Antonio García Ortiz, a butcher in the La Cebada market, likes to go first thing in the morning to Mercamadrid, the largest wholesale food market in Spain. Many of his colleagues prefer to order over the phone, but he is used to getting up early. He arrives every day with his van at five in the morning, he puts on his white coat and takes a tour of the market’s cold stores. Today he has booked a white calf pistol at Los Norteños, one of the best-known and busiest wholesalers on the Madrid market. He costs nine euros a kilo. That’s 80 cents more than last week. In seven days it has become almost 10% more expensive, but he does not want to pass on all that money to buyers. “In La Cebada I have had to raise the price for my clients by 40 cents. I’m embarrassed to turn it up any higher, I’d rather lose a bit of profit,” he says.
The food markets are one of the best platforms from which to observe all the complications that the food distribution chain has suffered in recent days, where the perfect storm has been brewing. The invasion of the Kremlin in Ukraine on February 24 has caused a severe lack of raw materials that came from Russia and Ukraine, such as cereals. Also sunflower oil, since a quarter of imports of this product come from Ukraine and some supermarkets have been rationing its sale for days. In fact, the Spanish canneries have already calculated that they will run out of sunflower oil in just three weeks due to the war in Ukraine and the industrial sweets sector has warned that it only has oil to produce between two and four more weeks. As if that were not enough, since last Monday, March 14, there has been a truck transport strike by road that makes it impossible for products – vegetables, milk, fruit, fish or meat – to arrive from the field, from the tree, from the sea or from the animal to the table. Because this strike, called by the Platform for the Defense of the Freight Transport Sector, not supported by the main carrier organizations and which has caused a string of violent incidents, affects above all the supply of fresh products in the large wholesale markets and fish markets. of fish.
What happens in food markets like the one in Madrid later explains the empty fresh milk shelf in the neighborhood supermarket, the depleted basket of strawberries or the sign indicating the price of hake that has suddenly skyrocketed. Mercamadrid has registered this Saturday the arrival of 27% fewer vehicles that supply food than the same day of the previous week on the sixth day of the indefinite strike of autonomous carriers and small and medium-sized companies, according to Efe.
For now, the strike days have not affected Antonio García’s supply, but the purchase to fill the counter of his butcher is getting more expensive every day. The Iberian pig costs 25% more than last week. Beef for hamburgers, 30% more. The lamb, he says, for the moment comes out the same. “Since the price of grain increased, the same animal is worth much more than before. It is not just the price of transport, it is the production itself that has become more expensive”, explains Carlos Cerezo, one of the managers of the Femivaca company, a meat producer with farms in Toledo.
five cents a kilo
He knows in depth all the sides of the coin.
That same situation is reproduced in Mercabarna, the Barcelona food market. “In the last 15 days everything has risen about five cents per kilo,” summarizes the manager of Fruites Barri, Ramon Barri. “People on the street say ‘oysters, why are vegetables so expensive?’ But transport goes up, electricity that I have to have working 24 hours a day, wood, plastic… I have to raise prices, there is no more”, he reflects. In this same market, Juan Valverde, responsible for supplying fruit and vegetables to the 117 supermarkets of the Sorli Discau chain in the province of Barcelona, maintains: “Let’s go fair.” “We have not applied all the increase that we should do,” he argues. Among other things, because in their establishments they try to avoid increases by maintaining the effect of having products at “1.99 or 2.99″ euros.
Nods Juan Ignacio Navío, manager of the Frutas Navío stand in the Catalan capital’s food market, who assumes part of the rise in his margins. A pallet with hanging tomatoes and some boxes of green avocado are the only thing that prevents the total emptiness of the extensive space that his stall has. With 90% of the product arriving from Andalusia, the standstill illustrates the shortages that the Barcelona wholesale market is experiencing these days. His stall is missing courgettes, aubergines, peppers, strawberries and some varieties of tomato. “Normally, I have everything full, I get three or four trucks a day. This week we will invoice less than half, or a quarter of what we did last week”, laments Navío.
The Mercabarna Dealers Association (Assocome) estimates that products that are in short supply are sold 10% more expensive. The organization, which brings together the 150 fruit and vegetable companies in the wholesale market, says that the strike mainly affects trucks from Almería, Granada, Málaga and Huelva, where the pickets act with more force. In fact, Ecohal Andalucía has reported that about 17 fruit and vegetable warehouses in Granada and Almería have had to stop their activity due to the transport strike. Mercabarna has come to close some days of the week with 33% of the fruits and vegetables that are usually available.
The dealers’ association is concerned about the effects of the strike on farmers. Víctor Escandell’s wholesale business currently handles some 200,000 kilos of strawberries a week. “That week a quarter of it has arrived, but the strawberries have to be harvested and they are throwing them away. If they stay on the plant, they run out and die,” he laments. The same with courgettes, which are fast-growing, and cabbage, which sprouts. There is also less fish. Specifically, 20% less due to bad weather and unemployment, which has mainly affected the genre that arrives from Galicia. On Thursday, for example, there were hardly any mussels.
In Mercamadrid, the fish pavilion is also the one with the least product in the entire market. Antonio Medina’s stall is one of the most well-stocked. It sells only blue fish: it has anchovies, anchovies and salmon. The situation, however, is more critical than it seems. “This is not normal. I’m missing 90% of the usual fish. Between the carriers’ strike and the ships in the north that do not go out to fish because of the price of diesel, we are having a very hard time”, he comments.
Medina is not short of customers, but they are forced to buy less. The first to stock up are the hoteliers, who come to their stall as soon as the restaurants close. Then the retailers begin, such as Ángel López, who has two fishmongers in the Chamberí and Chamartín markets. “For now I continue to find everything I need, but if before I managed to buy about 20 pieces, today I leave with 15. And at almost the same price,” he says.