Israelis Cutting Back on Vegetables and Fruit as Prices Soar

Survey by TheMarker shows 80% of households have reduced purchases

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A produce store on a moshav in southern Israel, June 2, 2019.
A produce store on a moshav in southern Israel, June 2, 2019. Credit: Ilan Assayag

Rising prices for fresh fruits and vegetables in the last several weeks have begun to deter Israel shoppers from buying these items, a key part of the healthy Mediterranean diet they traditionally consume, a survey by TheMarker shows.

The survey of 500 households, conducted for TheMarker by the market research firm Geocartography, found that 80% had in the recent period curtailed purchases of fruits and vegetables, two thirds of them significantly. Most of the drop has been in fruits, especially exotic fruits.

>> Read more: The real heroes of Israel’s happy harvest | Opinion

Greengrocers and supermarket executives who spoke with TheMarker confirmed that their sales had fallen in response to high prices.

“There’s been a 10% drop in sales, mainly for the most expensive fruit,” said one grocer in the Tel Aviv suburb of Givatayim, who asked not to be identified. “We’re all waiting for prices to be saner, then people will start buying. ... I blame the growers for the high prices.”

The Central Bureau of Statistics said last week that the price of fresh fruit jumped 10.2% in May. Fresh vegetable prices rose much more modestly, but some categories saw double-digit hikes, including 20% for peppers and 19% for eggplant. Rising produce prices caused inflation last month to rise 0.7% overall, much higher than economists had forecast.

Israelis are big consumers of fresh produce, which was cited in a recent study that appeared in the British medical journal Lancet as the main reason why Israel had the lowest rate of diet-related deaths in the world, accounting for just 89 people out of every 100,000. The study said the key elements of a diet that helps prevent death from disease included nuts, seeds, seafood, fiber, fruits and vegetables.

Rami Levy, owner and founder of the eponymous discount supermarket chain, said he had also seen lower sales due to high prices, but maintained that supply and demand would eventually come into better balance and cause prices to fall.

“Recently grape prices have fallen and today they’re half the price they were two weeks ago, and that happened because people cut back their purchases of grapes,” he said. “It shows that purchasing power lies with the consumer. Grapes aren’t medicine and you don’t have to buy them.”

Other sources in the food retail sector, however, warned that prices for grapes were expected to start climbing again in the next few weeks.

The Givatayim greengrocer blamed growers for high prices, but there is no general consensus on what’s behind the jump in prices. The supermarket chains point the finger at wholesalers and at the government for not allowing lower-priced imports into the country. Growers blame the supermarkets.

The Agriculture Ministry says no one should be complaining because most of the year, prices for fresh produce are reasonable and lower by European standards. It declined to comment officially on reports of a decline in produce shopping, but one official implicated the growers and wholesalers for the high prices.

“It’s fantastic to see that the public understands that it doesn’t need to buy fruits and vegetable if they’re being sold at high prices,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

“Not a few growers are getting abnormal prices, a lot more than they were getting before. The growers, the marketer boards and the wholesalers think they can get whatever price they ask. If at the end of the day the consumer doesn’t act like he’s a hostage and doesn’t buy, prices will fall,” he said.

Among 500 householders polled by Geocartography, 59% blamed the government for high prices, 39% the supermarket chains and 34.5% the wholesalers. Only 9.5% blamed growers.

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