The Barbados Chamber of Commerce and Industry (BCCI) has defended food pricing at supermarkets and other retailers, pushing back on claims of price gouging.
President James Clarke told Barbados TODAY that what may appear to be price gouging was reasonable and fair on the basis of what goes on in the background before a price tag is placed.
At the same time, the BCCI said it is “actively looking” at pricing in a bid to give consumers an ease in food prices.
During the Barbados Labour Party’s 84th annual conference last weekend, Prime Minister Mottley said that some supermarkets were selling chicken at exorbitant prices based on a personal survey.
“I went around myself…. So I didn’t rely on no hearsay,” she said.
Waving her phone, Mottley added: “I got the pictures in here, the pictures of all of the prices and everything. I know the ones that were trying to charge $19.90 a kilogramme and I know the ones that were charging $11.99 a kilogramme for chicken, whole chicken.”
A recent advertisement by the Barbados Egg and Poultry Producers Association (BEPPA) also sent ripples through the retail trade. The ad highlighted the cost of whole fresh chicken at nine retail outlets, with the most expensive price being $15.05 per kilogramme at Trimart and Channell supermarkets and the cheapest from Popular Discount and Pricesmart at $11.95 per kilogramme.
Headlined ‘The Wise Shopper’, the ad upset some supermarket owners who blamed farmers for selling poultry at different prices to various outlets.
Clarke said it was wrong to think that retailers were setting high prices willy-nilly or trying to take advantage of consumers, especially those below the poverty line, as he attempted to explain the rationale behind pricing.
“You have to look at the whole supply chain,” he said. “You can’t just look at what the end sellers are doing. So the cost of things have gone up, we know that inflation has hit Barbados very hard and that salaries and wages have gone up, so that carries up the cost fast. The cost of energy has gone up too so that also contributes.
“So there’s lots of things that go into it. It’s not just one thing and it’s not just supermarkets just deciding willy-nilly to jack up the prices. It’s a competitive market and the effects of inflation are strong and have hit the country very hard. So when you get that type of situation where it’s hitting the country this hard, the supermarkets and so on are going to try to keep their prices as keen as they can.”
The BCCI president said the key was to understand what supermarkets were doing.
“What is the entire cost from beginning to end? How much are they able to buy stuff for, whether it’s locally or overseas? [You also have to factor in] transportation costs, import duties, taxes, local transportation, handling, staffing, refrigeration, cost of fuel, cost of electricity . . . cost of people’s salaries and wages, all of these go into the pricing of goods. So when things go up, it’s not just one thing that has gone up. It’s usually multiple things that have been impacted,” Clarke insisted.
However, he said the BCCI is looking at the issue of pricing as a whole to see what can be done to give Barbadians an ease to some degree.
“From the chamber’s point of view, we’re actively looking at this chain and working with various agencies and so on to see what can be done all the way along because some of the fixes are not that simple, but that doesn’t mean that it should not be addressed,” Clarke told Barbados TODAY.
“Efficiency is the key to getting some of these costs down, especially since we live on an island in the middle of the ocean and we have to import many, many things.”
BEPPA president Stephen Layne has also distanced his organisation from suggestions of price gouging, declaring that all poultry farmers were absorbing significant input increases that shrank their profit margins.
He said poultry farmers were doing their best to keep their businesses afloat while considering consumers. He reasoned that farmers were not responsible for the mark-up of prices in supermarkets and any talk of price gouging would be something to take up with them and not his organisation.
The BEPPA head said that the organisation did its own research and paid for the advertisement to help consumers make wise decisions before they make any purchases.
“It definitely cannot be said that [price gouging] is coming from the end of poultry farmers,” Layne told Barbados TODAY. “They are trying to absorb as much as humanly possible without going out of business. They do not make large profit margins and we have had some challenges over the last year or two where we have seen the reduction of farmers and they have been trying to come back in, but that is not where the big profits or profitability is.”