CHENNAI: Vegetables are looking to become the next batch of luxury products this season. V R Soundarajan, advisor to the Koyambedu Market Wholesaler’s Association is unhappy. “Schools and colleges are shut, so the consumer margin has come down. At this time of heat and low produce, the government has lashed out with the diesel price hikes. Vegetable prices have invariably shot up,” he says. The low influx of vegetables from neighboring states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka have contributed to this price rise. Few vegetables like onions and potatoes have stayed affordable while carrot and beans prices have shocked buyers into changing dinner menus at households.
To understand the recent price hikes, City Express visited a few marts in the city. Located at a corner of Vananthurai, Rajan welcomes one with an friendly smile despite his 40 square foot, dingy shop. “Come in madam. Vegetables are fresh” he says. His routine involves going to the Koyembedu market as early as 3 am to score the best vegetables from the wholesalers. Having a particularly rough week, he talks about how the vegetable price hike has done him more harm than good. “People are turning away after asking rates. Some are even arguing with me. Day before yesterday carrots cost Rs 40. Yesterday it cost Rs 46 and today it is Rs 50.” he says while tending to customers.
Less than 5 metres away, a fancy board welcomes buyers. It is one of the many air conditioned vegetable marts that have recently sprung up. A uniformed employee gives you a card upon walking in, promising free home delivery if you stay within a kilometer radius. Unlike the small row of shops we had checked out, this one had fixed prices written upfront. They issued a bill and the air-conditioned respite in the middle of the sweltering Chennai heat was bliss. But at what cost? At the cost of Rs 105 a kilo of beans, Rs 60 for carrots and baby potatoes for Rs 50.
The Waitrose mart on Cathedral Road has seen a slight, almost imperceptible change. ‘Buy for Rs 1000 and get 1 kilo tomatoes free’ it used to read. Now it stands limited to 750 grams instead. Smaller shops are pinching on coriander leaves with grumbling that even those prices have shot up. The row of women sitting at Thirumangalam don’t sell their usual vegetables, only spinach now. “Its cheap, costing only Rs 10-15. No one wants to buy drumstick or beans anymore,” says Vani who worriedly sprays water and airs out the greens to save them from the unrelenting heat.
Consumers agree. “We cook according to the prices now. Usually there are at least three-four pushcarts that used to come by my street. Surprisingly there wasn’t even one this week” says Akshya a resident of Virungambakkam.” Can you believe, that beans cost Rs 100 a kilo?” she adds aghast.
Despite lengthening budgets and accompanying frowns, the soaring veggie prices have among other things have generated much humor among messaging circles. “Suddenly, even Saravana Bhavan seems reasonable,” jest a group of college-goers.
Though these are prices from pushcarts, vendors and retails outlets across the city, prices at Koyambedu are not too much lower
Tomatoes - Rs 12-18
Beans - Rs 60
Carrots - Rs 35-40
Coriander - Usually free (unless retail outlet)
Tomatoes - Rs 25-40
Beans - Rs 80-100
Carrots - Rs 55-60
Coriander - Rs 5-7