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
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