Last week I was charged with cooking breakfast for 24 guys who belong the the men's service group "Those Guys" in Lyme, NH. The group meets once a month and breakfast is served at 6:30 AM.
I don't normally buy large quantities of fresh fruit in the off-season at home, but I thought a nice big bowl of mixed fruit would be a good crowd-pleaser. So I stopped at the Market Basket in Warner, NH, and bought several cantaloupes, honeydew melons, bananas, grapes, etc. - you get the picture. It took the full length of two complete Beatles albums the night before to complete the task of cutting up all this fruit to make a fruit salad. The breakfast was a big success.
But for the past five days, I haven't been able to stop asking the question, "How can I buy a ripe cantaloupe, probably grown in California, for less than $2/lb.? It just doesn't seem possible that a perishable product which changes hands so many times between a grower, a packer, a shipper, a warehouse, and then a retailer can be sold profitably for such a low price.
So I started to scour the internet. Imagine the search words I needed to use, and know that it was not easy to find even THIS much information! But here's the cost breakdown on a $2 cantaloupe sold in a NH grocery store during the month of April:
The Grower gets $.04/lb. The average yield per acre is 28,000 lb. per year, or $1120/acre. This price includes the cost of water, fertilizer, planting/harvesting equipment, and farm labor.
The Packer gets about the same - $.04 - $.08/lb. to receive the product and put it into 40 lb. cartons.
The Shipper gets $.25 - $.30/lb. This is the cost of running tractors with refrigerated trailers ("reefers") across the country.
The Warehouse/distributor gets $.25-50/lb. to receive, trans-load, and then deliver the product to individual grocery stores.
The Grocery Store gets what's left over - up to $1.00/lb - when the melon is sold to the end user. So a gross margin of nearly $1.00/lb, before deducting the cost of spoilage (maybe as much as 25%) and the operating costs of the retail establishment. At the end of the day grocers may between 2% and 3% profit margins.
So that's the story of the melons I served for breakfast. If I have the stamina, next week I will try to dissect the ENERGY costs of this marvelous food-delivery system we have in America, where it can take 10x more calories of energy to bring a product to market than are contained in the actual product itself!