Too Busy For Words - the PaulWay Blog

Mon 29th Nov, 2010

Scarcity in abundance

It's starting to really worry me.

Over the months I've noticed gradual disappearances from my supermarket. Bundaberg Sugar now doesn't appear at all - it's all CSR (a foreign-owned company) or Coles's rebranded CSR sugar. P&N cordials have disappeared in favour of Cottees (a foreign-owned company). Even though Golden Circle (now owned by Heinz, a foreign-owned company) has cordials there, my favourite pine-lime is now absent. Yes, we can all see the shelves gradually decreasing in biodiversity but when something you really like is gone substituting another brand sometimes isn't enough.

We know why, of course. Coles and Woolworths own nearly 80% of the grocery market. Companies pay them to stock products on their shelves. Their aim is basically to stock the one or two popular brands and then fill the rest of the space with their own labels - "You'll Love Coles", "Woolies Home Brand" etc. (BTW, is it only me or do the labels for YLC insult one's intelligence? '"I drink milk because it's lovely!" - Megan, milk lover'. '"Oh, please" - Paul, throwing up'.) They actually ask for these payments in advance and in some cases are regardless of how much is actually sold - which is basically extortion in my book. Aldi is worse in my opinion - you have one choice, their own brands, sourced from wherever is cheapest. When Walmart comes to Australia they will kick Coles and Woolworths' arses, but only in the race for utterly selling out.

The fact is that every time you buy something from a foreign-owned company, that money goes to another country. Every cent that an Australian business owner gets then gets spent in their local community and supports other Australians; every cent that goes to a foreign owned company helps absolutely no-one in Australia. This isn't about blind patriotism - I'm thinking about the people, not the government. The flow-on effect of that money supports many more families than just the business owners. I also worry about food and business standards in other countries: the pressure to import bananas comes entirely from the big grocery chains, who couldn't care two hoots about preventing disease from wiping out the entire banana industry in Australia as long as they can make a short-term profit. And since most of these companies aren't using local goods - 80% of all groceries have ingredients sourced overseas - trying to reduce the distance that our goods travel to get to us is vital to reducing our impact on the only planet we can live on.

One ray of hope here is that IGA and other local smaller grocery stores have realised how to market themselves. Their costs will always be higher, so their actual difference is to stock better produce or more variety. The range of beers at my local IGA puts Dan Murphy's to shame, and makes Coles look quaint. They're almost like a delicatessen.

I start to think that there's actually a business model for a chain of stores that specialise in exclusively Australian-owned and Australian-made produce. Yes, your range is not going to be as great. You won't find Arnotts, Vegemite, Uncle Toby's, most chocolates, Kleenex, Golden Circle, Cottees, and more. Yet you will find IXL, Sanitarium, Maggie Beer, Devondale, Bega, Bulla, Quilton, and a big range of Australian native produce. You can shop there knowing that everything has been sourced from local companies and local foodstuffs. To me that's not just a practical but an ethical decision.

If only...

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