Cheap fruit and vegetables come at a cost for produce industry

Tomatoes were on sale for a little as 8 cents per kilogram earlier this year.
Tomatoes were on sale for a little as 8 cents per kilogram earlier this year. Photo credit: Getty

While Kiwis have been treated to some dirt-cheap fruit and vegetables over the past few months, those bargains have come at a cost to the produce industry.

Jerry Prendergast, president of United Fresh, the pan-produce organisation representing growers, exporters and retailers, says returns for locally grown fruit and vegetables have been notably lower than normal due to COVID-19-related challenges.

Reduced flights and high freight costs has meant many producers that usually export a large portion of their crop have been forced to sell it on the domestic market this year. That has led to a glut of some fruit and vegetables, with prices in some cases dropping to historic lows.

In March tomatoes could be found for as little as 8 cents per kilogram, while high volumes of cherries, blueberries, feijoas and passionfruit were also sold in the domestic market.

"Consumers ending up benefitting because we have more of that product available when those growers would normally have been exporting product in order to get better returns," Prendergast told Newshub on Tuesday.

He said many businesses were feeling the cost of having to sell their product locally rather than to export markets.

"There was a reasonable demand over summer for summer fruits and other products but once we got into February, March there were very low values… and in many cases there were growers who were actually producing below production."

With much uncertainty still remaining, Prendergast said growers would continue to be cautious going ahead, which could lead to smaller crops next year.