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‘World’s in worst state that I have ever seen’

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Rupert Roberts

• Roberts: ‘We can beat’ World Bank’s three-year high prices

• Says Super Value ‘holding back’ hikes by up to six months

• ‘Cannot allow one cubic inch’ of container to be empty

By NEIL HARTNELL

Tribune Business Editor

nhartnell@tribunemedia.net

Super Value’s principal has voiced hope that “we can do better than” the World Bank’s dire prediction of high food prices lasting for three years, but conceded: “The world is in the worst state I’ve ever seen.”

Rupert Roberts told Tribune Business he believed price increases “will slow down” by 2022 year-end, reiterating that the 13-store chain is continuing to “hold back” hikes by up to six months due to advance ordering; carrying higher inventory levels than normal; and buying practices that are scouring the globe to achieve the best possible deal for Bahamian consumers.

Affirming that Super Value and its Quality Supermarkets affiliate will not compromise quality in seeking to mitigate inflationary pressures, he added that the chain was “using our warehouse to the max” in stocking high product quantities in an effort to delay passing on ever-changing prices to clients.

With buyers sourcing from “all over the place”, Mr Roberts said further pressures were coming from increased packaging material and fuel costs, with the latter driving up shipping, trucking and all transportation and logistics-related costs. He added that Super Value was especially focused on managing its freight costs, revealing that “we cannot allow one cubic inch of the container to be empty” as it strives to achieve value for money.

Disclosing that “we eat, sleep and drink about keeping prices down”, the Super Value chief said the burden on himself and other Bahamian merchants had been eased somewhat through consumers recognising that the price hikes are outside local control. He added: “I did not think I’d live to see the world in such a mess.”

The World Bank earlier this week forecast that, further exacerbated by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine impacting global wheat and cooking oil supplies, food prices throughout the world will remain at elevated levels through 2024. However, Mr Roberts voiced optimism that The Bahamas and other nations will fare better than this gloomy projection.

“I believe we can do better than that,” he told Tribune Business. “I’m hoping that by the end of the year price increases will slow down. We have covered up to six months of that. We’re trying to hold it [price increases] back by six months. Whatever happens in the world, we’re trying to hold back six months.

“We’re successful at it. They [wholesalers and producers] do inform us of what is happening in advance, and we put in two to three shipments before price increases happen. Our next Devon corn beef, we had three on the dock at one time so we could beat the price increase.

“We don’t like that. It’s over-stocking, but we’re able to give it to the public for three to six months at the old price. The prices the public are paying now have gone up so high they don’t know we’re holding them back for them. Only the people in the business know what is happening.”

Speaking to the advance warnings provided by Bahamian distributors and overseas producers, Mr Roberts added: “They want to keep selling and we order. We know as much as the agents, the wholesalers, because we deal direct with the marketplace.”

Revealing that Super Value had sourced its last two cooking oil shipments from Mexico, while now switching to Trinidad for bathroom tissue after “giving up on Turkey”, he told this newspaper: “We’re all over the world. We have to ask the consumer to accept some of these brands, but these oils are the same as Wesson and the brands they are used to.

“We are not buying any inferior product. We ‘special’ them, and they can try them. It’s keeping prices down. We have more than six months’ of oil, close to a year on some commodities that are very hard dated. We’re using our warehouse to the max. I cringe sometimes when I see what’s on the dock, but say to the warehouse: ‘Can you manage more space?’ and they say: ‘Yes’. We’re sending it out.

“We’re all over the place. I tell the buyers one thing today, and then come in and tell them something different tomorrow. They say that’s different from what you said yesterday, and I say: ‘That was yesterday’. Things change.”

Mr Roberts spoke as the United Nations (UN) World Food Programme (WFP) released a statement warning that the number of “food insecure” persons in the English-speaking Caribbean, which includes The Bahamas, has increased by 1m since the COVID-19 pandemic started in April 2020 to reach a total 2.8m now.

It added that this represents a 72 percent increase in just two years. Although the data was not broken out for The Bahamas specifically, some 93 percent of respondents to a World Food Programme survey of consumers in the English-speaking Caribbean reported paying higher prices for food as compared to 59 percent in April 2020.

As a result, both food consumption and diets across the region have deteriorated. Twenty-five percent of survey respondents reported eating less preferred foods, 30 percent are skipping meals or eating less than usual, and 5 percent are going an entire day without eating in the week leading up to the assessment.

“An import dependent region, the Caribbean continues to feel the socio-economic strain of COVID-19, which is now being compounded by the conflict in Ukraine. With most COVID-19 assistance programmes having concluded, many families are expected to face an even greater challenge to meet their basic food and other essential needs in the months to come,” said Regis Chapman, WFP representative and country director for the Caribbean multi-country office.

“In the short to medium-term, it is increasing pressure on governments to identify solutions to ensure families can meet their essential needs. Innovation in agri-food systems and regional supply chains, coupled with continued support to the most vulnerable households, will be essential to improving the resilience of regional food systems so that prices can be kept as stable as possible.”

And further disappointing economic news surfaced yesterday with reports that the US economy shrank by 0.3 percent during the 2022 first quarter, its weakest performance since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as it and the world grappled with the Omicron. That is potentially troubling for The Bahamas given that the US represents the largest tourism source market for this nation, accounting for around 90 percent of visitors.

“I did not think I’d live to see the world in such a mess,” Mr Roberts told Tribune Business. “I was born and entering school in the last world war, and this [Russia’s invasion of Ukraine] seems to be getting worse than that......

“The product is going up, the packaging material is going up and, of course, the fuel is going up on top of that. The freight costs with the war, the oil prices, it’s crazy. We feel the consumer’s concerns. There’s some relief that the consumers are not blaming the merchants now that gas has gone up.

“They see it’s not the merchants raising the price, it’s not the gas stations raising the price, it’s the circumstances in the world today that is causing inflation. Consumers understand that, and it takes the pressure of us to fight for all. We eat, drink and sleep about keeping prices down.”

Suggesting that the Price Control Department had never experienced such a volume of requests for rapid price increases, Mr Roberts said: “The way we bring in freight, we have to be careful. We have to fill the container to capacity. We cannot allow one cubic inch to be empty. We have to fill the container and we have to palletise it.”

Suggesting that freight costs were 16 percent cheaper if importing a 40-foot container as opposed to individual pallets, the Super Value chief said palletised containers helped keep freight costs down as they were much easier to unload.

“We have to watch the distribution and warehouse to keep costs down,” he added. “We store it in the warehouse, which doesn’t do us any good, and right now the warehouse is at capacity. I’d rather go from the dock to the store.”

Comments

themessenger 2 months ago

I guess das why you shopping at da Chinese an da hyshun markets dem Lol

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ohdrap4 2 months ago

Please get more brazilian chicken. The american chicken too expensive.

Give the turkish another chance. They have very nice stainless steel implements

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K4C 2 months ago

Anyone KNOW if City Meal Markets are planning a return ?

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ohdrap4 2 months ago

unlikely. they disappeared the former employees pension fund.

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themessenger 2 months ago

@ohdrap4, wrong! The Finlayson family disappeared the employees pension fund as they did with the Cole Thompson Pharmacy employees, and lets not get started on what happened to the Little Switzerland store chain.

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K4C 2 months ago

my point, the BIG PLP inner circle at it's best

CORRUPTION

The Finlayson family destroyed City Mat Markets and anything they touched,

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hrysippus 2 months ago

thank you, messenger, and this is how you sometimes earn a knighthood from a plp government.

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BONEFISH 2 months ago

The Finlayson 's family has destroyed a lot of business in this country. However you have omitted the roles the late Franklyn Butler and Craig Symonette played in the demise of City Markets That company was mortally wounded when the Finllaysons purchased it .they just finished it off quickly.

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Baha10 2 months ago

You Guys must be young … don’t forget ABC Motors (Rolls Royce, Jaquar, Toyota, Mazda Dealership), RND and Burns House … even a Knighthood could not restore value to those Shares!

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joeblow 2 months ago

... people blamed Trump for everything before, now they say nothing about bumbling Biden and his inability to make one common sense decision!!

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GodSpeed 2 months ago

Better start focusing on growing things locally, increasing fishing and farming/agriculture. This global system is headed for collapse and any nation that can't feed itself with it's own production is going to catch hell.

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ohdrap4 2 months ago

not to worry. we eat our own rice. Mahatma.

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TalRussell 2 months ago

Mark your calendars by the Jib corner gossip spoken by the most trusted kind are reiterating that the beefed-up public relations campaign by the grocer man oligarch is a sign that finally with Obediah Hercules Wilchcombe, no longer the minister overseeing the Gaming Board ... Lady Luck is set to shine on Comrade "Grocer man" Rupert Roberts whose in the fast-track process designed to facilitate approval to boost stores profit revenues by thirty percent++ once the Numbers Kiosks are all in place and operational at the grocer man's 13-store chain, ― Yes?

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Bonefishpete 2 months ago

Better hope the Bahamian Dollar stays one to one to the US Dollar.

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Cobalt 2 months ago

Biblical prophesy is being fulfilled. Famine, disease, and hopelessness is gripping a hopeless and lost world. Ahhh boy.

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