Why are Ontario peaches sold by volume, not weight?

One of my summer highlights is feasting on fresh, aromatic and colorful stone fruits. Peaches, nectarines, cherries and apricots – all of which have a hard stone-like core in the center, hence the name – make summer days even more pleasant.

Early in the season, we get them from sunny California, and they’re sold by weight in grocery and greengrocers: $2.99 ​​a pound of yellow nectarines; $3.99 for white peaches. As the season progresses, you get an idea of ​​the price.

And in a few weeks, Ontario products will hit the market and, quality-wise, that’s when the real party begins. Yet what confuses me every year is that unlike American products, which are sold by the pound, Ontario products are sold by volume, usually in three-litre containers.

Although we all know that three liters of water weighs three kilograms, converting fruit volume to weight is not so simple.

Here is a quick quiz for you:

What is the weight of a liter of strawberries? What about 551 milliliters (one US dry pint) of blueberries?

Delicate, right?

So when you soon come across a three-liter container of Niagara-on-the-Lake peaches, say for $8 a box, how would you compare the price to the peaches you buy by weight in the United States?

Most Ontarians and Quebecers are likely familiar with the three-liter containers sold from July to October by Vineland Growers, an Ontario marketer and distributor of stone fruits, all grown on family farms. According to its website, Vineland Growers is the oldest co-op in Ontario, dating back to 1913.

“Our tree fruit industry, along with other industries (pints/pints of berries) have been using volume for just as long,” Matthew Ecker, sales and marketing manager for Vineland Growers, said in an email when I inquired about the co-op. choosing to use volume as the primary measure, as opposed to weight.

Ecker adds “volume measurement has always been used because when fruit is packed on farms, most growers do not weigh the individual packs because their job is to fill the basket, pint, quart, etc. The product adds unnecessary extra steps on an already perishable item that must be sold immediately to consumers.

These are all valid points, but they do not help to clear up consumer confusion about the actual weight (and therefore value) of a container of fruit they are buying. Also, since people know the equation “three liters of water = three kilograms” by heart, many tend to extrapolate it to all three-liter containers, including those containing fruit, rather than liquids. .

But this reasoning would generally work to its detriment since when dealing with fruit, a random container will always have units of volume (liters) larger than units of weight (kilograms). In fact, significantly larger.

To prove my point, I did a little experiment. I weighed 20 different 551ml plastic containers of blueberries using a digital scale at my local supermarket. The average weight was around 300 grams (remember my quiz?), but the differences between the containers were quite small – the lightest container weighed 285 grams and the heaviest 310 grams. The addition of a short statement such as “approximate weight: 300 grams” could have provided valuable information to consumers.

Similarly, Vineland and other growers should add approximate weight statements to their fruit containers. This should be easy to do (based on a random sample of a few dozen boxes) and not require putting every box on the scale. After all, the currently used three-litre measure is only an approximation, as different sizes and shapes of fruit fill containers in different ways.

Think plastic containers are confusing? Wait until you visit one of the public markets of Montreal (MPM) to try to find out the weight of the products you are buying.

I’m a huge fan of MPM, but while I love supporting local vendors and farmers, assessing the value of fruit baskets sold at stalls is very difficult.

At the Atwater Market, for example, “berries” (blackberries, raspberries, etc.) are often sold in a rectangular plastic tray with no indication of weight. To make matters worse, a common practice is to place each tray inside another much deeper and somewhat hidden tray. This creates a visual illusion that the container contains far more fruit than it actually has. Judge for yourself by the photo.

Nicolas Fabien-Ouellet, Managing Director of MPM wrote in an email statement that “we take transparency very seriously” and that “we encourage all our merchants to have the best business practices”.

In addition, according to Fabien-Ouellet, the sales practice described above is acceptable since “the law gives sellers the possibility of announcing prices according to weight, volume or units”.

All is well, but as a frequent buyer of the market, I feel that in this strategic game with asymmetric information, sellers have a big advantage over consumers.

With soaring food prices, consumers are more price sensitive. Three-liter containers, double plastic trays, American dry pints (seriously?) and even bushels create confusion and, in some cases, mistrust. It is the role of local farmers, market vendors and food agencies to create a more transparent market by clearly presenting the weight (in grams or pounds) of the fresh produce sold.

Being able to make informed decisions, consumers will appreciate even more what the Canadian summer has to offer.

Amir Barnea is an associate professor of finance at HEC Montréal and a freelance columnist at the Star. Follow him on Twitter: @abarnea1

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