The Chickpea Market

I was driving home from Melbourne a couple of weeks ago when my lovely wife sent me a text asking me to pick up a few things on my way home. After over 3 hours of driving I was ready to stretch my legs and so pulled into Horsham and found a park at Woolworths. Now one of the things on the list interested me more than the others. The product? Canned chickpeas.

Chickpeas out of a can.

Chickpeas out of a can.

This is interesting to me because we’re chickpea growers. To be sure, they’re just a small component of our overall farm, but our main crops: canola and wheat require processing and so we don’t often buy what we produce in the supermarket. But chickpeas in the supermarket look basically identical to the ones that leave our farm. Pretty much like the photo above expect they’ve swollen a bit due to soaking. So it was an unusual experience being the end consumer  instead of producer.

Now I’m terrible at shopping so it took me a while to get down to ‘chickpeas’ on the list. After eventually locating the ‘canned pulses’ section  of the supermarket I was surprised to find that there were four different brands of canned chickpeas I could buy. Take that North Korea, only free-market capitalism gives people in rural cities the choice of four types of canned chickpeas.  They were cheap too. I forget the exact prices but the most expensive of them all was less than $2.50. I felt proud.

Feeding Aussies with healthy and nutritious chickpeas at a great price they can afford. Two of the brands were generic supermarket brands and there were two others. Except three of the four were imported from Italy. The imported ones were REALLY cheap. All less than $1.

So here I was, standing in a supermarket in Horsham. There are hundreds or even thousands of hectares of chickpeas growing within 150km of me and 3/4 of the chickpeas on offer in this supermarket are imported. Now the two major supermarkets in Australia spent a lot of time and money each year convincing consumers that they support and encourage Australian farmers so let’s give Woolies the benefit of the doubt here.

Chickpeas prices that we farmers receive are near all time highs at the moment. India and surrounding countries eat the bulk of the worlds chickpeas and a combination of poor harvests both here and there have sent prices soaring. So I assume that the Australian chickpea product in our nearest regional center was DOUBLE the price of the imported products because it reflects the highly competitive nature of the Australian market currently and Woolies wants to give it’s customers  the option, well three options, of cheaper imported product to save them some money.

I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt because the alternate explanation is that a major supermarket is using price to encourage shoppers to buy their own generic branded products at the expense of third party suppliers who are producing food for Australians using Australian produce.

Surely not?

I have no idea what Woolies pricing strategy actually is. This could just have been an anomaly and not a deliberate strategy. But I did check the little IGA in my hometown after this and it only had 1 brand of chickpeas for sale. The Australian one.

Harvesting Chickpeas in Australia. (PIC: Morenvale Farms)


Web developer turned farmer. Interests include: my faith, my wife, technology, cricket, farming, ice cream & world events.

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