Harsh weather cuts fresh food supplies: Woolworths

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 12th February 2009

Severe heat and the devastating fires in southern parts of Australia and flood waters in the north have had a significant impact on the supply of fresh food to supermarkets, Australia’s largest supermarket operator has advised.

Woolworths General Manager of Fresh Produce, Mr Michael Batycki, said Woolworths supplies of some fruit and vegetables had been affected by the extreme weather conditions experienced by Australian farmers.

organic food basket

“With floods in North Queensland along with bushfires and extreme heat conditions experienced in a wide number of growing areas across southern Australia our farmers are doing it tough. The full impact of the heat wave, fires and floods is not yet fully known but we expect supplies for fresh fruits and vegetables from these areas to vary in coming months,” he advised. “Woolworths is working closely with our growers in these areas. We will vary product specifications and supply arrangements in order to support our growers and maintain a consistent supply of fresh fruits and vegetables as possible to our stores.”

Floods impact banana supply
“In North Queensland, the floods have affected bananas with some of our farmers losing a significant proportion of their crop, while others have been unable to reach their properties. No fresh supplies of bananas have been able to reach the market for close to a week and while we are now seeing some movement of transports, we expect supplies of bananas to remain sporadic over the next few weeks,” Mr Batycki said. “Customers will notice that bananas may not always have the bright yellow blush we are used to. However the eating quality will be unaffected. Prices will remain higher than normal due to the drop in supply but we expect the price to level out in the coming weeks.”

Supply of leafy vegetables could be affected for months
“In Victoria’s Werribee area, leaf vegetable products have been severely affected and supply will be low for up to eight weeks,” Mr Batycki warned. “We have some supplies of leaf vegetables from our farmers in other regions, but supply will be interrupted and prices higher than normal for a couple of months.”

“Broccoli and cauliflower have been hard hit by the heat and we are seeing some evidence of this with yellowing and browning of the vegetables. However, we have some alternative supply coming from Tasmania.”

Stonefruits in short supply
Supply of stonefruits will be limited as many farmers have been unable to pick crops due to the extreme heat. When temperatures subside, supply should continue for the balance of the season and prices should stabilise, the supermarket chain reported.

Apples discoloured and pears burnt
“Early season Gala Apples have been affected by the heat resulting in a paler colour fruit. William Pears have also experienced slight sun-burning on the skin and we expect the season to finish earlier. Eating quality will not be affected and customers can buy with confidence,” Mr Batycki said.

Strawberries in tight supply
“Strawberries have been severely affected by the heat and will be in very short supply for up to eight weeks,” Woolworths advised.

Tomatoes ripening faster
“The heat is affecting the quality and colour of tomatoes. Consumers can expect to see full coloured tomatoes that are a little softer than usual therefore we suggest consumers buy daily. Eating quality will be excellent and full flavoured. Prices of tomatoes are expected to increase in the marketplace,” Mr Batycki added.

Potatoes appearance affected
Mr Batycki reported that potatoes have also been strained by the hot conditions in the south of the country. “Potatoes grown in Victoria and South Australia regions have experienced the affects of extreme heat. The skin will appear much darker and more spotted than normal, but as potatoes are generally peeled before use, this will not affect the eating quality,” he said.

Farmers need our ongoing support
“Our farmers in Queensland and Victoria are experiencing disasters that are worlds apart but they all need our ongoing support. Woolworths will continue to work with our farmers to sell what product we can in our stores to ensure stock does not go to waste. While some product may have cosmetic damage it is still high in quality and taste on the inside,” Mr Batycki advised.

Coles has also reported that they would be selling products with ‘cosmetic blushes’ at a discounted price in an effort to assist growers and maintain product availability in their stores. They will also donate profits made on Friday to the appeal.

Woolworths has provided $1m to the Red Cross Bushfire Appeal and $150,000 to the Queensland Premier’s Flood Appeal. They are also donating all profits from supermarkets on February 20, for the third year in a row, to the Country Women’s Association to help drought affected farming communities. Their supermarkets in country Victoria have also been providing stock to relief centres and CFA crews.