I got outed last week. As a home-brand buyer. And now it seems that my preference for buying home-brand flour and sugar and washing-up liquid and jelly (actually, I thought the jelly was a bit crap) means that I’m guilty of crippling the Australian economy or destroying people’s livelihoods or eating small puppies. Or something.
At least that’s what the ACCC (Australian Competition & Consumer Commission) would have me think in this recent news report about the damage being done by the growing ‘home-brand’ market …
From the Herald Sun:
The competition watchdog has conceded it may struggle to prove that Woolworths’ house-brand rollout represents a significant threat to competition.
Australian Competition & Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims said the misuse of market power was “the hardest part of the (competition) Act to enforce” owing to the difficulties in gathering evidence from suppliers who relied on supermarkets for their livelihoods.
Industry Minister Kim Carr has launched a stinging attack on supermarket giants Woolworths and Coles.
Senator Carr claimed this week that their push to expand sales of private label products threatened to “cripple innovation, destroy jobs and erode our capabilities as a food-producing nation”.
I’m going to be upfront and say that this is an issue I need to look into. And at this point, I don’t know if the ACCC is being overly-vigilant or have a fair point to make. What I do know is that like most people I live on a budget and my family’s grocery bill (and there’s just three of us) isn’t getting any smaller. I also feel like I can’t win. I’m busting my you-know-what trying to buy fresh. And less packaged foods. And more fruit and veg. And more Australian made products. And and and … three million other things the media helpfully like to point out in their bid to drive me bananas. And while it’s thoughtful of the ACCC to defend the multi-nationals (bless ‘em), I’ve gotta say I’m a leetle bit tired of the sneaky increases in food items and the sneaky down-sizing in quantity of the major brands (yes, Cadbury, I’m looking at you). Look we have new packaging! And a new logo! And try not to notice that we’re 30g lighter but charging you more! Is it any wonder so many of us are trying to save a dollar or two when we can? Hmmmm.
The thing is Mamamia’s Managing Editor, Lana, has a different point of view…
I have always been a supporter of the under-dog. Give me a sports match, ask me to choose a side and I’ll pick the team with the least chance of winning. It’s not because I like losing it’s just that I like competition. Clear winners are great but less so if there is no opposition. It make the game boring.
This very line of thinking is the reason that I don’t buy homebrand. It’s not because I don’t like their products or that I try spend as much money as I can, it’s just that I think competition fuels our market and no place as strongly as on our supermarket shelves.
Competition gives consumers choice. I don’t object to having homebrand on the shelves I just choose not to buy it and I feel comfortable knowing that different suppliers operate within the same market promoting competition and giving me the right to decide who I want to support and what I should buy.
But looking at the shelves of my local supermarket my choices are eroding, in fact in some areas there is no choice at all. Insidiously wrapped to look “non-generic” the shelves are full of homebrand products – there is no other option.
Yesterday at my local Coles which is HUGE there was not a single competing brand in the health food section – I wanted to buy quinoa, flaxseed and chia. The only option I had was to buy the Coles homebrand. That’s not competition, it’s not good for me, it’s not good for small business and in the long run I don’t believe it’s good for the economy.
With no choice the supermarkets will be able to charge anything they like, they will be able to dictate what we purchase and they will force people out of business. Added to which I will never be able to find the quinoa that I like.
Here’s a gallery of Coles and homebrand lookalikes, via Mumbrella. They’re remarkably similar in layout, shape and even colour choice…
UPDATE: On that note, the Australian Food and Grocery Council is working with the Australian Government on tightening intellectual property laws so that the big supermarket giants of Coles and Woolies cannot completely ‘copycat’ the packaging of their own products, which the giants are making substantially cheaper. As it stands logos and brands can be trademarked but not the livery or overall look of the product.
So what do you think? Do you buy branded or homebrand products? Why?