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02.Where can you find the freshest produce?


Supermarkets vs greengrocers

When it comes to sourcing the freshest and best-tasting produce, apart from other obvious signs such as over- or under-ripeness, bruising, wilting or mould, it’s pretty much pot luck with a dash of trial and error.

And you may well find fresher fruit at Coles than at the local fresh-from-the-farm market, depending on how it was farmed, picked, transported and stored. Or vice-versa.

“It’s impossible to say whether produce is fresher or better quality from a supermarket or greengrocer,” says professor Ron Wills from the University of Newcastle’s School of Environmental and Life Sciences. “It varies widely because it comes down to the efficiency of the management of each store.

"Like supermarkets, most grocers have cold-storage rooms and quality depends on how well the staff are trained to understand what should and shouldn’t be refrigerated.” Buying from central wholesale markets daily or every second day means greengrocers are less likely than supermarkets to keep large amounts of produce in storage for long periods.

And, says Colin Gray, CEO of the NSW Chamber of Fruit & Vegetable Industries, as small business owners, grocers try to differentiate from supermarkets with their wider knowledge of produce and personal service. However, the problems of slow turnover and produce quality declining while it sits on the shelf can affect both supermarkets and greengrocers.

The supply chain for supermarkets and greengrocers is similar. Produce is taken from farms by truck to a central distribution hub. For greengrocers it’s a central market in each city, and for the supermarkets it’s their own distribution hubs.

The time between paddock and plate is also similar. Bananas, for example, are typically sourced from the same region, with the smaller farmers sending produce to central markets and the supermarkets dealing directly with bigger farms.

For both, produce would be picked before being completely ripe to prevent bruising during travel. (For more on fruit transport and cold storage, check out our guide to choosing the best fruit and vegetables).

Labels will tell you the country of origin. But for Australian produce, unless there is a label showing which farm or region it's from, it’s hard to know how far it’s travelled or how long it’s been stored.


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