Strawberry scam sees foreign produce sold as 'Estonian', at higher prices ({{contentCtrl.commentsTotal}})

Strawberries for sale in Tallinn's central market; the placard claims the produce is 100 percent Estonian and from the Joosepi farm.
Strawberries for sale in Tallinn's central market; the placard claims the produce is 100 percent Estonian and from the Joosepi farm. Source: ERR

Strawberry season in Estonia has brought with it the perennial problem of scams which involve combining non-Estonian produce with domestic strawberries, then passing everything off as the latter, whose prices are currently considerably higher.

In a variant on another regular fraud, where strawberries are moved wholesale from, for instance, Riga, often overnight, then passed off as Estonian fruit, strawberry growers have noted that not all the produce sold under their farms' names at market really came from their fields, meaning they are often being intentionally defrauded.

The practise this year is hastened by the fact that Estonian strawberry prices are much higher, even in Estonia itself, than berries imported from places as far afield as Greece. Fraudsters then mix the "foreign" strawberries in with the local haul, but sell it at the latter's price, cheating both the customer and the farmer in the process.

Estonian prices much higher

Around two weeks ago, whereas imported strawberries were on sale at a major Tallinn market at around €4-5 per kilo, the price for domestic strawberries was as much as three times that, though these prices are likely to have dropped as peak harvest season arrives.

An additional issue was an agricultural labor shortage in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and changes to the Aliens Act in May, which require third-country (i.e. non-EU) in Estonia on a temporary residence permit to leave the country if they no longer have employment.

"Polish strawberries, for example, are being resold. This has happened," farmer Martin Lillo, who runs the Võido farm in Ahja, Põlva County, told ERR.

"This still goes on, down to the present, although fraud has decreased over the years as controls have tightened."

Lillo's solution is to sell his strawberries direct, rather than to wholesalers, though this depends on the season as to whether it is viable. Other farms say they try to limit the number of resellers to a select and trusted few.

Some sellers employing the sharp practise have gone so far as to invent names of strains of strawberries which, when asked, the purported farm of origin say they have never heard of.

"They offered something I don't produce," said Ülla Urgand of Muinasmaa farm in Põlva County.

"They didn't even do the preliminary ground-work, I guess they just put a nice-sounding name for variety."

In that case, the reseller was contacted and, having claimed that confusion was the cause, apologized to Urgand; others have not had such a swift resolution.

Another farmer, Kärt Karhunen, says that she can't be everywhere and so can't be sure whether his produce gets mixed in with those of other origin or not.

The same would apply to the shopper, who is not likely to have any way of verifying the origins of strawberries in the teeth of seasoned market stallholders' hustle.

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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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