MAJOR supermarket chain Mercadona has hotly denied rumours it has been replacing home-grown and nationally-produced groceries with poor-quality versions imported at a fraction of the price.
“It could be you have read online, or heard through social networks, that Mercadona is removing Spanish produce in favour of foreign goods, or that Spanish groceries are being taken off the shelves – but this information is totally false,” a statement by the chain's PR department on its web page says.
The chain, which started out life in the province of Valencia as a family-run corner shop and has now made its founder Juan Roig the third-richest man in Spain, has denounced a smear campaign which is urging customers to shop elsewhere, accusing Mercadona of legal, but borderline unethical practices.
To counter these claims, the supermarket has given a full breakdown of who makes its various own-brand goods, such as the household cleaning produce line Bosque Verde, cosmetic label Deliplus, and food name Hacendado.
It is not true that the pumpkins come from Panamá, potatoes from Israel, olive oil from Morocco, oranges from Argentina or sunflower seeds from China, insists the corporation, which buys the lion's share or even 100% of groceries produced by its partner firms.
To obtain fresh produce, Mercadona works with 12,000 fishermen, 6,000 farms and 4,000 livestock breeders.
It also does major trade with 120 suppliers, spread throughout 220 factories across the country.
“Our olive oil comes from a producer in the province of Sevilla, which can be vouched for by the independent quality-control agency Det Norske Veritas,” Mercadona assures.
“We stock oil from traditional producers in the regions of Andalucía, Catalunya, Murcia, Valencia, Madrid, Castilla-La Mancha and Extremadura.”
Spanish supermarkets buying oranges abroad would effectively be carrying coals to Newcastle, as Mercadona points out in not so many words.
The Valencia region is an orange-growing hotspot, producing more of the fruit than it can sell or even harvest – but by August, the crop cycle is well and truly over until the autumn and the few left hanging on the trees are of very poor quality.
This is the only time Mercadona imports oranges – when they cannot get any in Spain – and they come from Argentina.
“And we only ship in potatoes from Israel when they do not grow at home, which is from November to April,” the company clarifies.
As for the so-called borderline unethical practices in terms of workers' rights which Mercadona has been accused of at the same time, the firm highlights its reputation as one of the fairest and most modern, forward-thinking employers in Spain.
Whilst other national firms were losing profits hand over fist during the worst years of the recession, Mercadona was one of those which stayed in the black and actually thrived.
Some of its branches in major cities have a free crèche for staff's children, over 90% of workers are on permanent, full-time job contracts – the only exceptions being back-up temps in high season – and the company's minimum wage for a 40-hour week is €1,200 a month, a figure it assures is only paid to new and inexperienced staff who will be guaranteed pay rises throughout their career.
Mercadona was also one of the first main supermarket chains to offer home delivery and online shopping, as well as a store card which can be paid off in arrears, and customer service training.
Its standards improved still further during the financial crisis – if a queue reaches more than three or four people at the checkout, a staff member will be called immediately to open another till.