House Brand Products Are Rarely Australian

House Brand Products Are Rarely Australian

Australians buy house brand products like Woolworths Home Brand and Coles Smart Buy in huge quantities, but they’re far from universally popular. One common objection to them is that they’re more likely to be imports than to be made in Australia. A study of 360 products by CHOICE suggests that’s true, with just 38 per cent of Woolworths store brand products and 55 per cent of those sold by Coles being locally made or grown.

Picture by Marianna Massey and Ian Waldie/Getty Images

That compares poorly to the market-leading grocery items, where CHOICE found 92 per cent were locally sourced. The worst offenders are often the bargain-basement brands; for the mid-tier grocery brands such as Woolworths Select or Coles (the ones which try and look like clones of their rivals), there are sometimes more Australian items on offer. (Note: CHOICE didn’t include ALDI, IGA or Costco in the study, which is perhaps unsurprising given the domination of Woolworths and Coles.)

The dominance of overseas goods is particularly pronounced with Woolworths’ packaged fruits and vegetables. 13 of the 14 frozen vegetable brands it stocks under its own brands were sourced from overseas, while 19 of its 21 tinned fruit and vegetables were also not Australian. Coles didn’t do much better in the canned area, with 9 of its 13 tinned fruit and vegetable lines sourced from overseas.

Here are some of the more unusual countries where supermarkets source our food, as identified by CHOICE in the study:

Woolworths Select Apple Sauce Belgium
Coles Smart Buy Milk Coffee Biscuits Fiji
Woolworths Home Brand Straight Cut Chips Netherlands
Coles Special Flakes Wales
Woolworths Home Brand Milk Cooking Chocolate Poland
Woolworths Select Pepper Grinder South Africa
Coles Pineapple Slices Indonesia
Woolworths Select 2-Fruits Swaziland

So what to do? If buying Australian is your main priority, then checking labels is the first step. That’s not always straightforward, however, as packages often state “Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients”, with no clear indication of proportions. (If the word ‘imported’ comes first, there are more imported ingredients than local ones.)

“Currently a confusing mix of country of origin terms is used on packaging,” CHOICE spokesperson Ingrid Just said. “Easy to understand country of origin labels would help consumers look past the marketing hype.”

As I’m rather fond of pointing out, the brutal truth is that if you’re trying to shop for maximum savings, country of origin is not going to be your main consideration. If you do want to support local products, then do your research and don’t make sweeping assumptions. Ignoring store brand goods will get you Australian goods a lot of the time, but there are plenty of store brand products which are made in Australia, and some market leader brands are also imported (Maggi 2-minute noodles are made in Malaysia, for instance).

If you have a broader objection to the tactics Woolworths and Coles use to favour their own brands, whatever their origin, the most effective solution is to shop somewhere else if possible. Complaining about it while continuing to buy there won’t make much practical difference


Lifehacker’s weekly Loaded column looks at better ways to manage (and stop worrying about) your money.


  • “House Brand Products Are Rarely Australian”
    House Brand Products Are Rarely as good as branded name products. Sure basics like Sugar etc, are fine, but the rest is made of the lowest quality and often the worst quality produce. I tried the ‘Woollies’ brand beans for awhile but they where made up of about 20% brown and damaged beans. The name brand is actually sweeter too and that’s just one example. There not doing it for the benefit of the customer, as they would have you believe either. It’s all about the share holders, and that’s where it ends!

  • These days with every company chasing the almighty Dollar. There are also too many brand names sourcing from overseas. I have a policy when it comes to food. If it is not made in Australia (or NZ). It is not bought. When It comes to food. It has to be locally produced. I will buy house brands but must be Australian made. if Not. Then I keep reading brands until I do find this, and buy that, even at a price premium.

    • Hey Southpatt, this isn’t a troll, but as a foreigner I sometimes wonder why Australians have this obsession with only buying Australian produce/goods. When I grew up we knew that certain products from certain countries were just better, lamb from Australia, bananas from the Philippines, coffee from Brazil, Oranges from California, electronics from Japan, etc.. and that was what you bought, though often times you’d go local for freshness..

      No matter how hard I try I cant understand this mindset that Australia produces the best of everything… and that anything made overseas is automatically a piece of $hite.. I mean come on! Really?? Or am I just misunderstanding this?

      • It’s not about the quality as much as it’s about keeping Australian in work and Australian producers in business. I understand where you’re coming from and I agree to an extent but Australia has a low population compared with a lot of countries and we need to concentrate on the economy more than most because of it. We also need to keep our exporters in business and that is aided greatly by our domestic consumers. Not a troll, just a different perspective. 🙂

        • Not trolling here, I want to keep this civilised. I see your point, but in the long term doesnt that mean:
          1. we have to put up with inferior goods with higher costs just for the “local premium”
          2. our industries become less competitive (at least product wise) and so does our economy
          In the short term, yes, it keeps jobs in Australia, but the consequence is that I am forced to pay extra to buy local produced that are often worse than overseas counterpart (banana is a good example, I wish i can buy Thai bananas in Australia). Speaking of export, the lack of competition will make our exporters less competitive in the long term and limit the growth of the industry just to local demands.

          • Competition is the key, I didn’t intend to sound like you shouldn’t buy overseas goods, but where possible if there is an Australian option that is at least as good, buy that instead. By no means buy inferior if you can afford not to. Australian product is by and large at least as good if not better than most other producers, if we bought more of it the price would come down. Of course Coles and Woollies put a spanner in the works with their home brands which the majority of people seem to think is at least as good, where in most cases it is just rubbish compared to name brands.
            Is that what you were hinting at? 🙂

          • Well, I don’t have a problem with buying Australian goods if both quality and price are identical.
            Problem is, I find foreign goods to be superior in quality and cheaper most of the time. i dunno, maybe it is just me.

  • You get what you pay for. These supermarkets are always going on about cheap prices – what people don’t realise is it’s also cheap stuff. They’re not just being nice, y’know.

  • Until recently I’d assumed that most packaged vegetables were from domestic sources and didn’t think twice about buying Woolies Select Broccoli and Cauliflower (it’s cheaper than the others and gives extra loyalty points).

    Then I noticed Bird’s Eye Broccoli one day with big Aussie flags across the front and proudly proclaiming it to be “100% Australian grown broccoli” and I thought “uh, that’s kind of a given because they all – oh, “product of China”. Wow.”

    How can the price difference between Chinese grown broccoli and Aussie grown broccoli be so great that it offsets the transport costs?

    • $1,000 or so total shipping for a large shipping container, devide that by how many products you have. Its all a matter of scale. But the bigger issue is of food security, if we don’t produce our own food are solely reliant on the one or a handful of nations for our food we could be stuffed if they stop trading with us.

      • Glad someone mentioned it. I’m the opposite of the “F**k off, we’re full” stickered Commodore driving bogan so I’m not all about buying ‘stralian just for the sake of it. However, we do need to keep production here for food security reasons as you have said. That and not selling off arable land to foreign companies.

  • Some store-brand products are fine, though. “Home brand” sun-dried tomatoes are some of the best sun-dried tomatoes sold, as far as my tastes go. And whilst I agree about Woolies’ tinned beans, the Coles equivalents are (again) better than some branded products. I don’t feel an absolute mandate to “buy Australian”, but I do tend toward that direction if funds permit. One thing I do tend to stay away from is anything containing fruit or veg (tinned, fresh, frozen) grown in China, as I’m concerned about soil and water contamination there.

  • Personally, I refuse to buy groceries that are not made in Australia.
    I don’t care if it costs twice as much, buying Australian protects Aussie industry and jobs.
    I also refuse to support these companies and their blatant profiteering by having their own brand.
    And as Barb mentions, you have no idea how the products are grown all packaged.

  • I prefer to buy Australian if possible, but I don’t mind going foreign for a superior product. I do however have a problem with buying from the doupoly’s house brands.

  • Citizen,

    We have a big enough country and variety of suppliers and growers to actually grow and make good quality foodstuffs. We should buy our fruit and veg etc (even tinned). I might buy foreign electronics but apple sauce from Belguim and fruit from Swaziland? And any food from China (home of melamine milk, fake eggs and contamination!)

  • @Jez 🙂 Sorry

    @Citizen. I am probably in the minority as I am very particular where and what I eat. Yes, I know you don’t always get to see the kitchens of the places you eat at, but I have a greater faith in the Australian food standards. Seriously – Coles importing individual Jelly cups form China for kids. I travel to China often in the course of my work and seeing the standard of living and water sources makes me even more suspect. No thanks. Australian

  • Another issue is the reduction of the shelf space or in some instances total removal of the traditional Australian made brands from the shelves of the two big convenience stores. If shoppers want to have choice in the future they need to be supporting Australian made brands. As we say ” What you buy TODAY will determine the Australia we live in TOMORROW” Make a difference, Buy Australian Made.

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