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Why the ACT is stuck in a supermarket time warp

By Paul Costigan 24 June 2015 31

trolleys02

A few years ago the ACT Government had a bright idea to confront the problem of the power of the supermarket giants. It introduced a policy to encourage more competition to the usual two or three. It didn’t deliver.

While much was made of this policy when the government’s bureaucracy was developing their so-called master plan for the Dickson shops, the reality is that the proposed new supermarket complex will house just more of the same. Admittedly it was a brave move given that other local governments have not found a way to establish real alternatives to the corporations who dominate Australia’s supermarket sector.

With many shopping centres now containing two or more of the big three, shoppers are voting with their feet. What may have been attractive one day, can fall out of favour. The power of the consumer can still deliver.

Meanwhile back here in Dickson we are awaiting the next proposal for the supermarket development given the failure of the first. Once the developers come up with a successful proposal for the new Dickson supermarket complex, there is no doubt it will deliver nothing new as the expectation remains that shoppers will have the same three corporations to choose from. Many residents will be happy about this while others will simply wonder about the government’s lack of expertise and commitment to bring about a different mix of shops to Dickson.

I shop at the Dickson Woolworths—but it is more about convenience rather than any notion of enjoying shopping. Plus I am very aware that their discounted prices are offset with adjustments to other items. Like so many people I know, when I shop at these big supermarkets I do so with a sense of reluctance. As often as possible I look to do business with smaller retailers.

However there are signs that smaller retailers can manage to find a niche market despite the dominance of the big corporations. In Dickson in the last few years there have been a few survivors, namely a butcher, plus a second butcher who has recently branched out into a range of other small goods and we still manage to have a small fruit and vegetable shop. Luckily where I live I can walk 15 minutes in one direction to the Ainslie IGA, 10 minutes walk to the Dickson shops and Woolworths and a few more minutes drive to a SupaBarn Express at Watson (SupaBarn Express was not sold to Coles).

While there are immediate benefits to your purse when you find the best discounts amongst the big supermarkets, we do so knowing that the corporations provide these low prices by slowly driving our farmers and small to medium food manufacturers out of business. History is repeating itself here. The business of pushing out the distances between the food production and the retailer has been done many times in human history ultimately with serious consequences.

There are many books on this that you would hope that some of our politicians and decision makers would be reading. One is about the empires of food. The authors also have presentations online that are worth watching.

Sadly most of the signs are that the government and its bureaucratic advisors are stuck in a time warp and have a fear of change. I do not pretend to be able to provide simple solutions to how we deal with the dilemmas of what is the best supermarkets, best shopping centres and associated best long term sustainable arrangements for the provision of good healthy and affordable food for our tables.

What is happening right now in Dickson is a case study of how governments should be engaging with the locals and using available research to work through at least some of these issues to come up with developments that actually make sense and are relevant to this inner suburban area for the next part of the 21st Century.

These debates are worth having. All thoughts welcome.

What’s Your opinion?


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31 Responses to
Why the ACT is stuck in a supermarket time warp
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Leon 1:43 pm 30 Jun 15

Downer needs a small shop more than Dickson needs three major supermarkets.

JC 5:21 pm 26 Jun 15

Argonaut said :

So, people have to identify what is important to them – is it getting the cheapest possible product, or is it ensuring that producers (including growers) receive fair recompense? Once you clarify this with your own ethical compass, you’ll know how much you are prepared to inconvenience yourself.

Not at all? Fine, go shop at Wollies or Coles or Aldi.

But if you do care about what your dollars support, then you will be prepared to miss sleeping in until midday on a Saturday, or driving a little further, or spending a little more, to ensure that your dollar supports something you think is important.

Since when did we all get so hung up everything being served to us on a platter, with no personal inconvenience whatsoever?

Also, to those who complain about the early morning markets, there’s Choku Baijo, the farmer’s market outlet, in Lyneham. More central than EPIC, and open longer hours. Look, there was even a Riot Act post on it in 2012! http://the-riotact.com/tag/choku-baijo

Well said.

Argonaut 12:31 pm 26 Jun 15

So, people have to identify what is important to them – is it getting the cheapest possible product, or is it ensuring that producers (including growers) receive fair recompense? Once you clarify this with your own ethical compass, you’ll know how much you are prepared to inconvenience yourself.

Not at all? Fine, go shop at Wollies or Coles or Aldi.

But if you do care about what your dollars support, then you will be prepared to miss sleeping in until midday on a Saturday, or driving a little further, or spending a little more, to ensure that your dollar supports something you think is important.

Since when did we all get so hung up everything being served to us on a platter, with no personal inconvenience whatsoever?

Also, to those who complain about the early morning markets, there’s Choku Baijo, the farmer’s market outlet, in Lyneham. More central than EPIC, and open longer hours. Look, there was even a Riot Act post on it in 2012! http://the-riotact.com/tag/choku-baijo

JC 12:30 pm 26 Jun 15

geetee said :

Aldi has been great for Weston Creek shoppers and I now do 90% of my grocery shopping there. Woolworths at Cooleman Court certainly seems to try and stifle competition. I see now that there is a Mr Sushi in the centre, Woolies have opened their own sushi bar within the supermarket.

How is Woolworths opening a sushi bar stifling competition? Surely them doing that is giving people a choice which is actually creating competition.

watto23 12:15 pm 26 Jun 15

wildturkeycanoe said :

rubaiyat said :

ChrisinTurner said :

I am very happy to shop at ALDI City for quality and price (average saving 25% according to Choice). Fortunately there is one coming to Dickson. I read that ALDI are also working more closely with fresh food suppliers so the product goes direct from the farm to ALDI. In Germany many ALDI stores are IGA size or smaller. They are everywhere. Woolworths and Coles need to look over their shoulder.

I don’t mind Aldi but 90% of their shelves is filled with either junk food or knock off consumer goods.

90%?? Really! So that half of the store where bread, meat, fruit and vegetables are kept is really not fresh food at all but stocked with some imitations made from sugary rubbish? Your figure is wrong.
Honestly, without Aldi we will not have survived for as long as we have. They helped drive down the price of bread to $0.68 a loaf, kept eggs affordable and fresh fruit within the grasp of those on welfare. They have at least halved our grocery bills and although some of their products are not as good as their original counterparts, others are far superior to the plain label equivalents offered by the duopoly.

Which is all well and good, but then when farmers cry foul because they are not being paid enough for fresh produce. I think all supermarkets are guilty of doing this. Everyone in Australia wants cheaper food and manufactured goods, they want a high minimum wage, they want farmers to get paid fairly etc. They all can’t happen. Personally I avoid cheap bread and milk from everywhere, but that probably makes no difference, because its always the layers on top that soak up all the money and profits.

geetee 10:15 am 26 Jun 15

Aldi has been great for Weston Creek shoppers and I now do 90% of my grocery shopping there. Woolworths at Cooleman Court certainly seems to try and stifle competition. I see now that there is a Mr Sushi in the centre, Woolies have opened their own sushi bar within the supermarket.

wildturkeycanoe 6:35 am 26 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

ChrisinTurner said :

I am very happy to shop at ALDI City for quality and price (average saving 25% according to Choice). Fortunately there is one coming to Dickson. I read that ALDI are also working more closely with fresh food suppliers so the product goes direct from the farm to ALDI. In Germany many ALDI stores are IGA size or smaller. They are everywhere. Woolworths and Coles need to look over their shoulder.

I don’t mind Aldi but 90% of their shelves is filled with either junk food or knock off consumer goods.

90%?? Really! So that half of the store where bread, meat, fruit and vegetables are kept is really not fresh food at all but stocked with some imitations made from sugary rubbish? Your figure is wrong.
Honestly, without Aldi we will not have survived for as long as we have. They helped drive down the price of bread to $0.68 a loaf, kept eggs affordable and fresh fruit within the grasp of those on welfare. They have at least halved our grocery bills and although some of their products are not as good as their original counterparts, others are far superior to the plain label equivalents offered by the duopoly.

rosscoact 9:54 pm 25 Jun 15

Wendeborg said :

Ainslie IGA is my favourite supermarket, they have all the usual stuff, and plenty of extras. They make an effort to get in lines that customers particularly want.
I won’t shop at Woolworths or Coles!

Ainslie is without doubt a fantastic supermarket. We go across town to buy cheese and tinned Spanish seafood. Call into the Ainslie Cellars which they also own and is the best wine shop in Canberra and you’re sweet

diamondpng 8:57 pm 25 Jun 15

rubalyat, in fact much of the Aldi stock is not “knock offs”!! many items (e.g. such as ham and bacon) are produced and sold by companies that produce major **very very** well known brands sold in other supermarkets (and i have this on good authority from someone who works for one particular company). I’m perfectly happy to save enough money buying exactly the **same** product with a different “knock off” label at Aldi that i can afford 2 bottles of Verve champers each week rather than spend that same amount on basics at the other two major supermarkets.

Having said that, am currently in Port Moresby and will be for the next three years. I expect anything we see in the Dickson precinct when we come home will outstrip the best Port Moresby has to offer by a million miles – even if nothing changes!!!! We might complain about our government and the processes and the choices we have, but i suspect that grocery shopping at a complex surrounded by razor wire and guards might give me a different perspective.

birder 8:30 pm 25 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

People will drive quite a distance for “cheaper” shopping, ignoring what it costs to get there in time and money.

Costco out at the airport is a classical case. How do people justify the drive when often the price is not cheaper.

If an ordinary family that lives in Weston Creek or Kambah etc shops at Costco and doesn’t buy their petrol there, then yes, it’s not cheaper.

But at Costco, I save $20 per box on my contact lenses, as does my partner. That’s $40 per 3 month supply, or $160/year x 2 people = $360 savings. Now with the petrol, that’s even better. We only go once a month or so – not every time we need petrol. Additionally, Costco carries quite a few items that you can’t get anywhere else in Canberra. I needed some good house slippers and couldn’t find anything that I wanted. At Costco they had a very high-quality slipper with rubber bottoms and are still machine washable. For $12.

Another feature of Costco is some of their products are better quality than you can get elsewhere. My understanding is that they are the only place you can buy export-grade beef in Canberra. I’ve found their fruit quality to be far superior to the fruit & veg shops in my area. I bought a large container of blueberries last week – $21. Expensive, yes. But they were perfect quality and I enjoyed every last one of them! And if their fruit isn’t good quality, just take it back. It’s only happened to me once – their Cara Cara oranges — but I just brought them back a month later and they refunded them without question.

Finally, I’ve found that Costco can be cheaper on some products. Certainly on alcohol. But I just bought a huge jar of peanut butter for $6 – I’m getting at least 3 times as much as the smaller ones at Woolies, which cost around $5. Etc.

Hope this helps clarify why some people find shopping at Costco a good deal. It may not be for everyone, but for us, it certainly is.

birder 8:04 pm 25 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

Americans are not totally a desert for foodie ideas. I was impressed with the quality of food in L.A. Everywhere else, I got extremely creative at doing salads, pastas and curries with the limited wholesome ingredients available. Got a strange look from the Asian Supermarket chick when I got coconut milk for my green curry. Guess that isn’t something they commonly see Whi’ Folks do there.

At least in the US, you have a large variety of organic food stores, small grocers with very high quality imported goods, and then the large Wholefoods type of grocery stores. Australia is basically a wasteland compared to US grocery shopping. And I say that as an American who is delighted to be living permanently in Australia. There are few areas in which I would say that the US is better than Australia, but clearly in shopping in general, and definitely food shopping, the US is superior.

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