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Your produce - sold by unit, or weight? (post started 3/11/2011)

I live near Boston, where there have been changed recently in how supermarket produce is sold. Heads of things like lettuce and broccoli used to be sold by the unit, but are now sold by the pound, as is most produce. At Trader Joe's, onions, bananas, and other things supermarkets sell by weight are sold by unit. I am still working on a 7" diameter sweet onion bought at Christmas for 79 cents, the unit price. (The clerk and several shoppers marvelled at it.)

I can understand unit pricing at farmers' markets and stands, where the vendors don't necessarily have scales with them, but it's odd to me that pricing produce by weight is not universal practice in other venues.

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  1. I find it obnoxious to charge by the piece when the pieces are not uniform in size and the tradition has been by weight: Peppers, onions, potatoes, etc. I always feel I have been left the small ones, especially at the end of the day or end of the week. (I, too, give farmers' markets a pass.) And, if you weigh a piece and do the math, you'll find the price per pound has gone way up.

    Charging by weight on traditional by the piece items has popped up, too. Usually, the "lb" is about 100 times smaller than the "$1.00" on the sign, and I am sure it is a way to charge more without seeming to raise the price, like the 14 oz pint of ice cream.

    The Sons of Business are at it again!

    11 Replies
    1. re: therealdoctorlew

      why do you give farmers' markets a pass?

      1. re: sunshine842

        Because if we make it harder to sell with nitpicking rules, some of the farmers won't come anymore. Anyway, we know their stuff is more expensive than supermarket picked unripe plastic wrapped sprayed pseudofood, so what does it matter?

        1. re: therealdoctorlew

          because it's real food, grown locally, and a good portion of the time it IS cheaper?

          (which it IS, on all accounts)

          1. re: sunshine842

            Point taken about quality, but around here (Long Island), the farmers' markets are more expensive than the fruit and vegetable stores and bakeries, but maybe not more than the non-sale prices at the supermarkets.

            1. re: therealdoctorlew

              Doesn't quality and variety matter to you?

          2. re: sunshine842

            RE farmers' markets- for the most part around here is NOT farm land, and half the stuf they sell at the so-called farmers' market is from the same place your grocery's produce comes from. If we're lucky we get produce from Willcox (not counting Eurofresh, which has miles and miles of sealed greenhouses surrounded by eight-foot chain link fence with razor wire on top of it! The tomatoes and sometimes the cucumbers are still better than most, most times of the year, though. But i'm not going to pay more for them at a farmers' market.

          3. re: therealdoctorlew

            >>"I, too, give farmers' markets a pass."<<

            You may want to clarify that statement. It seems abundantly clear to me that you're saying that you won't begrudge unit pricing at farmers' markets because the vendors are small business people who deliver high-quality food. But others appear to be reading your post to say that you refuse to shop at farmers' markets because prices are high there.

            1. re: alanbarnes

              Glad you posted that, Alan, because I did indeed read it to mean "I refuse to shop at farmers' markets because the prices are high and it's the same stuff anyway".

              Hadn't read it at all as "I'll give them a freebie to not price this way because it's already hard enough for them"

              Interested to hear which one the doctorlew means.

              1. re: sunshine842

                Of COURSE I meant that I shop at farmers' markets and I don't mind the pricing method because they have great stuff. I didn't realize I had been oppositely interpreted! I thought you guys were weird.

                I do object to the deceptive changes in pricing and packaging sizes in the general commerce, but I do not consider farmers' markets in the criticism as I value their goods too much to do anything regulatory that would discourage a supplier from showing up.

                I trust we are now all clear.

                1. re: therealdoctorlew

                  Yep...I couldn't figure out why you'd be so disparaging....sorry!

                  (Yep...blonde since birth)

          4. Traders does not have scales, does it? So everything is sold by the unit, even if it is packed in bags or clam shells.

            Fennel has always been inconsistent - some places and times by the units, others by weight.

            With the recent jump in prices due to the Mexico freeze, bell peppers (at one store) jumped from $1/lb to $1 each - which translates to about $4/lb. The change in measurement method softens/hides the cost increase.

            You could go to Canada and adjust to buy things by the kilo or 100g, not to speak of liters of gas :)

            4 Replies
            1. re: paulj

              Canadian stores have to list the price in metric, but most, if not all where I am also list them by the pound. The flyer I was reading this morning actually had the per pound price first. We're only kind of metric up here.

              When my Italian friend first moved to Canada about 10 years ago, she went into the deli and asked for a hectogram (100 g) of meat and the staff had no idea what she meant.

              1. re: Sooeygun

                I've never heard the word Hectogram used anywhere I've ever bought food in France,Germany, or Italy....I'm sure someone uses it somewhere, but I think you'd get blank stares in a lot of places in Europe for asking for a hectogram of something. (you just ask for 100g)

              2. re: paulj

                And that is a real quagmire because the US Gallon is Different than the CND Gallon. Just like our Million is differs. Why I do not know.

                1. re: 02putt

                  Canadians don't actually use gallons anymore...it's just litres.

              3. Boston hound here. This has always driven me nuts. Why does everyone sell cucumbers by the piece and zucchini by the pound? They even look alike! There oughta be a law (I'm surprised there isn't something on Blue Laws). How did the Commonwealth of Massachusetts miss this?

                2 Replies
                1. re: Berheenia

                  The larger plastic wrapped cucumbers are usually by piece - and tend to be uniform in size. Small Persian cucumbers are usually by weight. I haven't paid much attention to common thick skin ones.

                  But does this need to be regulated?

                  1. re: paulj

                    I was joking - we still have laws from the Puritans here in Boston that you wouldn't believe - especially where alchohol is involved- so why not veggies?

                2. Stores around me do both. Most things by the pound but broccoli and cauliflower as an example are sold per unit.

                  1. If the changes in produce pricing are very recent they could be due to the problems the produce industry has experienced this winter. Lettuce and some winter vegetables were seriously affected by the December rains in California. The freeze that hit around the Super Bowl also affected the Yuma growing area and just about wiped out the Mexican winter crops. The South has been through several hard freezes as well this year.

                    The case price to grocers on a wide range of items has doubled and in the case of cucumbers, bell peppers, eggplants, some lettuces, zucchini and tomatoes, the price has tripled or more. The run up in prices may have changed the profit margins enough that it's become more profitable to sell items by the pound than by the each, or vice versa.

                    FWIW, at the local farmer's markets I frequent here in San Diego, most of the produce vendors sell their produce by the pound, not the each.

                    1. I used to manage a produce department.

                      Many items are sold wholesale by a count amount, others are sold by weight or volume. The method generally matches the buying pattern of most customers. Ex. recipes call for citrus by the piece, potatoes by the pound or size. Also, most people are not that cognizant of weight. They don't want to know the price/lb. of limes, they just want to know the unit price since that is how they purchase them. If you showed the per/lb. price of spring mix people would react negatively, but packaged and priced as a unit (at the same ratio) is perceived as reasonable. Many consumers lack the math skills required to make good comparative choices.

                      Produce retailing is very time consuming and hands on. The amount of time you have to order and price is minimal. This creates a situation where you just stick with pricing in the same manner in which you were invoiced.

                      1. My normal supermarket sells most things be weight but some by unit. Pineapple is one such. That said, pineapple always seems to be on BOGOF so it'd be impossible to sell by weight.

                        1. in France, they're required to list the price per kilo, regardless of whether the price is per piece or by weight. So it will say something pineapples (avg weight 650g) 2,99 each (par kilo 4,59) -- I'm making those numbers up...but you get the idea.

                          I'm sure over the course of a shipment of fruit, the law of averages kicks in and their profit/loss really doesn't vary very much.

                          1. Where the price of produce is more a factor of non-mechanical human labor to harvest, it makes more sense to price by item (that is, it takes the same effort to harvest a small apple vs a large apple, to get a small/large stalk/root of X vs a small head/stalk/root of X) ; where the price is more a factor of shipping costs by weight, it makes more sense to price by weight.

                            1. Good point about the farmers' markets and scales.

                              1 Reply
                              1. re: EWSflash

                                Every stand at my farmer's market has scales. You give them your produce, they weigh it, do the math in their heads, and tell you how much it costs.

                              2. I hate buying produce by the unit, which is one of the many many reasons I refuse to shop at Trader Joe's and to some extent Fresh N Easy.

                                8 Replies
                                1. re: ipsedixit

                                  I don't buy much produce at TJs either - not because of the pricing structure, but because I'm unimpressed with the quality. (I make an exception for the pre-cleaned bags of wild arugula.) But it seems like refusing to buy unit-priced produce is like cutting off your nose to spite your face. Seriously, do you just do without lettuce? Mangoes? Avocados? I've never seen any of those priced by the pound.

                                  1. re: alanbarnes

                                    I rarely by lettuce (at least the iceberg kind).

                                    Mangoes I buy the box, so I guess that' unit pricing.

                                    Avocados? Neighbor has a tree, more than I (and her) can handle.

                                    And by the way, never said I "refuse" to buy produce by the unit, just that I "hate" to doing so. I did, however, say I "refuse" to shop at TJs.

                                    1. re: ipsedixit

                                      Nice to have a neighbor with an avocado tree. I've never seen any kind of lettuce (other than the prepackaged kind) sold by weight. Romaine, green leaf, red leaf, Boston - it's all sold by the unit around here.

                                      My favorite is that broccoli crowns are sold by the pound, while broccoli bunches are sold by the each. Go figure. But I really couldn't care less whether stuff is priced by the unit, by the kilo, or whatever. If a scale's available, conversion is a simple matter of arithmetic. Certainly not a big enough deal to work up so strong an emotion as hate.

                                  2. re: ipsedixit

                                    If I followed that philosophy I'd rarely buy English cucumbers, cilantro and parsley (usually sold by the bunch), green onions, or celery.

                                    1. re: paulj

                                      or pineapple, cantaloupe and most other melons (watermelon is the major notable exception), cauliflower, romanescu, celeriac, cabbages about half the time, regular cukes (3/$2, anyone?), pomegranates, kiwi fruit, (runs off to the corner to keep counting on her fingers)

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Where I do most of my produce shopping, melons are sold by weight. And cabbage has always been by weight, never by unit.
                                        Pomegranates? Got my own tree.
                                        Kiwi, yes, definitely by unit.

                                        My mom grows cucumbers and brings over more than I can handle generally.
                                        But yes, green onions and parsely are definitely by the bunch.

                                        1. re: ipsedixit

                                          then perhaps we should agree that it varies by seller -- because all those things I listed are sold by the unit where I live now (and usually were in the last city I lived)

                                          1. re: ipsedixit

                                            So So envious! You have your own pomegranate tree? I have cherry, nectarine trees, blueberry, raspberry, strawberry, blackberry, and blackberry bushes. Unfortunately, the season is pretty short here in Canada and I am not a real frozen fruit type of person. Our local market is very reasonable and makes for a nice morning out. When it comes to how things are sold generally they are by kilo. Pineapple, pomegranate, dragon fruit, kiwi, melons, cauliflower, broccoli, celery, carrots are sold by quantity. But the price per gram or kilo is marked on the sign in very small print. All our supermarkets have scales so if you must know the price you can do the math. It keeps the mind sharp. I generally know the going prices and if something is a deal or not. I have never really thought about it before so I guess it doesn't bother me. Now back to that pomegranate tree...do tell!

                                    2. While Trader Joe's sells by packaged unit, those are in just about every case of like weight. I buy their salad greens because I want a variety of greens in our salads, and buying four or five different bunches or heads would be even less economical than bagged, due to the inevitable waste. I like their various ready-to-cook green beans, too, and right now I'm buying very good navel oranges at $1.99 for a 4-lb bag. Avocados and Belgian endive I get at the supermarket, because I can get as many or few as I want. Same goes for potatoes, usually, though I love the baby Dutch things TJ's has in bags for roasting.

                                      Our farmer's markets here sell most things by the pound; there's a favorite fruit guy from up near Fresno who has citrus and stone fruit, depending on the season, and sells everything at the same per-pound price, with a discount for over 5 lb. Such things as asparagus and salad greens, though, are typically sold by the bunch or head; this varies from vendor to vendor, however.

                                      1. My tiny-framed Mama returned home one day
                                        and asked for my help with some totin'.

                                        Stuffed in the trunk were three 50 lb mesh bags
                                        of onions and cabbage and taters.

                                        She played mother hen and clucked about prices
                                        back when those veggies were two cents a pound
                                        and cackled that now those 1970's rascals
                                        were asking her now buy at a doubled four cents.

                                        So two bucks a bag for those big 50 pounders.

                                        Sold by unit or weight, those were the days.

                                        1. I live in the St. Louis area and leaf lettuce is sold by the pound in most groceries. Whenever we are traveling it is almost always sold by the head. They vary so much in size.

                                          1. There always is Haymarket "dolla a box, dolla box" and plenty of unit based pricing. And they certainly have scales, but you used to have to keep a sharp eye to make sure they weren't putting pressure on it with their hand and its more common that you get a chance to select the produce there when buying by unit.

                                            In Brazil there is something completely different called a "kilão." These exist at the farmers market, but also as separate produce stores specializing in this. The concept is there is a fixed price for all fruit and vegetables, which is lower than the median value of produce at a supermarket, generally you can purchase one kilo of mixed produce for between R$1.25-R$1.75. However, they are mixing things which you can buy for much less like cabbage (on sale for R$.49) and chayote (generally one of the cheapest vegetables for around R$.79) and things like coconuts which usually aren't sold by weight. But you also have things like tomatoes which can get as high as R$4-5 at supermarket. So the consumer pays less total than they would at the supermarket, the vendor spreads the cost over different items some expensive and some cheap, but also makes it up on volume (and generally these are vendors buying in bulk from area distribution centers but not exclusively). Cilantro, green onion, plus some local items (cheese, sausage, eggs) are sold at different prices and garlic is by weight but much more expensive, but most everything is in the kilão. Everything else is a mix of unit and per-lb pricing which vary a lot by vendor and time of year. In some cases where things are sold by unit, there are different tiers of fruits -- like 6 for R$1 small paypayas, 4 for R$1 medium, and 2 for R$1 large papayas. Its not produce, but to avoid standarizing the weight of breads and having to enforce that (like for instance with a baguette) many breads in Brazil are sold on weight, including simple cakes.