As I was growing up, in the 1950s, food retailers specialised. The small shopping strip around the corner in Malvern, Victoria, was pretty typical. Two grocers, a butcher, two milk bars and the greengrocers, in addition to the local chemist, hardware store and hairdresser. Bread and milk were delivered to your door.
The coming of the supermarkets changed things, although perhaps not as quickly as you might imagine. As late as 1992, according to an Australian Supermarket Institute survey, most Australians were still buying their fruit and veggies from greengrocers. By this time Australia had 5541 supermarkets and 402 convenience stores. However, the survey found that although supermarkets had snaffled 36% of the fresh fruit and vegetable sales, 56% preferred to visit the traditional fruit shop.
The situation changed over the following decades. A Roy Morgan survey in 2015 found that 72 per cent of shoppers bought their fruit and vegetables from supermarkets, up from 68 per cent in 2011. In 2017, CHOICE put the figure even higher, at 91 per cent. This doesn’t mean, however, that those shoppers bought exclusively from supermarkets, as many also bought some of their vegetables from market stalls. The CHOICE survey didn’t mention greengrocers.
Showing that surveys give, at best, a partial picture, an article in insidefmcg in 2015 quoted the Project Harvest study that found local greengrocers may have been experiencing a revival. “The number of Australians who buy their beans and carrots at greengrocers has jumped by 37 per cent and 25 per cent, respectively, since June 2014,” the study claimed.
The fruit and vegetable market in Australia is estimated to be worth around $4 billion. Many farmers sell their produce direct to major supermarket chains, with just under half selling via a wholesale vegetable market. There has also been an increase in farmers’ markets selling direct to consumers. It remains to be seen whether greengrocers in their traditional form will continue as an option for our fruit and veggie shopping.