Protestors outside Aldi. Photo: Lorraine Teevan

Frustration all round

PRICE As retail shelves remain empty, IFA to consider ramping up supermarket blockades

Supermarket shelves remained empty of fresh produce as the farmers’ protests at discount retailers Lidl and Aldi continued for a sixth day.

Frustrated their repeated calls for an increase in price for their eggs had not been heeded, last Thursday morning IFA members ensured their message would get through by parking their tractors and trailers at loading bays to block deliveries to the retailers. The protestors singled out the Cavan stores, as Cavan and Monaghan farmers account for the vast majority of Irish egg production.

On Tuesday many of the shelves that would normally be brimming with essentials - fruit and veg, bread and milk - were completely empty. Ironically, one of the few fresh items of produce the public could get were eggs. Protesting farmers were giving away cartons of half dozen eggs in a goodwill gesture, while inviting curious passers-by to sign their petition in support of their demands.

Numbers of shoppers you would typically find in the two stores over the last week appeared to be significantly down. The stores were audibly quieter, the usually busy aisles almost deserted.

Lidl have refused to comment on the matter, but Aldi expressed their frustrations, describing the disruption by “a small number of farmers” as “reckless”.

“The blockade, which has prevented store deliveries, has caused real frustration among our customers. Frustrations we share. Stock is not the problem, access is.

Our supply trucks are loaded with Irish produce from our Irish suppliers ready to stock the shelves of our Cavan store. Unfortunately, the blockades are preventing this.”

The farmers however insist they have been shown “fantastic support” from the public.

“They think that it’s ridiculous that we are out here looking for only 2c an egg and they won’t give it,” says Brendan Soden, the IFA deputy poultry chairman.

Whether the farmers’ seemingly simple demand for an extra 2c per egg has been met is disputed. Aldi claim that last Saturday, “a price increase, which substantially exceeds what protesting farmers are seeking, was agreed with our egg suppliers”.

So what’s the problem?

Egg farmers sell their produce to packing companies, a sector dominated by five big players, and it is the packers who enter into contracts with the retailers. The packing companies too are facing higher costs, and so the negotiated pay increase is not going solely to the farmer.

The IFA argue the offer made through the packers falls well short of their needs. They insist the proportion of the new price they would get is only about 0.7c per egg, a third of what they are after.

Brendan claims that the figure Aldi is referring to comes from a price increase sought by the packers back in July.

“As the months went by, they only decided to act on it in the past couple of weeks, but sure the price of everything has escalated. So what was looked for is old compared to what it is today.”

Aldi’s spokesperson says: “It is up to our egg suppliers [the packing companies], and those farmers with whom they have a commercial arrangement, to engage as to how this outcome is apportioned.”

That doesn’t wash with the farmers. Brendan accepts that, if they don’t get their 2c, it will be much harder to resume the protest in the future.

“Our hands are tied,” he asserts, adding the IFA must be party to the talks. “We need the money to keep in business. They have to come to the table and talk now.”

Something’s got to give.

The Celt wonders what would happen if the retailers apply for an injunction and have the farmers removed. Brendan suggests the optics wouldn’t look good for the retailers.

For their part, the IFA at national level were understood to have the protests on their agenda for today’s meeting in Portlaoise, where the option of extending the protests would be discussed.

“It is an option," says Brendan, "we would prefer not to have to go down that route - but it's getting more and more likely every day.”