Why are Ontario peaches sold by volume and not weight? | The Star

2022-10-26 14:37:28 By : Ms. Lacus Yu

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One of my summer highlights is to feast on fresh, aromatic, colourful stone fruits. Peaches, nectarines, cherries and apricots — which all have a hard, stonelike pit in the centre, hence the name — make summer days all the more enjoyable.

Early in the season, we get them from sun-washed California, and they are sold by weight in grocery stores and fruiteries: $2.99 for a pound of yellow nectarines; $3.99 for white peaches. As the season progresses, you get a feel for the price.

And in a couple of weeks, Ontario produce will hit the market and, qualitywise, that’s when the real party begins. Yet, what confuses me every year is that, as opposed to U.S. produce, which is sold by the pound, Ontario produce is sold by volume, typically in three-litre containers.

While we all know that three litres of water weighs three kilograms, converting fruit volume to weight isn’t that trivial.

Here is a quick quiz for you:

What is the weight of one litre of strawberries? What about 551 millilitres (one U.S. dry pint) of blueberries?

So when you soon encounter a three-litre container of Niagara-on-the-Lake peaches, say for $8 a box, how would you compare the price to the peaches you buy by weight from the U. S.?

Most Ontarians and Quebecers are probably familiar with the three-litre containers sold from July through October by Vineland Growers, a distributor and marketer of Ontario stone fruits, all grown on family farms. According to its website, Vineland Growers is the longest continually run co-operative in Ontario, dating back to 1913.

“Our tree fruit industry, along with other industries (berry pints/quarts) have used volume for as long as time,” Matthew Ecker, a sales and marketing executive with Vineland Growers, said in an email when I inquired about the co-operative’s choice of using volume as the primary measure, as opposed to weight.

Ecker adds “the measure of volume has always been used because when fruit is being packed on the farms, most growers don’t weigh the individual packages because their job is to fill the basket, pint, quart etc. Adding the process of weighing fresh product adds extra unnecessary steps on an already perishable item that needs to be sold immediately to the consumers.”

These are all valid points, but they don’t help resolve consumers’ confusion with respect to the actual weight (and therefore value) of a fruit container that they purchase. Moreover, since people know by heart the “three litres of water = three kilograms” equation, many tend to extrapolate it to all three-litre containers — including those that contain fruits, rather than liquids.

But this reasoning would usually work to one’s detriment since when it comes to fruit, a random container will always have bigger volume units (litres) than weight units (kilograms). As a matter of fact, significantly bigger.

To prove my point, I did a little experiment. I weighed 20 different 551 ml plastic containers of blueberries using a digital scale at my local supermarket. The average weight was just about 300 grams (remember my quiz?), but differences across containers were quite small — the lightest container weighed 285 grams and the heaviest 310 grams. Adding a short statement like “approximate weight: 300 grams” could have provided valuable information to consumers.

Similarly, Vineland and other growers should add approximate weight statements to their fruit containers. This should be easily done (based on a random sample of a few dozen boxes) and wouldn’t require putting each and every box on the scale. After all, the currently used three-litre measure is also just an approximation since different sizes and shapes of fruits fill containers in different ways.

You think that plastic containers are confusing? Wait until you visit one of Montreal’s public markets (MPM) to try to figure out the weight of the produce you buy.

I’m a huge fan of MPM, but as much as I love supporting the local vendors and farmers, assessing the value of fruit baskets sold in the stands is very challenging.

At Atwater Market, for example, “petits fruits” (blackberries, raspberries, etc.) are often sold in a rectangle-shaped plastic tray with no indication whatsoever of the weight. To make things even worse, a common practice is to place each tray inside another much deeper, somewhat hidden tray. This creates a visual illusion that the container has much more fruit than it actually has. Judge for yourself by the picture.

Nicolas Fabien-Ouellet, general director of MPM wrote in an email statement, that “we take transparency very seriously” and that “we encourage all our traders to have the best business practices.”

Moreover, according to Fabien-Ouellet the selling practice described above is acceptable since “the law provides flexibility for vendors to advertise prices according to weight, volume or units.”

This is all fine, but as a frequent shopper to the market, my impression is that in this strategic game with asymmetrical information, vendors have a big edge over consumers.

With soaring food prices, consumers are more price sensitive. Three-litre containers, double plastic trays, American dry pints (seriously?), and even bushels create confusion and, in some cases, mistrust. It’s the role of local farmers, market vendors and food agencies to create a more transparent marketplace by clearly presenting the weight (in grams or pounds) of fresh produce sold.

Being able to make informed decisions, consumers will enjoy even more what the Canadian summer has to offer.

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