What are those Tim Tams doing in your trolley?
Health lobbyists, the media and consumers are very quick to blame soft drink companies, fast food giants and snack food suppliers for their contribution to growing rates of overweight and obesity here in Australia.
But when you consider that our two major supermarkets control 60-70 per cent of all grocery sales in this country, perhaps it’s time to look a little more closely at what is going on behind their fresh food facades.
Think back to the last time you did a supermarket shop. You may have been lured to your local supermarket by the nightly television advertisments highlighting the delicious celebrity chef inspired recipes you can prepare at home. Or the promise of only the freshest of fruits and veggies.
Chances are that you also left with a few packets of $2 palm oil based biscuits, a couple of two for one chocolate blocks and a few packets of cheap potato chips to boot.
While our supermarkets advertise their commitment to all things fresh and healthy, inside it is a different story. Much, much supermarket space and instore advertising is directed towards the bulk buying of foods of poor nutritional quality. Like the 95c Cheezels, or two for one chocolate bars, or 6 for $10 bottles of soft drink – all foods few of us should be eating as a daily food choice, let alone in such large quantities.
Sure we should all have the willpower to say no and walk past the huge displays eyes ahead. From a behavioural perspective the truth is that even the toughest of health nuts are swayed by such good deals of tempting high calorie, high fat food. The supermarkets know this, the marketers know this, and deep down we know it. I would argue that it is actually socially irresponsible for supermarkets who know how much food purchasing behaviour they control in Australia, to continue to push large volumes, of cheap, poor quality, calorie dense foods towards their consumers.
Noone is saying they should not stock these items and allow consumers the choice to purchase them, as they do any other food or grocery item. But encouraging people to buy much more than they generally would is where things become questionable.
An extra packet of high fat biscuits, sold last week at Coles for $2, contains more than 1000 calories. If even just one in 20 consumers actually purchased a packet of these biscuits and subsequently ate them, that equates to an extra 45 000 000 calories. And that is not even considering the $3 chocolate block promo running at the other major chain last week.
And this is just one example. It will not surprise any of you how much control the chains have over what we buy, and what we are even able to buy. The major food suppliers within each food category, whether it be snack bars or dairy desserts, lure the chains to place various products in key buying positions. This is the very reason that your major brands are always at eye level and within a very specific cost point.
If you are a smaller company who needs Woolworths or Coles to stock your product to survive, you are then at their mercy to determine which price you can sell your product at, or if they are happy to stock you at all. What this means nutritionally is that we end up with a whole lot of large companies such as Kraft, Uncle Toby’s, Cocoa Cola, Arnotts and Cadburys in the prime positions and a few minor brands surrounding them on the shelves.
It doesn’t matter that a smaller group may produce a product that is far superior nutritionally, the supermarkets are only interested in selling product and for them that means the major brands, with no nutritional consideration in terms of what is actually being pumped into the food supply.
Let’s not forget the issues surrounding the supermarket branded products clearing out our independents. Not only are the Woolworths and Coles premium and budget brands dominating the discounts and shelf space, but in some cases you cannot even find various brands you may have purchased for years. The head buyer at head office is simply not buying them any more to make room for more home branded product – you think you have a choice, not really.
The monopoly our supermarkets have over our grocery spend has been an ongoing issue in this country and continues to be so. Current affairs shows attempt to keep the consumer informed of their power but while their public face features all things fresh and celebrity there is still much, much we are simply not aware of. And from a public health perspective their approach is highly questionable.
One thing you can do to lessen their power over you is to shop online. At least then you are less likely to be lured by the $2 pack of Tim Tams as you shop late on a Monday night.
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