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War Economy

Marketing of Food

Marketing of Food

Wartime scarcities of some essential commodities required careful attention to marketing arrangements. Price stabilisation policies which, over a wide range of commodities, prevented prices from carrying out their usual function of equating demand to supply accentuated the shortages. With many commodities in short supply, it would have saved some administrative difficulties to have allowed prices to run free so as to cut back demand. However, the effect on individual consumers would have been inequitable, and, with the possibility of prices, wages, and incomes generally getting completely out of hand, there would have been no assurance that demand would have fallen sufficiently. The alternative was very page 461 careful co-ordination of marketing, rationing, and price control.

The administrative nucleus for wartime marketing already existed when war broke out. In 1937 the Government had acquired a private enterprise concern distributing dairy produce, and had formed from it the Internal Marketing Division of the Primary Products Marketing Department. Initially, the new Division acted as distributor of butter, cheese, honey, eggs, pork and bacon, but it was made responsible for other products as the need arose.

Inevitably, the entry of a Government organisation into marketing gave rise to considerable public criticism, which flared up whenever a commodity was in short supply or was not of high quality. That there would be many shortages was never in doubt. The quantity of goods available per head of population declined in each war year until, by 1944–45, it had fallen by well over a quarter.

At the outbreak of war, the immediate problem of the Internal Marketing Division was to plan a system of food control suitable for wartime. The Division's activities were not entirely confined to dealing with shortages. One of the most difficult wartime assignments was to find a market in New Zealand for fruit which became surplus when Britain declined to arrange shipping for this cargo, which it regarded as of low priority compared with other food New Zealand could supply. The Division took control of all sales of graded apples and pears through wholesale channels, equivalent to nine-tenths of the crop. Growers were assured of a return of approximately five shillings a case, and sales were arranged through auctioneers and wholesale merchants. Local consumption had to be more than doubled, if fruit was not to be wasted. Some of the expedients used to boost consumption are discussed in Chapter 8.1

1 p. 216.