Mastercheap: Rural Reality Check On Prices

The main reason for my rush visit to Dubbo yesterday was to test how the wireless broadband worked. But while I was there, I also wanted to investigate how well the budget from the recent Mastercheap project I conducted to eat for a week for $25 would have worked if I happened to live there.

I already knew from my Mastercheap pre-research that there were big variations in state-based prices (I'd never have managed my budget living in Perth, for instance, without dumping several items). I wanted to see if the same principle applied in rural areas, and whether the claims by supermarkets of state-wide price consistency really worked in practice.

While Woolworths' web site does let you look up prices based on postcode, I'm a tad suspicious of that system, especially in terms of product availability. So during my visit I raced through the local Woolies, and was pleased (and a little amazed) to discover that there wasn't a massive noticeable difference.

Every item on my original shopping list was available for exactly the same price, with only two minor exceptions:

  • The bread I purchased didn't seem to be available -- presumably there's less demand for Woolworths-branded bread, or no bakery to produce it -- but the cheaper Home Brand multigrain loaf was.
  • The cucumber was one dollar more a kilo, but that's just as easily explained as seasonal variation -- and I could meet the difference with the bread saving.

The price display for the frozen vegetables did suggest that there'd been a price drop from $1.65 to $1.59 (which is what they've been selling for in Sydney for some months). I suspect this might be a case of wanting to highlight the product rather than drawing attention to an actual recent change, but either way, the end result is that the price was the same.

As commenters on the main Dubbo story have pointed out, it's a large city in regional terms, and someone based much further west would undoubtedly pay much more for their groceries (or spend petrol money to drive to Dubbo for the cheaper options). But I was still a bit surprised that there wasn't any obvious differential. Maybe all those other unpopular cost-cutting measures that annoy customers are having some effect.

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