Can Argentina Consumers Boycott Their Way To Lower Prices?
As vegetable wholesalers around Buenos Aires ignore government calls to moderate prices, angry shoppers may resort to their last weapon.
BUENOS AIRES — Too much rain in the province of Buenos Aires is said to be making salad and vegetables unpalatable — not just because they taste bad, but for the outrageous prices.
Awed shoppers have witnessed the price of onions, for example, shoot up by 465% over the course of a year, leading consumer groups to threaten a boycott, which Argentines have used before to successfully bring prices back down.
Adela, a retiree living in the capital's district of San Cristóbal, recently went to a grocery store to buy a kilogram of tomatoes, two heads of lettuce, half a kilo of onions and a green pepper. "That's 80 pesos," or more than 7.50 euros, the grocer told the gobsmacked customer, who had to leave some of the produce behind. A year ago, the same vegetables would have cost only 34 pesos, or 3.30 euros.
"No retiree can afford this," Adela says.
The prices of commonly consumed vegetables have shot up in recent days compared to a year ago, apparently with utter disregard for the government's "cared prices," or price-control initiatives. In addition, buyers complain the overpriced vegetables are "tasteless."
In the case of onions, the price has risen from about 6.7 pesos (0.65 euro) a kilo in August 2014, to 10 pesos (0.96 euro) last January to now 35-40 pesos (1.80-2 euros) in recent days. The "cared price" theoretically agreed between retailers and the government is 8.20 pesos a kilo, but nobody can find onions at that price anywhere. The situation with lettuce is similar.
With tomatoes, the "cared" price is 13 pesos a kilo (0.66 euro), though it is usually seen in shops at 23 (1.16 euro). Clarín shopped around for green peppers, finding them at between 47 and 60 pesos (4.5-5.70 euros) per kilo, double the government's suggested price and 77% more expensive than a year ago.
Wholesalers have blamed rainfall and recent, severe flooding in cultivation areas in the Buenos Aires Province for produce being spoiled this way, but consumer groups suspect opportunist "speculation." One grocer from the Colegiales neighborhod says that the wholesale price of onions at the Central Market had risen from 150 pesos a bag to 500.
"Nobody is going to buy two kilos like they used to, with this kind of price," another grocer said. "Some people come and buy just one onion." Others, he adds, buy other vegetables and "some buy nothing and become angry, like it's my fault." Consumer associations have urged people not to buy products that have risen so sharply in price, to hasten a return to "normality."
"The same way a consumer boycott swiftly reduced at other times the prices of tomatoes and pumpkins, we need to undertake the same peaceful, but effective measure, to bring onions back to a fair price," Héctor Polino of Consumidores Libres says.
Sandra González, from another consumer group, agrees. "There is a lot of fuss right now as vegetables have become so expensive, and in addition they're either tasteless or horrible." The taste issue is particularly affecting tomatoes.
Businesses are angry too, and not just the groceries that have seen sales drop. Restaurants, pizzerias and pie shops are also threatening that their menus will change if prices don't go down.