Concern for the welfare of independent supermarkets has emerged in the wake of a nationwide strawberry recall after fresh cases of berries sabotaged by sewing needles emerged over the weekend.
NSW Police reported on Friday that six strawberry brands were embroiled in the needle recall across Queensland, Victoria and NSW, but over the weekend punnets purchased in South Australia and Tasmania were found to also be sabotaged.
Police have identified sabotaged punnets from brands Berry Obsession, Berry Licious, Donnybrook Berries, Delightful Strawberries, Love Berries and Oasis.
A punnet of Mal’s Black Label strawberries was returned to Klose’s Foodland supermarket in South Australia on Sunday, having been identified as containing a needle, SA police said.
Klose’s has now removed all potentially impacted stock from their shelves, but the incident has sparked concern that independents may also be at risk across the country.
Master Grocers Association, which represents thousands of independent supermarkets, is concerned the recall will impact the industry as a whole, but particularly smaller retailers.
Maria Brown, Master Grocer’s national legal counsel, says members she has spoken to were acutely aware of customer concerns.
“We’re finding that there is considerable hesitancy and uncertainty,” she tells SmartCompany.
Woolworths and Coles are complying with the recall and have put notices up in stores advising customers to cut up their strawberries, amid growing calls for supermarket operators and managers to check their own stock.
There is now also broader concern the national recall will have a negative impact on demand for strawberries across the market.
Strawberries are currently in season, which makes the timing of the recall potentially more punishing for industry stakeholders.
Strawberry sales increased?
But one independent supermarket owner says strawberry sales have actually increased over the last week.
Greg Marks, co-owner of Marks Supa IGA in Mansfield, Victoria, tells SmartCompany the $1.66 per punnet price on the berries was courting interest, despite the recall.
“They’re just so cheap at the moment they almost sell themselves,” Marks says.
“There’s a minority of customers that are concerned, but it is not concerning the majority.
“The price is over-ruling the franticness,” he explains.
Marks doesn’t stock any of the brands that have so far been impacted by the recall, but says he’s advising customers to cut up their strawberries before chowing down.
He says he’s noticed a decline in market volumes though, which is bad news for those up the supply chain.
“It would be terrible to be a farmer,” Marks says.
SmartCompany contacted Klose’s Supermarkets for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.