Australian retailers under fire over private label imports

By Ankush Chibber

- Last updated on GMT

Australian retailers under fire over private label imports

Related tags: Private label, Marketing

Australia’s marquee retailers are drawing criticism after a survey revealed many players are relying heavily on imported food products.

Attacking their advertising campaigns, consumer group Choice said that Coles and Woolworths’ support for Australian producers is not reflected in the private label products shoppers are finding on shelves.

Retailers supporting fresh foods, not others

Choice compared the country of origin of 360 products across 90 food lines, including cereals, biscuits, snacks, tinned goods and frozen packaged foods in its survey.

Of the products surveyed, 55% of Coles’ private label products and 38% of Woolworths’ private label products were locally made or grown, compared with 92% per cent for the market leaders in food and grocery items.

 “While it’s clear that Coles and Woolworths support Australian produced products in the fresh food and bakery sections of their stores, it’s a different story when you walk along the aisles,” ​said Ingrid Just, a Choice spokesperson.

Choice claimed that Australian primary producers have told them they are not being given the opportunity to supply Coles and Woolworths with tinned and packaged food items.  

“Coles and Woolies claim their buyers only look to overseas markets when local suppliers are unable to meet customers’ needs,”​ said Just.

Woolies calls findings inaccurate and incomplete

Choice said that its review of the country of origin of packaged, tinned and frozen items found 13 of the 14 Woolworths private label vegetable products were sourced internationally along with 19 of its 21 tinned products.

But Benedict Brook, a spokesperson for Woolworths, told FoodNavigator-Asia that only a limited amount of its private label range was looked into in the survey.

“In all, 71% of the own label Woolworths sell is Australia produced. Woolworths stocks a large range of Australian grown and produced products including 100% of our fresh meat and 96% of our fresh fruit and vegetables,”​ he said.

Brook said that Woolworths has a strategic focus on increasing the amount of Australian produced own label products on its shelves to give customers more homegrown choices.

“Our import replacement program is currently focusing on increasing Australian sourced products in rice, frozen vegetables, canned fruit, canned vegetables and frozen poultry,”​ he revealed.

Coles slams findings as headline chasing

Coles has also committed to more Australian produced frozen goods, but Choice found nine of it’s 13 tinned private label fruit and vegetable products were imported.

Coles said the results were “deliberately selective” in nature as well being geared towards creating headlines rather than adding anything of value to the debate.

 Jon Church, a spokesperson for Coles told FoodNavigator-Asia that Choice ignored the advice Coles previously provided on why some lines are imported—particularly tinned vegetables.

“The simple fact is that there is not enough production of local tinned vegetables to meet demand, and both branded and house brand products are often sourced from overseas,”​ he said.

According to Choice, clearer country of origin labelling would help consumers make better decisions, because it will help them better understand where the produce they buy comes from.

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

Related topics: Business, Oceania, Bakery

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