While pharmacists and the government reached a happy medium last week in a disagreement over price-controlled drugs, grocers yesterday rejected the government’s latest amended list of items that are being added to the breadbasket.
President of the Retail Grocers’ Association Philip Beneby and Super Value food store chain owner Rupert Roberts both told The Nassau Guardian that what the government is offering in its final list for gazetting is “unacceptable”.
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 last month, which triggered major pushback from grocers.
What is different, and what was announced by Minister of Economic Affairs Michael Halkitis last Thursday, 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 has 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 remains unchanged from what was announced last month.
The government has made no adjustments to the 15 percent maximum markup announced last month for wholesalers for all price-controlled categories.
Beneby said while he could not formally speak on behalf of wholesalers, the wholesalers have made it clear that the 15 percent maximum markup won’t work for them as they would be losing money on the items added to the price control list.
“They are seeking a five percent increase on the new items,” he said.
The government’s final position means that wholesalers who objected to the changes last month will have to live with them or make other adjustments.
Importantly, for the retailers, the government still has listed categories, and not items, and has accepted nothing from the list of new proposed changes presented by the grocers’ association last week.
As an example, despite the objection from the Retail Grocers’ Association, chicken (all brands and sizes) is now in the bread basket.
It will have a maximum markup of 15 percent for wholesalers and a maximum markup of 30 percent for retailers. In the case of the Family Islands, the retail markup will be 35 percent.
In their latest proposal to government, the grocers proposed that only frozen drumsticks be subject to price control with a maximum wholesale markup of 25 percent and a maximum retail markup of 30 percent. They proposed an additional five percent for Family Island grocers.
The government’s final list includes eggs, all brands, all sizes; the association proposed that only non-organic/cage-free/free range regular eggs be subject to price control.
The government has fresh milk on its final list, all brands, all sizes; but the association proposed non-organic, whole, two percent skim be price controlled.
The government’s list has soap, all brands, all sizes; the association specified bath, bar soap.
The government’s list has peanut butter, all brands, all sizes; the association proposed only non-organic, plain, smooth, crunchy, under 16 ounces.
The government’s list has bread, all brands, all sizes; the association proposed only white, plain, sliced bread be price controlled.
The government’s list has turkey, all brands, all sizes; the association proposed only whole turkey.
While the government has all brands and sizes of sandwich meats, the association lists only Healthy Ones 7oz Tubs.
While the association’s latest proposal has added back certain produce (which it had recommended in its last proposal be eliminated), it now specifies the types of oranges, apples, bananas, limes, tomatoes, iceberg lettuce, carrots, potatoes, yellow onions, and green bell peppers that should be price controlled.
The government’s final list has broad categories of those items.
While the government’s list has all brands, all sizes of feminine napkins, the association recommended only the Always brand.
While the government’s list has disposable diapers, all sizes, all brands, the association recommended Pampers, all brands, baby diapers, in all sizes.
There are also other differences on the government’s final list and the association’s final proposed list.
Given that the only change the government has agreed to for retailers on New Providence and Grand Bahama is an additional five percent markup for perishables, Beneby was asked yesterday whether that is something grocers can live with.
He responded, “No.”
Beneby added, “The final list that was presented to them was a list that was agreed to by both the retailers and the wholesalers. And so, this final list has been looked at; we hope that they agree to it.”
Asked whether he was surprised to see the government still listing broad categories for price control – something wholesalers and retailers have been objecting to for weeks – he said, “There has to be a change on the dry [goods] from categories to items, and this was even established from the first meeting we had with the prime minister, our very first meeting, and he said it emphatically, that he didn’t know that it was categories and that their intent was to list items, not categories.”
Prime Minister Philip 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.
Roberts said the margins on 38 categories would “never be acceptable to the retailers”.
“With the old original price control items … and these new 38 categories, that would be just about all the food we sell,” he said.
Roberts said the grocers feel they are making a reasonable compromise.
“If they are sticking to their original demands, it’s unacceptable,” he said.
“I cannot understand the government coming out with this. Whoever organized this, or suggested this to Davis, is not his friend. They are trying to shaft him or do something to him.”
Both Beneby and Roberts said Acting Prime Minister Chester Cooper and Halkitis are expected to meet with grocers tomorrow.
“We want to sit down and iron this out,” said Beneby, confirming that grocers have not changed prices at this time as they still consider consultations to be ongoing.
“We want to settle this thing once and for all and see if we can move ahead with it.”
Roberts said the government would be smart to accept what the grocers are offering “because we can’t accept anything other than what we have offered”.
“How does the government expect the retailers, wholesalers and pharmacies to subsidize the cost of living and the cost of food?” Roberts asked.
“That has to be subsidized by the whole country, including the government, not by one sector of the country.”
Speaking last Thursday, Halkitis suggested the matter was concluded.
“We think that is a reasonable concession to some of their demands,” he said of the margin adjustments he announced at the time.
“They had some other issues. That is what we felt we could do at this time and, so, we fully expect them to comply with the regulations.”