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Sunday, November 23, 2008

Lamb Steak

I know I keep going on about this, but I did the maths and it still works out that buying this delicious free range lamb from the market on the weekend is better financially than getting it from a mass supplier like a supermarket. How can that be?

Well, here's the thing: shortening of the supply chain. In a world where we have been brought up to believe that efficiencies lie in the mass consumer market, we conclude that small operators without huge buying power simply cannot participate in a competitive marketplace driven by the megasuppliers. But as we enter tighter economic times, it is these monopolistic leviathans that feel the pinch as they try to keep their swollen infrastructure costs under control.

Maintaining a supply chain even for a country as small as New Zealand must be a huge logistical challenge with a multitude of costs at every level. Incoming expenses from vendors supplying the big stores go up as everyone feels the bite of rising fuel costs. As this happens, there are only a few ways to recover those costs: Either increase the cost of the product, or reduce expenditure within the business framework. Both of these can be a painful blow to a mass producer/retailer.

With a small operation, those pains are still felt, but not quite as often. When you buy from a grower-seller, the product you're eating has been provided down a very short supply chain indeed: Grow the product, harvest it, package it, store it, transport it to market, sell it. No warehousing, no freezing costs, no overflow, no returns written off as bad debt (and thus wasted as food), no huge promotional overheads to meet.
These three lamb steaks cost me $4.00. In the supermarket the equivalent quantity would be worth about $7.00. So for once, a premium gourmet product can be found for almost half the price of a mass consumer equivalent in the supermarket. That seems to me to be something worth shouting out about. I've gone on enough about cooking and eating this lamb. That's not to say I won't do so again in the future (I have knuckles in the fridge right now!), but I won't bore you with the details of how I did these lovely steaks, other than to say that the garlic was just on the side of the pan, infusing the oil as the meat cooked to add a subtle fragrance to the lamb and fresh herbs.

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