Whether one shops in the locally-owned supermarkets or the ones that are foreign-owned, it continues to surprise many to see the number of foreign products which are enthusiastically sold as against the same type of local products. A quick glance at the shelves in most of the supermarkets in Georgetown and its environs will show that in spite of several campaigns carried out previously to encourage consumers to ‘buy local’, more foreign products are being offered to consumers, sometimes even at higher prices.
Sometime back, members of our editorial team conducted a small survey in an attempt to find out why the local products were not more in evidence on the supermarket shelves. Supermarket managers, though not dismissing the quality of local products, claimed it was easier to stock foreign products and that consumers have a preference for such products, and as such, there is a greater turnover.
It should be noted too that many local producers claimed that the supermarkets would buy only limited quantities of their products despite the fact that their prices were competitive. The Consumers Association has said that consumers are enjoined to have ‘value for money’ and that if the local product is of good quality and being offered at a competitive price when compared to foreign ones, then the local product should be bought. The consumer advocates went on to point out that buying local products generates wealth and employment locally, and provides as much social as economic benefit to communities and the country as a whole. Shoppers and consumers are, therefore, enjoined, in their own ultimate interest to buy local once they receive value for money.
Buying local is something which all countries, even the wealthy ones such as the United States, advocate in one guise or another despite talk about globalisation and free trade. Buying local is of ultimate benefit to the consumer himself. And it is easy to buy local if one analyses and compares the local product with its foreign equivalent.
In doing such comparison, one should begin with food and drink. Food products produced locally are fresher and more nutritious and in most cases organically produced. Local vegetables are much less expensive than the foreign ones. When fruits are not in season, they are often not as competitive as the foreign imports. For example, at the moment, it is better value to buy grapes or apples than avocado pears, which are overpriced. However, when local fruits are in season, they offer a much better buy than any foreign import.
In essence, while we are not advocating that supermarkets or other retailers should limit the choices to consumers in any way, many consumers would agree that some local products are as good as, or even better than the foreign ones, but yet as a result of long indoctrination they almost mechanistically buy the foreign ones.
That being said, we just cannot assume that consumers would change their attitude to local products overnight. It requires much effort from both the Government and the mainstream Private Sector to encourage persons to support local products. While there have been campaigns in the past to encourage persons to buy local, such efforts were limited; they were basically ‘food fairs’ with minimal participation from local companies and citizens.
Additionally, some analysts have pointed out that the vast majority of the local manufacturing initiatives have been undertaken at a small scale, with minimal financial investment. In most cases, there is hardly enough money allocated towards ensuring that those local products are effectively marketed.
One should also take into consideration that many Guyanese consumers are now moving in the direction of online shopping. Added to this is that consumers are being influenced by huge multi-media advertising which has proven to be a major challenge for advocates who are seeking to encourage and promote the use of local products.
Government must show that it is really serious about pushing local products by allocating the necessary resources that would seek to ensure a suitable environment is created to support the development and marketing of local products.