by Kajal Patel
I recently moved to the US from India. My close encounter with fruit and vegetable trade in both countries made me realize how countries like India are much better off in fresh produce
retailing. In the US, most fruits and vegetables are sold at supermarkets like Walmart and Publix, while farmer’s market carries a minuscule share. It is also difficult to find small vendors as most of the market is controlled by giant supermarkets. Most of these fresh commodities are imported and pass-through cold storage to increase their shelf-life, plastic packed in fix sizes with few exemptions and largely constituted by GMOs (Genetically Modified organisms). The entire process has multiple repercussions. Starting with the use of cold storage which compromises the freshness of produce and demands excessive energy to run the system. Secondly, most of the items are imported, through a complex chain of ultra—long logistics and high-fuel consuming transportation. And lastly, the plastic packaging used has proven to a massive problem, causing severe negative impact on people and our planet. Also, as they are sold in fixed sizes, consumers are obliged to purchase the entire pack even if their requirement is a small portion, which ultimately leads to perhaps the world’s dumbest problem – food waste.
In India, the majority of retail of fresh produce happens through small vendors on a daily basis with produce coming in from farms and rarely crossing state borders. And most business takes place in fruit and vegetable mandis (governed markets), which are found in almost every Indian town and city. The produce is sold loose, so consumers can purchase their required quantity with very minimal wastage at the end and buyers (mostly women) bring their own fabric tote bags so plastic use is almost negligible. Some vital points to note here are: Produce is sold fresh without being in cold storage, saving massive amounts of energy as well as offering the freshest produce to people. The mandis comprise of dozens, sometimes hundreds of small vendors, and almost no large organization (supermarket), which plays a big role in promoting the local economy and offers livelihood to numerous families while reducing the middlemen. It is a true farm-to-consumer business model. However, one major hurdle here is the pricing of goods and blatant corruption within the system. Due to the absence of a centralized economic body, the market is highly erratic, and farmers find it extremely challenging to get the right price most time. This, coupled with the emergence of online marketplaces and rampant corruption causes a huge problem for small farmers. There is a growing need to have a regulated market to reduce the risk to farmers and provide them with a systematic business model. However, these are loopholes in the system but at large India’s localized model have a competitive advantage over US model in various social and ecological context.
India’s local market model is extremely efficient but volatile. The western growth model approach and pressure from globalization can be immense, and the localized market model might be compromised. This can be damaging in multiple ways. Therefore, India’s fresh produce retailing requires to be resilient against such external forces. This will eventually protect both the market and communities. On the other hand, due to the multiple benefits of the existing market structure of India, it can be an example for the world. It will also encourage global north countries like USA to have structural reforms of the market for more ecological balanced approach.
Note: This article does not take into account agriculture practices, only the functioning of
markets and cultural practices.
Kajal Patel is a researcher interested in areas of inequality, poverty, and degrowth. She finished her post-
graduation in – Emerging economies and International Development from Kings College in London and
worked as an archivist at Kasturbhai Lalbhai Museum in Ahmedabad, and most recently as a
tribal research fellow at the Aga Khan Rural Support Programme in India.
9 Comments on “Fruits and Vegetable Markets in India and US”
I would be interested in your perspectives on Indian sustainable farming practices vs. American style industrial agriculture which has taken over the world.
Sorry for replying so late. Well I do not have any expertise on sustainable farming in India but I am well aware that there is big issue of irrigation in Indian agriculture. Many farmers are still focus on water intensive crops but at the same time there are farmers who are moving away from it. Also, an average farmer in India is poor so affordability wins over sustainable agriculture and affordable agriculture is not same as sustainable agriculture. If you want to know more about sustainable agriculture you can look at the works of AKRSP(I) and ASA, they are NGOs working in rural development and agriculture.
ITC’s foray into the Foods business is an outstanding example of successfully blending multiple internal competencies to create a new driver of business growth. It began in August 2001 with the introduction of ‘Kitchens of India’ ready-to-eat Indian gourmet dishes. In 2002, ITC entered the confectionery and staples segments with the launch of the brands mint-o and Candyman confectionery and Aashirvaad Atta (wheat flour). 2003 witnessed the introduction of Sunfeast as the Company entered the biscuits segment. ITC entered the fast growing branded snacks category with Bingo! in 2007. In 2010, ITC launched Sunfeast Yippee! to enter the Indian instant noodles market. In September 2014, ITC launched GumOn Chewing Gum marking the entry into the category of gums. The Company entered the Fruit-based juices and beverages market with the launch of B Natural Fruit beverages in January 2015. ITC’s forayed into the dairy segment with the launch of Aashirvaad Svasti Ghee in November 2015. Launched in April 2016, Fabelle chocolates are ITC’s premier offering in the luxury chocolate space. ITC forayed into the branded coffee category in July 2016 with the launch of Sunbean Gourmet Coffee. In February 2017, ITC launched ITC MasterChef super safe spices – the first-of-its-kind spices launched in India, offering export quality super safe spices to the Indian homemaker. ITC MasterChef Prawns were launched in June 2017 as the Company entered the Frozen foods segment. ITC’s first foray into fresh fruits and vegetables segment was marked with the launch of Farmland Potatoes in November 2017. In 2018, ITC forayed into the packaged milk segment with the launch of Aashirvaad Svasti pouch milk and into dairy-based beverages with the Sunfeast Wonderz range of milkshakes. The ITC Master Chef Frozen Snacks range was also introduced the same year, marking the Company’s first venture into the frozen snacks segment. In July 2020, ITC acquired spices maker Sunrise Foods, looking to augment its product portfolio.
Do markets or money help responsible behavior toward the ecological reality we exist in or the social reality we want? If a farmer worked his tail off feeding markets and managed to make $191,000 a year it would take 1 million years to save up the “wealth” of Jeff Bezos. Do markets even reflect anything about real wealth? Collecting money as fast as we can just seems like a mental disorder. And we destroy and burn so much for this.
It is the race between greed and humanity. I think market or money has more to do with capitalism than ecology. The system has become crony capitalist and inequality gap has increased across the globe. The ideas of nature (ecology), survival and humanity has been completely been missing from capitalist market/society. Responsible behavior comes when market and community becomes environment centric and moves away from consumerism. Instead of being profit oriented market needs to be value oriented.
fruits and vegetable market size in india
Well, that’s ironic because our Indian farmers are some of the economically poorest classes of people in the country. I understand your opinion about the ease of buying vegetables from the roadside is from a very convenient consumer point of view but does not represent the farmers who are the most sufferers of that system. The opinion is a one-sided liner observation and not factual quantification. Sure, the traditional marketplace system was economically sustainable for farmers and consumers alike many decades ago, but not anymore, as times have changed.
And the statement “India’s local market model is extremely efficient” without even slightly considering the reality of the Indian traditional local market is hilarious. As if a farmer dwelling on the farm is not hard enough, yet having to face the hardship of coming to the marketplace and spending his/her own money on transportation to sell a few vegetables in the hot weather should not be deemed as extremely efficient just because it functions somehow.
India’s single and marginalized farmers represent 80% of the overall farmers, with income lower than most of the industry. Despite Millions of farmers engaged in fruits and vegetable production and being the 2nd largest producer of fruits and vegetables in the world, a massive 30-40% of the total fruits and veg produce gets wasted annually before it reaches the consumers. That’s a gigantic loss of over 40,000 Cr or $5 Billion USD, impacting poor farmers the most.
Our Indian traditional farming practice is becoming unsustainable for farmers, coupled with that the age-old Agri supply chain which is highly inefficient. For example, for every Kg of tomato being sold in the market @ Rs 55, farmers are getting paid only Rs 9 to 12 per Kg. So, the question is where the hell is 40 bucks going? Well, it gets eaten up by the layers of supply chain actors (intermediaries/middlemen) who gulp up over 75% of the total accrued supply chain margin, while not needed or adding hardly any value. The consequence of it is that the farmers get little profit and the consumers ended up paying artificially inflated prices.
What we need is speedy modernization in farming to feed the growing 1.5 billion population. That includes technological inputs into farming, data-driven supply chain, cold storage, vertically integrated facilities, etc because the traditional farming practice is no more efficient and sustainable for farmers and the country. I understand what the western country doing to its products may not be most desirable and may seem too capitalistic but our traditional farming and distribution, on the other hand, is aged and isn’t helping the most important people anymore i.e – the farmers and the consumers.
My article is from the perspective of consumer in the marketplace focusing on degrowth. The aim was to highlight the sustainable practices. I have mentioned in the article that corruption is a major concern and farmers are exploited as they face huge challenge to get the right price for their produce. I agree with you that Indian farmers are one of the poorest and exploited community. However, central point of the article was sustainable practices of Indian market place compared to USA.
Thank you for the comment. My article is from the perspective of consumer in the marketplace focusing on degrowth. The aim was to highlight the sustainable practices. I have mentioned in the article that corruption is a major concern and farmers are exploited as they face huge challenge to get the right price for their produce. I agree with you that Indian farmers are one of the poorest and exploited community. However, central point of the article was sustainable practices of Indian market place compared to USA.