Frustrated by the fees imposed by major supermarket chains, members of the Quebec Produce Growers Association turned to the media in mid-June to complain.

“The problem is not that the chains don’t buy local produce,” said QPGA general manager Andre Plante. “The problem is that every year they increase the number of rules and charges.”

Pallet and unloading fees

Without naming names, Plante said one chain increased the rebate it requested on invoices from 3% to 5%, while another switched from a rental to an exchange pallet and hiked the cost from $3-5 per pallet.

Growers are also being charged up to $200 to unload their truck at a distribution center, he said. If the product is rejected, a decision that he called subjective, growers are penalized 65-75 cents per piece.

“All these extra charges create insecurity,” Plante said, “and many growers say they can’t continue like this.”

According to Statistics Canada, the price of vegetables has increased by 13% in the past 20 years, he said, while growers’ inputs, from fuel to labor, have doubled.

Growers have little choice but to work with the chains, which represent 70% of the Quebec market, Plante said.

The alternative, such as growers selling their land for development when the price is right or switching to more mechanized and price-stable crops such as grains — would restrict the amount of fresh local produce available.

To offset the fees, he called on the chains to consider giving local growers an extra dollar a box during the summer.

“Charging an extra 5 or 10 cents for a product won’t change anything for the consumer,” he said.

Support for local producers strong

Nathalie St-Pierre, Quebec vice president of the Retail Council of Canada, Montreal, denied that chain stores have imposed new conditions or constraints. Industry support for producers and for promoting Quebec produce has never been stronger, St-Pierre said.

“We feel that going to the media is not productive and that any issues should have been addressed directly with each banner,” St-Pierre said.

Plante said he and his members have talked to the chains in the past, but nothing changes.

“Our message to the chain stores is that you have to take care of your growers,” he said.