I’m fed up! (what else is new)

29 Nov

I have a tendency towards outrage. I can’t stand injustice, and reading about it makes me furious. I sometimes wish that information could just wash over and not impact me so much, but I like to think that the fact I care makes a very small difference.

I’m sure P wishes I was a bit less indignant.

I participated in the Nestle Boycott for a few years before we got married, then his friends teamed up against me and purchased a catering-sized tin of Milo for his as an engagement party gift. I was losing the battle terribly over time, and I’m ashamed to admit that eventually I gave up.

Our current adventures in growing our own food  and eating organically were prompted by the film Food, Inc. I will admit to still harbouring a fast food addiction, but that film has really changed our lives.

And today, once again, I’d fed up. This time the object of my fury is the Australian supermarket duopoly, Coles and Woolworths.

I have noticed lately that some of the products I usually buy are no longer available. The most shocking to me was McCormick spices. Completely gone, from both Coles and Woollies. They lost the shelf-space bidding war to Masterfoods, and now they’ve been replaced by premium home label ranges, Woolworths Select and Coles brand. The same thing has happened to Greenseas Tuna, and the pressure is on all the brands unless they are #1 in their category. John Birmingham was ranting in the Herald this morning that his favourite brand of tomatoes, La Gina has befallen the same fate.

Earlier this month, Heinz hit out at the big two for their aggressive, anti-competitive behaviour. When a big international name like Heinz is crying poor, then that signals to me that there is a big power imbalance in the Australian food industry.

I have already made changes to the way I shop. I order all my fruit, vegetables, dairy and cleaning products from an independent, organic delivery company, Lettuce Deliver. To reduce costs though, I have been purchasing the majority of my general groceries from either Aldi or Woolworths. I particularly like the expanding Macro organic range at Woollies, which are probably half the price of the independant. I thought I was making a difference by buying them (despite the higher prices), and using my Everyday Rewards card, just so they could track my spending. Hopefully my small statistic was registering somewhere!

But I’m not sure I can continue this anymore. This continual push towards private label goods may be good for the consumers in the short term, but long-term it is going to mean less choice. I don’t think it’s unrealistic to imagine Coles and Woollies turning into mega-Aldis who stock mainly home labels, supplemented by a few big name brands like Coca Cola and Huggies. This is going to lead to an environment where the big supermarkets lead product development in this country, and where smaller producers cannot get new and innovative products off the ground. There will be no price signals from the branded products, and so we’ll just have to pay whatever price they decide to set for those products.  There won’t be anyone else to undercut (except the competitor’s home brand product), and I’m ready to bet it will be exactly the same.

Consumers will eventually suffer.

So what to do?

I have been hooked on the convenience of the big two. My local Woolworths is open until at least 11pm every night. I guess I’m going to have to be more organised, and try to shop within the opening hours of my local Franklins (soon to become IGA). The latest they stay open is 8pm, and they have no fresh produce! I think I’ll be expanding the list of products that I buy from Lettuce Deliver and further limiting our consumption of processed food. That’s really the only type of food that I struggle to find organic, and let’s face it – organic french onion dip is still french onion dip 😉

I think I also need to write to Woolworths and explain my behaviour. They need to know that their strategy is making customers walk. I’m sure I’m the type of consumer they want to keep too – frankly, I’m not cost conscious, I don’t chase specials, and I’m willing to pay a substantial premium for organic products.

What do you think? Are you feeling outraged too?

36 Responses to “I’m fed up! (what else is new)”

  1. Robyn November 29, 2011 at 4:46 pm #

    You’re not alone. This has been royally pissing me off for ages, if only because we don’t like our favourite jams disappearing off the shelves. I have been meaning to switch to Franklins since there is now one at the same shopping centre as the Woolies I go to. I’ve simply put it off until ‘after baby’ because it takes a bit of brain power to switch brands and find items in a new shop. In the meantime, I compensate by simply refusing to buy Woolworth brand of practically anything, except milk. I long ago stopped buying fruit and veg there, but that’s because their fruit and veg is crap. I wonder if Franklins has baby trolleys…

    • L November 29, 2011 at 8:29 pm #

      Franklins as been bought by Metcash, so will be re-branded as IGA shortly. Hopefully they will re-fit the stores at the same time, because both Macquarie Centre and Coxs Road are looking very tired.

      • Robyn November 29, 2011 at 8:52 pm #

        Actually, I think I remember hearing something like that. Tad annoying as they stocked South African stuff!

        Anyway, I like the site Sarah mentioned and I’ll do fresh stuff at Golden Banana. I have no idea how much of their stuff is local or organic, but I’ll be taking a closer look from now on! They sell a whole lot of other food stuff too, but I think a lot is imported… They sell South African juice!

    • Darren (Green Change) November 30, 2011 at 8:26 am #

      I’m interested in the “except milk” comment – do you mind if I ask why? There’s a whole slew of issues around cut-price milk from the Big Two

      • Robyn December 1, 2011 at 8:31 am #

        I’ll admit that it’s because it’s cheap and comes in 3 litres. And because I’m generally too ignorant to know about the issues. But you’ll be pleased to know that I looked yesterday when shopping and my fruit and veg shop sells a low fat milk at a price I think we can stomach ($2.75 for 2L). I’m buying fruit and veg there anyway, so easy to just buy 4L of milk instead of buying Woolies. I’m on the hunt for alternative options for all the other things we buy and hopefully won’t be shopping at Woolies for too many things within the next few months…

  2. Sarah November 29, 2011 at 4:53 pm #

    You’re definitely not alone. My frustration has been at the lack of Australian produce available – if you look at the generic brands, almost all of it is imported – I don’t want to buy Spanish peaches!

    Thankfully the internet is providing some real alternatives. Method have fabulous safe cleaning products (that USED to be stocked in the supermarkets) and they sell online through enjo. (www.methodhome.com.au) The website is currently rubbish and being upgraded, but you can just ring them and place an order.

    I agree that the lure of the supermarkets and their convenience is hard to get around though.

  3. Sarah November 29, 2011 at 6:12 pm #

    Ok – here’s some links that might interest you:


    • Robyn November 29, 2011 at 8:04 pm #

      Oooo! Thanks for that Oz Only link. I might actually give it a go! Turns out that a lot of the brands I normally buy are Aussie and sold on that site. I could probably do a shop from the site and then just do fruit and veg at the local fruit and veg shop and a small shop from Franklins for milk etc. Must think about it!

  4. P November 29, 2011 at 6:47 pm #

    Fire up crazy lady! (P.S. it was FOUR catering sized tins of Milo 🙂

  5. Mrs Bok November 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm #

    Ohhhhhhh this topic gets me soooo irate!!!! I’m missing my mccormicks species, my la Gina tomatoes and tonnes of other brands too.

    I avoid the big two where I can but sometimes the budget means it isnt possible. We get Ceres fair food boxes for fresh stuff but the rest is supermarket usually.

    I’m pissed about it too!!

    • L November 29, 2011 at 10:13 pm #

      This social conscience thing is costly, huh! I’ve never heard of Ceres fair food boxes – I’ll look them up.

  6. Liz November 29, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

    Funnily enough I have been thinking about this very topic quite a bit lately. I periodically get sick of supermarket practices and boycott them for a while before getting lazy and starting shopping there again. There’s a book called Shopped about the supermarkets in Britain which I read when I lived there and inspired my initial boycott – same sort of thing you are talking about above (only more so and discussed over 350 pages). There it was pretty easy as I worked on a strip of shops in a predominently Indian area that included a butcher (very rare in London), green grocer (just as rare) and an Indian grocery and there really wasn’t that much that one of them didn’t stock. I am currently boycotting supermarkets and haven’t been to one in the past month but I was just trying to work out where to buy Earth Choice dishwashing liquid without stepping foot into Coles or Woolworths et al. The main things I struggle to get reasonably locally and easily (and don’t make myself) are: recycled toilet paper & kitchen paper, cleaning products, toiletries, dry biscuits and most strangely butter. Otherwise the suburb I live in is pretty good for non supermarket retaillers. Incidently, and not wishing to upset you further but I think Macro is in fact a Woolworths home brand.

    • Sarah November 29, 2011 at 10:39 pm #

      Hi Liz

      OnlyOz stocks the full range of Earth Choice products.

      • Robyn November 30, 2011 at 8:52 am #

        Yup. And I noticed they also have the brand of recycled toilet paper I usually get, plus the recycled paper towels that I USED to get that have recently just vanished from Woolies shelves…

    • L November 29, 2011 at 10:48 pm #

      Yes, I’m aware of the Macro thing. Disappointing, but I was consoling myself with the fact that Woollies may actually be expanding the market for organic farmers. Profit margins on the other hand…

  7. Kate November 30, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    I’m with you. We have 4 supermarkets in our very small suburb. Coles, woollies, Aldi and an IGA. Most of my shopping is done at a fairly local Organic Shop(Organic Feast). But if I need something in a hurry I run up to our very local shops. I try to shop at the IGA but they carry very limited organic stuff, so I have been going to Coles for some things like organic milk ( no longer necessary as our cow is now milking) organic sugar, organic sultanas, and organic coffee for Mark.I limit my purchases of processed things either doing withour or making my own. I don’t know to what extent our boycotting their brands makes any difference in the whole scheme of things but it does make a big difference to me!

    • L November 30, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

      How great that you have an organic shop locally, and oh, for a cow! Now I’m pretty sure that my local council won’t allow that one 🙂

      • Robyn December 1, 2011 at 8:47 am #

        I’m pretty sure you don’t have enough grass for a cow to eat! Especially if the front lawn makes way for more veggies! Shame though, I know a little girl who would love visiting a cow every week!

  8. Leanne Cole November 30, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    We are very lucky here, in some ways. Whilst we have a Coles and Woolies supermarkets near by, we also have an independent supermarket Leo’s. While they don’t offer the same range, though having said that both the other two are only small ones and don’t offer a vast variety either. It is more expensive to shop at Leo’s, but they stock a lot of gourmet stuff that the others don’t. They have the best fruit and veggies available out of the 3. Their meat isn’t too bad and they have organic choices as well. It is just a nicer place to shop. I refuse to go to Woolies, they drive me nuts. I will go to Coles, but only if I am going to the shopping centre anyway, I wouldn’t go out of my way to go there though.
    I agree with you totally, how dare these chains decide what we can and can’t eat. It should be up to us. The only thing to do is not to shop there and send them a message.

    • L November 30, 2011 at 2:55 pm #

      I hear that the range of independent grocers is much greater in other states, but in NSW is really is terrible!

      My parents work in the food industry, and my Mum in particular handles the distribution to supermarkets. She has recommended the IGA in West Pymble. I might give that a go soon.

  9. Darren (Green Change) November 30, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    Also, Google:

    “woolworths pokies” (Woollies is one of the biggest owners of high-loss poker machines, and is actively fighting the Government reforms in this area)

    and “coles baiada” (despite their “ethical sourcing” policies, Coles continues to buy 80% of their chicken from Baiada, a company with a history of repeated health and safety breaches and repeated allegations of worker exploitation and bullying).

    Neither company has any social conscience.

    • L November 30, 2011 at 2:59 pm #

      Darren, the pokies thing makes my blood boil! I go to clubs and pubs for various reasons (swimming lessons, social events etc) and I always feel guilty paying the cheap prices because I know that some pensioner in the gaming room is subsidising whatever service I am enjoying. I wish I could pay extra somehow and make a difference.

      And when I see their ‘Licence to punt’ petitions I feel like scrawling some abusive rant across it!

      • Robyn December 1, 2011 at 8:49 am #

        I’ve seen those signs, but have no idea what they mean… You’ll have to explain it to me sometime!

  10. ali November 30, 2011 at 2:24 pm #

    I don’t rant a whole lot, I try not to think about terrible things that happen and concentrate on the good, but I do a few things on the quiet and boycotting Coles and Woolies is one of those things.

    I have, directly across the road from where I live, a big Coles store. And I NEVER go in it. Never. I shop at the markets, the butcher’s and the baker’s and a small IGA. Once in a while I go to Aldi’s to stock up on tinned goods and things like laundry powder etc.

    It’s a very small thing, but we all know that from little things big things grow 😀

    Now where have I heard that before?

    Go wild ranting!!!

    • L November 30, 2011 at 3:01 pm #

      Good on you Ali. I wonder if I would have that level of self control if it was literally across the street. Might find myself wandering across the road late at night in search of salt and vinegar chips – I’m sooo not a pin-up girl for healthy eating!

  11. vanillapodsandgreenbeans November 30, 2011 at 6:37 pm #

    Oh my goodness this has been a beef of mine for some time. I am completely fed up with the supermarkets.

    I have my fruit and veg delivered. Milk and various other bit’s from the farmers markets, meat from a local butcher and then for house cleaning and staples I purchase from the independents and costco. It is crazy how little option we are now given when they all promote that they are giving australians a better choice!

    Have a look at this video, woolies and coles are bigger than you think.

    • L December 1, 2011 at 7:55 am #

      Thanks for the link- I love Hungry Beast, but I hadn’t seen that episode. I work in the finance industry (in a stockbroking firm, actually) so I’m aware of how the big 2 are growing through their company reporting, but It’s still alarming when it dawns on you that your local pub is owned by Woolies! It is all obfuscated by subsidiary names like “Australian Leisure and Hospitality Group”.

      • Robyn December 1, 2011 at 8:23 am #

        Is there a list somewhere of the stuff ‘Woolies’ owns? I’m getting suspicious… I’ve noticed in the last few days that the movie hire booths ‘Oovies’ seem to all be placed outside Woolies stores and are suspiciously the same shade green…

  12. the green backyard November 30, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    I try and buy most of our groceries from Martellis at Rouse Hill (fruit, veg, pasta, tinned toms and beans, meats, rice, cous cous, cheese, etc….) I was trying to think of things that can only be bought at Coles/Woolies, and there would not be many, if any, things you could not get elsewhere.

    • L December 1, 2011 at 8:04 am #

      I think that’s absolutely true if you are organized. My steely resolved lasted all off a day until we realised late last night that we were out of nappies. We use cloth at home, but we have to send little D to childcare with disposables, and there are no other late night options. Must be more organized if I’m going to be a decent boycotter!

      • Robyn December 1, 2011 at 8:20 am #

        You could try a chemist, they usually sell nappies and there are a few in the area that are open until 10pm (mostly in West Ryde).

  13. Asydfoodie December 3, 2011 at 6:06 pm #

    I try to shop at farmers markets as much as possible. But when I’ve been busy, it all falls to bits. Even then, I try and spread it around: local shops, iga then the big two. It is frightening that 80c of every shopping dollar is spent at C/W. I have noticed that for dish washing liquid, some chemists stock it much cheaper than the specials at the big two. $1.99 for 450ml instead of $2.99 ‘on special’

  14. kim December 7, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    I have just discovered your blog and just loved it! We are on a farm , but I just love reading how city people respond to the challenges of living sustainably like you are. I get what you are saying about the supermarkets. I actually wrote to Woolworths and complained about their macro whole foods range because they taken something ‘organic’ but used ingredients like palm oil ( detrimental to the world’s rainforests through the methods used) and other cheap ingredients. I didn’t receive any feed back from them, but the only way to change these big supermarkets is to do as you do and shop carefully- to them it is all facts and figures, so if we alter these facts and figures by how we shop , it makes a big difference.

  15. Lynette January 7, 2012 at 1:10 pm #

    We use – Aussie farmers Direct – for milk and juice bread cheese, youghurt, and fresh fruit and vegetables – they are great – highly recommended.


  1. The Beast « Vanilla Pods and Green Beans - November 30, 2011

    […] I stumbled across this post on 500m2. A relevant rant showing the shear frustration of Australian […]

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