Grocers ignore new margins

Industry insiders confirm prices have not been changed

Two months after the prime minister announced an expanded price control list, The Nassau Guardian has confirmed that grocers who are members of the Retail Grocers Association have failed to change their prices in line with the new gazetted list.

Rupert Roberts, who owns the largest grocery store chain in the country, said yesterday that as far as grocers are concerned, they are still waiting to hear back from the government on their counterproposal sent in weeks ago.

Philip Beneby, who heads the Retail Grocers Association, declined to offer comment on the issue when contacted by The Guardian yesterday but confirmed that the association received no response from the government to its proposal presented a month ago.

Asked if grocers have changed their prices in line with the new margins, Beneby only said, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”

Roberts, meanwhile, said while grocers were doing their best to ease the burden on consumers, while still seeking to make a reasonable profit, they have not complied with what the government announced.

“Are we complying? We can’t possibly comply because that’s what we were negotiating. It’s too much to comply with,” he said.

“The price control has got us so bound that there is no room for donations anymore. We’re scrambling to meet our expenses. We can’t support charity. It’s just too tight.”

Another industry insider, who spoke with no expectation of attribution, said he was surprised to read in The Nassau Guardian recently that Minister of Economic Affairs Michael Halkitis said grocers were complying with the government’s expanded price control list.

That industry insider said the prices remain as the position of business people in the industry has not changed, and that is, they would not be able to survive in business if they adjusted their prices in line with the new margins the government gazetted in October, not long after Prime Minister Philip Davis announced the government was expanding the breadbasket in an effort to ease inflationary pressures on Bahamians.

Halkitis recently told The Nassau Guardian, “We have our inspectors in the field. I’m being advised by them that, by and large, there is compliance with the new regulations. They’re doing an analysis that they will share with us but, so far, they’re finding compliance with the expanded list.”

Roberts said yesterday that changing the prices would be a “major undertaking”.

Asked whether the prices have not been changed because it would be complicated to change them, or whether they have not been changed because it does not make good business sense to do so, he said, “One and two. A and B. We can’t afford to change to those prices that were gazetted because we just can’t afford [it]. They would take us down to, it would wipe out the profits. Most retailers won’t be able to meet their expense level.”

Regarding the government’s lack of response to the association’s proposal, Roberts said, “We were still in negotiations and we got left at the table.”

Roberts said merchants are operating in good faith and are doing “the best that they can do for the consumers for Christmas”.

He said, “We understand we are under the law. We have complied with (the margins for) turkeys and other Christmas items, and we are doing the best we can under the circumstances, but we’re under the law and we thought we were negotiating.”

Prime Minister Davis announced the new price control changes in his national address on October 11, stating that 38 “items” were being added to the price control list.

In early November, Roberts said the margins on 38 “categories” (not items) would “never be acceptable to the retailers”.

The Nassau Guardian reported at that time that while pharmacists and the government reached a happy medium in a disagreement over price-controlled drugs, grocers rejected the government’s latest amended list of items that are being added to the breadbasket.

In October, the government had gazetted a 15 percent maximum markup for wholesalers and a 25 percent maximum markup for retailers on certain categories of items.

The items on the government’s final amended price control list are the same categories of items gazetted in October, which triggered major pushback from grocers.

What is different, and what was announced by Halkitis last month, is that the government has agreed to an additional five percent maximum markup on perishable items for retailers on New Providence and Grand Bahama.

The government also agreed to an additional five percent markup on non-perishable items, and an additional 10 percent on perishables for the Family Islands than what was originally gazetted.

The government had originally proposed the same markup for New Providence, Grand Bahama and the Family Islands, but conceded that Family Island businesses face higher operating costs.

The retail markup for non-perishables on New Providence and Grand Bahama remained unchanged from what was announced in October.

The government has made no adjustments to the 15 percent maximum markup announced in October for wholesalers for all price-controlled categories.

The retailers presented their proposal outlining what they could live with, and had hoped for a response from the government weeks ago.

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Candia Dames

Candia Dames is the executive editor of The Nassau Guardian.

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