116m by the Office of Fair Trading (OFT) for price fixing. The OFT is still investigating other supermarkets, including Tesco which denies that it was involved in the price collusion. The collusion is estimated to have cost consumers around £270m in higher prices.

Supermarkets fined £116m for price fixing Guardian (8/12/07)
OFT hands out £116m in fines for milk price fixing Guardian (7/12/07)
Supermarkets admit milk price fix BBC News Online (7/12/07)

Videos

Farmers reaction to price fixing claims BBC News Online

Questions

1. Explain how Sainsbury’s and the other supermarkets colluded to fix milk prices.
2. Assess the market conditions most likely to lead to price collusion in a market.
3. Examine the role of the OFT in reducing uncompetitive and restrictive practices in markets.