KATERINI, Greece (AP) — The leader of a project that helps Greek farmers sell their food products directly to customers at bargain prices hopes to build a Europe-wide network that would bypass middlemen while benefiting local producers and consumers.
On Saturday, Elias Tsolakidis was in the northern Greek town of Katerini where he oversaw the sale of 101 tons of flour in the scheme.
The flour producers said they sold their product at cost — €0.50 ($0.66) per kilogram. Nearly 2,100 people, all of whom had ordered the flour in advance, turned out on foot and in cars, motorbikes and bicycles to pick up their orders in 5-kilo sacks.
Had those people gone to supermarkets, they likely would have shelled out around €1.20 per kilogram, Tsolakidis said. Meanwhile, the association of flour producers that sold the products noted that the flour was made from local, and not imported, wheat.
For producers, selling the flour at cost was a good deal in part because they could get their money immediately instead of waiting for months from checks promised by middlemen. It's possible, however, that as the project continues, they could decide to raise their prices above cost.
The direct sale effort comes as Greece struggles with a severe financial crisis that has seen pensions and salaries slashed and led to skyrocketing unemployment of over 20 percent.
Tsolakidis is Greek, but works as technical director at the European College of Sport Science, in Cologne, Germany, an organization that does research on physical activity and sports.
Last month, he contacted potato farmers in the town of Nevrokopi, close to Greece's border with Bulgaria, and convinced them to sell their product directly to consumers. The effort was a hit with both the farmers and the customers.
The farmers said they were basically forced to sell their potatoes to middlemen at €0.11 per kilogram, while it cost them €0.20 per kilogram to grow them. Supermarkets sold the potatoes at about €0.70 per kilogram. Now, after several direct sales across Greece, supermarkets are selling potatoes at prices as low as €0.29 per kilogram.
Tsolakidis wants to take effort beyond Greece's borders.
"We already have small, grassroots organizations in Europe in direct contact with producers ... we have got in touch with such organizations in France and Spain," he told The Associated Press.
On Saturday, Tsolakidis ensured that 96 volunteers turned out to help distribute the flour. The customers, meanwhile, said they were grateful for the good prices — but also wanted to make a bigger point.
"This is a message to the middlemen and their excessive profits," said 35-year-old Thanos Hryssikos, as he loaded his scooter with flour sacks.
"The important thing is to prop up the producers and, at the same time, help consumers," added 67-year-old Katerina Tsiribasi, who had ordered 70 kilograms of flour.
Tsolakidis said rice and olive growers also have expressed interest in the direct sale model.