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Ministry of Agriculture wary of looming price war in the UK

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Contact: Claudia Monlouis

Thursday, September 19, 2002 – St.Lucia is positively poised and holding on steadfastly to its niche in the UK agricultural market. During a recent trip to the UK, Dr.Jimmy Fletcher, PS in the Ministry of Agriculture and the Minister of Agriculture Senator Hon.Calixte George found that even some areas of concern have stabilized. Dr.Fletcher on evaluating this situation remarked that:

“St.Lucia’s fruit in general appears to be quite good and very well received. Some of the quality problems that we have been experiencing earlier in the year in February and March had apparently been resolved. And our quality was of a reasonably high standard. The meetings we had with the supermarket representatives reaffirmed their commitment to purchasing Windward fruit. They said that Windward fruit is still their favourite line, that there is a tremendous positive response to Windward fruit by UK consumers.”

According to Dr.Fletcher: the primary reasons for the trip, was to meet with the supermarkets that purchase Windward Islands bananas. They are namely Sainsbury, Tesco, Waitrose, and Marks and Spencer.

The two officials felt that it was important to reaffirm St.Lucia’s commitment to supplying the supermarkets with excellent quality bananas and to learn from them of any problems that they may be experiencing with Windward Island bananas, and to see what could be done to improve the flow of bananas from St.Lucia and the other Windwards to the UK.”

Dr. Fletcher describes the meetings they attended as very productive, and noted that the feedback was very heartening, particularly given that all dialogues were conducted in a very frank and open way.

The Permanent Secretary however pointed to a price war which is gaining momentum among UK supermarkets. Of concern says Dr.Fletcher, is the fact that a lot of it is focussed on bananas.

The controversy seems to be fuelled by leading supermarket operator Asda, which was recently purchased by American Corporate giant Wal-Mart. According to Dr. Fletcher, the supermarket dropped its price for bananas, creating a domino effect reaction among competitors.

“ That is something that we’re looking at very carefully because so far that cost has not been passed on to the farmer but there is a concern that if that price war continues that it may be passed on to the farmer and that would be disastrous for us.” says Dr.Fletcher.

To be on the “safe side” the Ministry has put in place some contingency plans for trying to effect lobbying against that trend.

On an optimistic note, Dr.Fletcher said that it has been proven that dropping the price of bananas has absolutely no effect on consumers and their purchasing patterns.


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