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Jun 22, 2014 07:23 AM

Chew on This - Fresh vs Frozen or Canned. Why the Price Difference

Why is it that:

A pound of ripe tomatoes is $2.50 and a can of whole tomatoes 16 oz is under a dollar.

Fresh green beans are $2.00 a pound and frozen are $1.00.

Apples are $2.00 a pound and apple sauce is about a dollar per jar.

Oranges are about a dollar a piece and Orange Juice is $1.99 a quart.

I get that there are shipping costs and a perishable factor in fresh produce but, there are also similar costs for prepping for frozen produce and canning as well as shipping.

It makes me think that there’s more to this than just supply and demand.

What are your thoughts as you get ready to fork over mega bucks for that tomato.

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  1. Shipping and handling are significantly different for fresh foods vs. processed.

    Produce destined for the freezer case is grown close to the processing plant. Lesser quality produce used for canned goods might be shipped a slightly greater distance to a different plant. In both cases, they are processed, stored, and shipped in bulk, this lowers costs overall. Timing is not a critical factor, waste is negligible, and the only specialization in transport are the freezer containers/trucks.

    Fresh foods, especially produce, are fragile, highly perishable, and must be harvested, packed, and shipped in smaller quantities than processed foods, shipped for either hundreds, or mostly, thousands of miles from where they are grown, and in the shortest possible time. Specialized packaging materials, specialized shipping containers/trucks are required to maintain quality and condition, and comply with food inspection/health guidelines during transit from field to market. Gas sensor systems, humidity control, ventilation systems etc., and more labor-intensive handling at every step of the way.

    Despite all precautions taken during handling and transport, a significant percentage of produce never makes it to market due to spoilage or other damage during transit. And consider the produce that gets picked over in the supermarket bins that careful shoppers won't buy. Sooner or later, some of that produce heads to the garbage bin.

    1. Everything mcsheridan said.

      Plus the canned and frozen products are most likely from a past harvest which may not have been subject to unseasonal weather, drought, disease in the same way the present harvest has.

      There are differences in the varieties raised for market vs processing too. Many vegetables raised for retail sales have been selected because they handle transport better and are more visually attractive. A product raised for processing may be more prolific but with a shorter shelf life. There are dozens of qualities a farmer considers. Or there may be few decisions - big processors contract for very specific varieties so their product is standardized.

      Each time the produce exchanges hands the price increases. Most of the produce in grocery stores is not coming direct from the farmers. The grocery is ordering from wholesale venders. That's the only way they can reliably offer the range and quantity their customers expect.

      Produce is the most labor intensive department in a grocery. There is tremendous amount of prep work involved. And constant culling, cleaning and rotation once it is on display.

      1. How is this even a question?

        DelMonte does not walk into a grocery store which has purchased from a wholesaler and needs to mark up product to cover shipping, real estate costs, employees, marketing, the heating/cooling bill, etc.

        DelMonte has growers that sell entire crops at fixed rates negotiated in large volume.

        If you don't believe that those differences in sourcing amount to huge differences in cost, you should do some more research.

        1. Frozen and canned food can be prepped on site - you put the factory near the fields, and harvest and process it when it's ready.

          "Fresh" orange juice is processed in season, stored in a low oxygen environment until needed, and then pumped up with added flavours, because by that point it's pretty much coloured water.

          Apple sauce can be made from apples that aren't of good enough quality to send to market.

          Fresh vegetables have a short shelf life - if that tomato doesn't sell in a couple of days, max, it gets thrown out and the grocery store eats the costs. Frozen and canned has a much longer shelf life.

          As far as oranges and apples go - it's June. If you're in the continental US, they're not in season. Apples are a fall fruit, and oranges a winter one. So your fruit has either been stored in an controlled atmosphere/pressure environment, or is imported.

          Even in tomato season, local fruit may have higher costs for production, unless you're living in a major farming area. Fresh, vine ripened tomatoes are delicate to ship - the cheaper tomatoes at the store will have been picked unripe.

          1. You wrote it: shipping costs and spoilage. And, especially, economies of scale. At the retail end, stocking canned goods is easy. The supermarket can receive several cases of each item without waste, and maintaining the shelf stock is just a matter of adding a few cans and arranging them neatly each morning. For fresh produce, they must receive enough stock to keep the display full, but not so much that there will be excessive spoilage. There is waste anyway. Every morning, a grocer goes through the produce on display and takes out the least attractive pieces. There is more labor and more waste for fresh produce at the retail end.