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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
rubaiyat 12:22 pm 25 Jun 15

Maya123 said :

The distance travelled by the goods might be less, but then add all the combined kms driven by the customers to get to these markets, because they are where there are no convenient buses to get there and they are further than supermarkets for most people.

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.

Why is everything so unco-ordinated in Canberra? When the planning was supposed to let you live, work and shop locally. That fiction quickly unravelled!

Maya123 11:28 am 25 Jun 15

Zan said :

There is very little that you need to buy from supermarkets. Use the Farmer’s Markets at EPIC on Saturdays, at Southside CIT in Mawson on Sundays. The Trash and Treasure at Jamison is full of fruit and veges, but not so much at Woden T&T.

The trouble with them all is that unless you live close to them, they are not easy to get to except by car. Meanwhile (I’m not saying for all of Canberra), but for most of us there would be closer, more convenient supermarkets. Giving my personal experience. Sorry to bore you, but it will illustrate why I suggested these farmer’s markets need to be central and near public transport hubs; Civic, Woden, etc. I live in Narrabundah and can (and do) walk to the local IGA. I can even walk to Coles in Manuka, but it would be a bit far for me to carry the shopping home from. However, there is a bus service from there, or I could bring the shopping home by bicycle. I can walk and carry (or cycle) my shopping home from the Fyshwick fruit and vegetable market (it’s under a couple of kms and fairly flat), but the nearest farmer’s market to me is at Southside CIT, which is not practical unless I drive. Plus they are only operating in the morning and I prefer to shop in the afternoon, but that’s a personal choice. However what about all the people who might not be going there because they use the weekend to catch up on sleep? They (most) would be awake in the afternoon. If I didn’t drive I would need to either cycle or catch a bus there. Taking a fully laden bicycle over the Red Hill saddle from the end of Brereton Street would be too hard for me, and too hard to get it down the steep hill the other side, without sliding on the gravel. Buses are not that frequent on the weekends either, and I would have to catch a bus to Woden and then either walk or find another bus to the Southside CIT. It could take hours. Or I could do a return walk to Woden loaded up with my shopping to catch the infrequent weekend bus home. I do usually catch buses to Woden when I go shopping there, as it’s easier than driving and finding a park, but weekdays when buses run more often. However if the Southside CIT market moved to say Woden Square near the bus interchange, or another close by place such as across the road from the bus interchange, and preferably operated in the afternoon, I would likely organise myself and take the hourly bus there. I could also go shopping in Woden Plaza while I was there. But as it is I consider the Southside CIT market too inconveniently located and rarely go there.
Yes, I have a car, but markets should not be in places where they are dependant on people having a car and needing to use it to get to them. They are often created to give the local farmers and producers another outlet for their produce and to keep carbon miles down by saying buy locally. How then is having markets in places where it is necessary to drive to in the spirit of this? The distance travelled by the goods might be less, but then add all the combined kms driven by the customers to get to these markets, because they are where there are no convenient buses to get there and they are further than supermarkets for most people.

Zan 7:45 am 25 Jun 15

There is very little that you need to buy from supermarkets. Use the Farmer’s Markets at EPIC on Saturdays, at Southside CIT in Mawson on Sundays. The Trash and Treasure at Jamison is full of fruit and veges, but not so much at Woden T&T.

rubaiyat 9:20 pm 24 Jun 15

Maya123 said :

The US also builds malls on the edge of towns that one needs a car to get to. I would not think of the USA as a good example of where shops of any kind should be.

Except for the Street Markets, because they are regular and throughout the suburbs. Definitely an idea worth trying. They block off a set of streets and set up marquees for various set days, so if you are a local you know what is where on what days, otherwise it is only one day a week.

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.

Rustygear 7:23 pm 24 Jun 15

The premise of ‘time warp’ has a grain of truth, but doesn’t capture the full story. Canberra is very white-bread and franchisey compared to inner Melbourne or inner Sydney, that’s true. IGA unfortunately is not much more than an expensive convenience mini-supermarket, but they often win at fruit and veg prices. What has moved along more is the appearance of Aldi a few years ago. This has made a difference in Gungahlin, it is very popular and is certainly an alternative to the duopoly. And the other really big alternative right under our noses are the Asian supermarkets. They have popped up even in the most sterile retail environments in Canberra and often are great small businesses. If you can shift across to what they do best, you save money, eat fresh, and have another great source of variety. Despite the popularity of all the exotic cooking shows on TV, you rarely see anyone but Asians frequenting them. Maybe that’s why Coles and Woolies win – it isn’t time pressure, its that most Canberrans won’t touch anything that isn’t from Coles and Woolies. Reap what you sow.

JC 6:26 pm 24 Jun 15

gazket said :

rubaiyat said :

I can not see how the ACT government can impact on an Australian corporate duopoly.

That is the work of the Federal government and ACCC.

What it can do is provide for street markets, like in Europe and San Francisco in the hope that that will change the mix and make fresh healthy local food a real alternative and bring back life to the dull uninspiring suburban spaces created by the planners.

But you may well ask who is going to benefit from that? Other than the community.

Is there anything stopping people from setting up vegie/food stalls at trash and treasure ? maybe it’s not hipster enough.

Been a while since I’ve been to trash, but they used to be able to sell fresh fruit and veg there, still think they do. Cooked food a different story, hence why the donut man is outside the gates. But believe that is Trash and Treasure policy.

Maya123 5:44 pm 24 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

Maya123 said :

rubaiyat said :

I can not see how the ACT government can impact on an Australian corporate duopoly.

That is the work of the Federal government and ACCC.

What it can do is provide for street markets, like in Europe and San Francisco in the hope that that will change the mix and make fresh healthy local food a real alternative and bring back life to the dull uninspiring suburban spaces created by the planners.

But you may well ask who is going to benefit from that? Other than the community.

Streets markets would need to be central; centred on such places as Garema Place, Petrie Plaza, Woden Town Square, etc, to work best. Where there is public transport, and car parking for those who think bus travel is beneath them or too difficult (real or perceived.) It’s a nice market at Phillip (and I imagine Hall), but those places are not close enough to transport hubs, and they should be. The markets I visited in Europe were central, not in out of the way places such as the one in Hall, or the Southside Farmers Market, where you need to drive to, or take a long walk from public transport. (It is a long walk carrying shopping.) It would be good too if the market ran later in the day, like the Wagga Wagga one does. That one goes from about 2.30pm to 6.30pm (according to Landline). These farmers’ markets are usually weekly and run on the weekend, when working people might want to catch up on sleep and sleep in. Having the market in the morning must be losing potential customers who are catching up on sleep. A market later in the day would also be a boom for people to sell take home meals made of local ingredients. And in the warmer weather, perhaps some food stalls could stay on into the evening with tables and chairs for diners. Enliven the area. A morning market is too early for this. Yes, let’s have street markets. They don’t need to be only food stalls either. I bought clothes in European ones.

Let’s ignore that the first light rail route should be up the NE of Canberra from City through Dickson.

I have visited plenty of temporary markets both in Australia and many other countries that are not in the heart of the city.

San Francisco regularly closes off streets in the suburbs for numerous markets.

A market is pretty low tech and easy to do, why not give it a try?

Not like our suburban shopping strips have anything better to do.

And btw take away the ridiculous bureaucratic impediments to stall holders. It is not like selling fresh food or souveniers or second hand clothes is exceptionally dangerous. Anymore than when doing so enclosed by four walls is.

Gus proved our Agrophobia was totally unfounded.

“San Francisco regularly closes off streets in the suburbs for numerous markets.”

The US also builds malls on the edge of towns that one needs a car to get to. I would not think of the USA as a good example of where shops of any kind should be.

rubaiyat 5:38 pm 24 Jun 15

gazket said :

rubaiyat said :

I can not see how the ACT government can impact on an Australian corporate duopoly.

That is the work of the Federal government and ACCC.

What it can do is provide for street markets, like in Europe and San Francisco in the hope that that will change the mix and make fresh healthy local food a real alternative and bring back life to the dull uninspiring suburban spaces created by the planners.

But you may well ask who is going to benefit from that? Other than the community.

Is there anything stopping people from setting up vegie/food stalls at trash and treasure ? maybe it’s not hipster enough.

You seem to be under the false impression that we live in a free society. 😉

There are quite onerous requirements on stall owners or people attending these things.

Most of the trash and treasures don’t allow food beyond the charitable sausage sizzles. Slow death by fat being considered acceptable, a quick attack of the runs, not.

gazket 5:10 pm 24 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

I can not see how the ACT government can impact on an Australian corporate duopoly.

That is the work of the Federal government and ACCC.

What it can do is provide for street markets, like in Europe and San Francisco in the hope that that will change the mix and make fresh healthy local food a real alternative and bring back life to the dull uninspiring suburban spaces created by the planners.

But you may well ask who is going to benefit from that? Other than the community.

Is there anything stopping people from setting up vegie/food stalls at trash and treasure ? maybe it’s not hipster enough.

creative_canberran 2:16 pm 24 Jun 15

The author does not seem to distinguish between retail and wholesale. His local IGA is an independently owned business yes, that’s why IGA’s brand is rubbish and their stores so inconsistent (and that is paraphrasing Metcash’s own assessment). But behind the scenes you have a corporation just like Woolies and Coles doing the dealing.

When some ACT stores left IGA a few years back, they returned.

It’s a bit like saying support your local Subway store because it’s an independent business, or going to Rodney’s Nursury to avoid the one at Masters when they’re both part of Woolies.

rubaiyat 11:26 am 24 Jun 15

Maya123 said :

rubaiyat said :

I can not see how the ACT government can impact on an Australian corporate duopoly.

That is the work of the Federal government and ACCC.

What it can do is provide for street markets, like in Europe and San Francisco in the hope that that will change the mix and make fresh healthy local food a real alternative and bring back life to the dull uninspiring suburban spaces created by the planners.

But you may well ask who is going to benefit from that? Other than the community.

Streets markets would need to be central; centred on such places as Garema Place, Petrie Plaza, Woden Town Square, etc, to work best. Where there is public transport, and car parking for those who think bus travel is beneath them or too difficult (real or perceived.) It’s a nice market at Phillip (and I imagine Hall), but those places are not close enough to transport hubs, and they should be. The markets I visited in Europe were central, not in out of the way places such as the one in Hall, or the Southside Farmers Market, where you need to drive to, or take a long walk from public transport. (It is a long walk carrying shopping.) It would be good too if the market ran later in the day, like the Wagga Wagga one does. That one goes from about 2.30pm to 6.30pm (according to Landline). These farmers’ markets are usually weekly and run on the weekend, when working people might want to catch up on sleep and sleep in. Having the market in the morning must be losing potential customers who are catching up on sleep. A market later in the day would also be a boom for people to sell take home meals made of local ingredients. And in the warmer weather, perhaps some food stalls could stay on into the evening with tables and chairs for diners. Enliven the area. A morning market is too early for this. Yes, let’s have street markets. They don’t need to be only food stalls either. I bought clothes in European ones.

Let’s ignore that the first light rail route should be up the NE of Canberra from City through Dickson.

I have visited plenty of temporary markets both in Australia and many other countries that are not in the heart of the city.

San Francisco regularly closes off streets in the suburbs for numerous markets.

A market is pretty low tech and easy to do, why not give it a try?

Not like our suburban shopping strips have anything better to do.

And btw take away the ridiculous bureaucratic impediments to stall holders. It is not like selling fresh food or souveniers or second hand clothes is exceptionally dangerous. Anymore than when doing so enclosed by four walls is.

Gus proved our Agrophobia was totally unfounded.

JC 10:48 am 24 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

I can not see how the ACT government can impact on an Australian corporate duopoly.

That is the work of the Federal government and ACCC.

What it can do is provide for street markets, like in Europe and San Francisco in the hope that that will change the mix and make fresh healthy local food a real alternative and bring back life to the dull uninspiring suburban spaces created by the planners.

But you may well ask who is going to benefit from that? Other than the community.

Correct it cannot. Besides just look at the last policy. It allowed basically one land developer, who happened to also own a supermarket chain (Supabarn), get access to two prime blocks of land to develop with very little to no competition for the site, which would have reduced the cost. Now he is selling up for a massive profit.

For competition to work in this town and any town for that matter means multiple supermarkets on the same site, not virtual monopolies, as most people will shop what ever is closets or easiest.

Maya123 10:44 am 24 Jun 15

rubaiyat said :

I can not see how the ACT government can impact on an Australian corporate duopoly.

That is the work of the Federal government and ACCC.

What it can do is provide for street markets, like in Europe and San Francisco in the hope that that will change the mix and make fresh healthy local food a real alternative and bring back life to the dull uninspiring suburban spaces created by the planners.

But you may well ask who is going to benefit from that? Other than the community.

Streets markets would need to be central; centred on such places as Garema Place, Petrie Plaza, Woden Town Square, etc, to work best. Where there is public transport, and car parking for those who think bus travel is beneath them or too difficult (real or perceived.) It’s a nice market at Phillip (and I imagine Hall), but those places are not close enough to transport hubs, and they should be. The markets I visited in Europe were central, not in out of the way places such as the one in Hall, or the Southside Farmers Market, where you need to drive to, or take a long walk from public transport. (It is a long walk carrying shopping.) It would be good too if the market ran later in the day, like the Wagga Wagga one does. That one goes from about 2.30pm to 6.30pm (according to Landline). These farmers’ markets are usually weekly and run on the weekend, when working people might want to catch up on sleep and sleep in. Having the market in the morning must be losing potential customers who are catching up on sleep. A market later in the day would also be a boom for people to sell take home meals made of local ingredients. And in the warmer weather, perhaps some food stalls could stay on into the evening with tables and chairs for diners. Enliven the area. A morning market is too early for this. Yes, let’s have street markets. They don’t need to be only food stalls either. I bought clothes in European ones.

rubaiyat 9:55 am 24 Jun 15

I can not see how the ACT government can impact on an Australian corporate duopoly.

That is the work of the Federal government and ACCC.

What it can do is provide for street markets, like in Europe and San Francisco in the hope that that will change the mix and make fresh healthy local food a real alternative and bring back life to the dull uninspiring suburban spaces created by the planners.

But you may well ask who is going to benefit from that? Other than the community.

mcs 9:18 am 24 Jun 15

In terms of Dickson, it is clear to anyone that has shopped there that it needs at least 1 more big supermarket. If you don’t want the development to have another major supermarket, then what would you do instead?

If you stick an IGA or some other local retailer in against Woolies, it’ll get chewed up and spat out faster than you can say boo. It is obvious that Dickson needs another major supermarket, if only to put some competitive pressure on woolworths there.

We all know the problems with the duopoly that has long dominated Australian supermarkets, but unless we get in several more competitors apart from Aldi and Costco, not much is going to change. To be honest, it is a minority of people that care enough to shop elsewhere regularly – and pay a significant premium to do so. Many people are time poor, and spendthrift, and will seek out the cheapest deals they can – hence the growing popularity of Aldi.

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