Watermelon as a metaphor for inflation: the most summery fruit multiplies its price

Search the word “watermelon” on Twitter generates results like these:

The impression conveyed by these tweets is confirmed by a walk through several supermarkets. The same variety of watermelon cost 1.59 euros this Tuesday at Mercadona, Lidl and Salvamas. This type of watermelon, dark green and with hardly any seeds, is the most common. At that price, a five kilo watermelon costs almost eight euros. The scenario is even worse for those who choose to buy it cut, with prices between 1.79 and 1.89 euros per kilo.

This is the case of Jorge Moreno, victim of the rate single (pay more to live alone). Hold a quarter of a watermelon in a Mercadona. “Look at it, three euros for this. Can not be. It is very tasty and is very appealing in this heat, but it has become a luxury fruit”, he says, annoyed. He would like to be able to buy a whole one, “but then I either eat watermelon non-stop for several days or it goes bad.” Alicia Pérez, in a Savings, had not noticed until now the rise in the price of watermelon: “It is true that it is very expensive. But, honestly, everything is so expensive that I prefer not to think about it. I take the cheapest and then I see that my purchase also goes up 20%”. According to data from the employers, 70% of the watermelons are sold in supermarkets, such as the Lidl where María works: “Some customer has complained to me in particular about the price of the watermelon.”

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The figures from the Ministry of Agriculture show a skyrocketing growth in the price in the markets of origin. The latest data available, from the first week of June, is 68.37 euros for 100 kilos of watermelon. It is almost triple that in the same period last year. A week earlier, in the last week of May, the price was even higher: 84.79, compared to 26.9 for the same period in 2021. These increases then affect the final consumer. The CPI data for May reflects a year-on-year growth of 8.7% in fresh fruit.

There are several reasons that, combined, explain this price increase. The first is the fall in supply due to the problems that the Almería harvest has had. This is the main orchard that supplies the early watermelons to the national market. “The weather conditions have been a problem. There was an excess of rain and haze in March, during the setting of the watermelons that have been on the market these weeks. Around 40% of production fell,” explains Adoración Blanque, president of the Agricultural Association of Young Farmers (ASAJA) in Almería.

They have had the same problem in the Murcian orchard, the main producer in the weeks after the Almeria watermelon. “The price has risen so much because there is a lack of watermelon, as simple as that. We have had 21 of 31 days in March with rain, so there has been no pollination. That watermelon is not lost, but it is delayed,” adds Juan López, vice president of the Murcian producers’ association Proexport and manager of Pozosur. “We have had a kilo of watermelons in spaces from which we expected to get up to five,” he indicates. In addition, like the rest of agricultural activities, the production of watermelon suffers a multiplication of costs. The president of the melon and watermelon interprofessional of Castilla-La Mancha —the orchard that, with Valencia, completes the calendar for this fruit—, Cristóbal Jiménez, calculates that today the farmer costs an average of 25% more for each watermelon. “Supply is not covering demand,” says Jiménez.

The other factor that triggers the price of watermelon is high temperatures. “Watermelon consumption and heat are totally related. More temperature, more demand for watermelon,” explains Blanque. This year summer has come early and hit with the worst June heat wave in 20 years. “Not only is the demand in Spain important. In Europe, where temperatures have also risen, they are consuming more watermelon. If in Europe the summer is 27 degrees, there is a lack of watermelons and if it is 23, there are plenty,” adds López.

A greengrocer in Madrid, this Tuesday.
A greengrocer in Madrid, this Tuesday.Claudio Alvarez

In the market there are cheaper watermelons than those of national production. “Our main competitors are Morocco and Senegal, which push prices down. Here, producing a greenhouse watermelon costs 30 cents. There, about 10. It is unfair competition and the product is worse″, indicates Blanque. Watermelons from Abdel Majid’s greengrocer in Alcalá de Henares (Madrid) cost 0.99 euros per kilo, much less than in the supermarket. “They come from Morocco, they are very good. The price has gone up a bit; last year it cost 0.79 euros per kilo”, explains this greengrocer, accustomed to his customers complaining “a little” about inflation.

Majid believes that in the coming weeks the price of watermelons will fall, a prediction shared by López: “They will go down because pollination after March has been normal, so there will be many more watermelons.” “They have to fall. The market is going to readjust as soon as there are no more watermelons,” adds Jiménez. In the first week of June, the average price estimated by Agriculture already fell compared to the last week of May.

The vice president of Proexport points out that this price increase has not resulted in greater benefits for farmers: “Yes, prices have risen, but with the increase in costs and the fall in production, you remain as you were.” “For us, as producers,” continues Blanque, “it could not matter what price the supermarket sells for if our margins are covered. But we must bear in mind that distribution has increased the price so much that it can cause demand to drop. And we are not interested in that. We want it to be sold at a reasonable price. We don’t like to see watermelons at 12 euros”. The president of ASAJA in Almería criticizes that, right now, farmers are earning between 30 and 40 cents per kilo of watermelon, while some supermarkets sell it for up to five times more. “The commercial margin is very high”, she concludes.


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