How did it happen that in March they literally fought for ordinary goods? And why didn't the prices go down after the "stabilization" of the situation?
Yulia Suntsova, Natalya Seybil
In January 2020, a kilogram of sugar in a store cost an average of 30.5 rubles. The market was oversaturated, there was enough for everyone. As a result, beets were planted less. By November, the price of sugar rose to 52.4 rubles (+72%). For the year - from November 2020 to November 2021, sugar has risen in price by another 2.2 rubles. In 2021, 22% more sugar beet was harvested than a year earlier - over 40 million tons, nothing foreshadowed trouble, and, according to the plan, prices should have started to decline.
But this year, after February 24, sugar prices soared 2-2.5 times. What happened?
Russia fully covers the domestic consumption of sugar - about 5.8 million tons of sugar per year is used for self-sufficiency, about 6 million tons are produced.
At the same time, Russia actively exports and imports sugar. It is profitable for Russian producers to export sugar, because they will earn more on the international market than if they sold it domestically. It is also profitable for producers from other countries to supply sugar to Russia, because they will receive more for it on the Russian market than on the domestic market of their countries.
The main supplier of sugar to Russia is Belarus. Belarus accounts for 96% of imports in 2020: out of 166 thousand tons of imported sugar, 159 thousand tons were Belarusian.
Export mainly goes towards the eastern neighbors: Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Tajikistan. Sugar imported into the Russian Federation is rather a supplement than a deficit, says Daria Akimova, head of the analytics department at the NTech research company.
Currently, in order to create sugar reserves within the country, a temporary ban on sugar exports has been introduced until the end of August 2022.
The authorities assure that the shortage and at the same time the rise in price of sugar was caused by:
1. logistics costs (but gasoline has not really risen in price),
2. rising prices for packaging (but domestic polyethylene still costs a penny),
3. high demand,
4. the fact that sugar is a stock product.
Since mid-March, the Federal Antimonopoly Service began to check everyone involved in sugar - from factories to distributors and retail chains. They all got things done.
The Pavlovsky Sugar Plant and the Tikhoretsky Sugar Plant were convicted of conspiring to increase wholesale selling prices for sugar to 68.30 rubles per 1 kilogram (with the remaining cost of 28.66 rubles).
A case has also been opened against Prodimex, Russia's largest sugar producer. According to the antimonopoly service, the market participant deliberately provoked a jump in sugar prices in stores by illegally coordinating the work of retail chains.
The largest sugar distributors - Skyfood, Nevskaya Grocery, Gifts of Fields, Pangeya and Sudarushka - were also checked due to rising prices and the resulting shortage.
We also visited retail chains with inspections. Cases were opened against Pyaterochka and Magnit. They found a lot of stocks of sugar in their warehouses, while the store shelves were empty, which fueled the rush demand.
"In the Voronezh region, retail chains created an artificial shortage of products in retail stores, fueling the rush demand. In the Kemerovo region, wholesale sugar suppliers simultaneously increased the margin from 9% to 54%. In the Krasnodar Territory, two plants simultaneously increased selling prices for sugar by more than 30% .
Based on the results of consideration of the field inspection materials, a case was initiated against the largest sugar producer - the company coordinated retail chains in order to simultaneously rewrite retail prices for sugar, " the press service of the Federal Antimonopoly Service confirmed to NI.
Tests are now taking place in other regions. For violation of the antimonopoly law, proceedings were initiated in the Arkhangelsk region, the Republics of Tatarstan and Khakassia. Investigations could take several months, the department added.
Retailers denied the FAS information about stimulating the hype, saying that there were few stocks, and the introduction of an upper mark-up limit by the state did not even allow covering transportation costs.
After the well-known scenes with grandmothers fighting in supermarkets, the maximum markup of 5%, at first so enthusiastically advertised by the authorities, was canceled. Now merchants can set any price for their goods.
X5 Group "NI" reported that empty shelves in March arose not because of the retention of goods in warehouses, but solely because of increased demand. Sugar was sorted out faster than the cars could load and reach, although they went on flights constantly throughout the day.
"The delivery process is as follows: the trading network either enters into a direct contract with a large producer, and then sugar is delivered in the required volumes according to a predetermined schedule, or sugar, as the most demanded product, is bought through a tender on the principle of" the best price ". After the purchase, sugar is brought trucks with a capacity of 20 tons per distribution center - this is a large warehouse of the company, which provides several regions at once.
From the distribution center, sugar is sent to stores - hundreds of outlets can be assigned to one distribution center, which must be replenished daily with goods. The logistics are arranged in such a way that sugar is transported to stores along with other goods also on huge trucks.
In March, when there was a rush in stores, sugar did not have time to be stored in distribution centers, it was immediately sent to stores, and supplies did not stop throughout the day. But the goods were sorted out very quickly, so, indeed, there were periods before the arrival of the next car when there might not have been sugar on the shelf. The frequency of shipment even with continuous flights is once every few hours. The road from the distribution center to the store can take from 30 minutes to 8 hours, depending on the distance. In addition, often on the flight there is a delivery not for one supermarket, but for several, on average - for four. And besides the road, time is also spent on acceptance from the supplier, packaging, and laying out. But we assure you: if the buyer saw that there was no sugar on the shelves of retail chains, this meant that they simply did not have time to deliver him, the goods were being unloaded or on their way from the warehouse", - the senior manager commented on the situation with the sugar rush in March. PR manager Anton Meshcheryakov.
According to the company, as of April 13, the demand for sugar is five times less than in peak values in March.
- "NI": why does the antimonopoly service conduct spot checks if sugar prices have doubled or tripled at all sellers, in all retail chains and stores, in all regions of the country?
- The Federal Antimonopoly Service: We work, firstly, at the request of citizens, and secondly, we can intervene and take measures only if the dominant enterprise allows abuse in the market. Non-dominant merchants, in fact, can set any price for their goods. The consumer has a choice - he does not like the price of one IP, he goes to another IP. But if prices are instantly rewritten by a key market participant who closes supplies, for example, in half of the city's stores, the choice of the buyer is seriously limited.
Economist and entrepreneur Dmitry Potapenko takes the side of retail chains, explaining why the lack of sugar on the shelves in March was a technical failure:
"Of course, the FAS will unequivocally detect a conspiracy, selfish intent and all that. It's easier than actually figuring out what happened to sugar and for what reasons. In stores, especially in large networks, most of the goods are simply not ordered manually, this happens through the so-called auto-order. In normal times, the amount of goods required for sale is approximately the same, and the statistics generated in ten to twenty allow the machine to set certain parameters. Bulk goods, for example, buckwheat, flour, sugar, have not been ordered manually for a long time, because these goods are not marginal, they go into the load - neither the store nor the supplier earns on them, there are rarely promotions".
In the usual "Pyaterochka" 5.5 - 7.5 thousand items of goods. Nobody flinches if something disappears from the counter during the day. If the product is not margined, it disappeared and disappeared, and this may not be fixed even after a week. In March, the auto-order machine worked for a very long time, until the sugar panic turned into a public plane - only then the distribution networks switched sugar supplies to manual mode, and that's when these strange people [FAS] began to go with checks. From the very beginning I said that there was only a technical failure. Well, it is impossible to manually enter 7.5 thousand products without technical failures.
Today, the authorities reported on the stabilization of the situation with sugar. But the main problem now is not the deficit, but the fact that the price of sugar is not decreasing, although the hype has subsided.
Despite the five-fold weakening of demand, prices did not go down for some reason. The range of sugar prices in different regions today is from 65 to 120 rubles per kilogram, the average price is still 100 rubles per kilogram.
"Large business, retail chains work with large quantities and directly with manufacturers, and if there is something to press, they can squeeze out the lowest price. I think that for large businesses, supply failures were connected precisely with long negotiations on purchases. Small and medium-sized sellers do not have such a power of wholesale purchases, manufacturers do not work with them, only dealers. In this case, the rise in prices is caused by the greed of dealers who decided to earn extra money", - explains Potapenko.
In March 2022, Russians bought 1-2 million tons of sugar. Before the special operation, if we counted at an average price of 50 rubles per kilogram, it would have been 50-100 billion rubles. At the new prices - this is at least twice as expensive. While grandmothers were fighting to the death near the carts in Pyaterochka for bags of sugar, "unplanned" tens of billions of rubles were successfully going into very specific pockets.
- The rush demand for sugar is connected with the deep memory of the people. In principle, our products are getting more expensive all the time, and the older generation still remembers food stamps. In addition, sugar is not perishable, and if so, why not stock up on every fireman? Another thing is that this spontaneous excitement caused a real problem. There are plenty of sugar reserves, at least 70 plants for its production have both worked and are still working. But it is not so easy for merchants to return to the old prices quickly now. The networks have already agreed on a certain number of large parties at new prices, paid for them at new prices and will sell, otherwise there will be a loss. What will happen to sugar next year is hard to say.
The main problem is that 75-80% of our seeds are imported, and if sugar beet seeds are expensive and difficult to get, farmers will switch to crops whose seed material will not cause problems, - commented Andrey Vernikov, an analyst at Univer Capital Group of Companies.
"In an attempt to settle the sugar boom in March 2022, the Ministry of Agriculture has simplified the procedure for obtaining permission to import white sugar. Until the end of August 2022, up to 300 thousand tons of sugar and raw sugar can be brought into Russia without paying duties and according to a reduced list of documents. This measure was taken by the Government to meet the increased domestic demand for sugar. The first vessel with 44,000 tons of raw sugar has already arrived in Russia as part of the tariff exemption, and the products will soon be sent for processing. Thus, the current decision on the duty-free import of 300 thousand tons of sugar, by and large, keeps sugar imports in the country at the same level as it was for the last 5 years. It is very difficult to imagine a shortage of sugar in Russia. For there to be a shortage of sugar, several factors must coincide at the same time: the area under crops is sharply and extensively reduced, a global crop failure sets in, and transport and logistics routes stop", - says Daria Akimova.