ACCC to monitor grocers

Posted by Daniel Palmer on 15th May 2008

The Federal Government is attempting to sharpen the teeth of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission with an increase in funding of $45.2 million over the next four years.

The bulk of the funding is to assist the ACCC in their endeavours to keep grocery and petrol prices in check. Funding of $12.9 million will be provided to build and maintain a dedicated consumer grocery website to help consumers locate the cheapest grocery prices. This increase in funding comes two months out from the ACCC releasing its findings from the heavily publicised Grocery Price Inquiry.

Information as to how the site will be maintained is yet to be released but it might be expected to operate in a similar fashion to the Fuelwatch system currently in place for the petrol industry. Currently, the Fuelwatch program requires petrol stations to tell the ACCC of their prices for the next day at 2pm and then they must maintain that price level for a period of 24 hours. Obviously there is not only one product at a grocery store, so it will be fascinating to see just how the ACCC will go about the task of “helping consumers locate the cheapest prices”.

The impact of showing petrol and grocery prices has been questioned with some arguing that people don’t have the time to check the internet before going to buy groceries or get petrol. There has also been suggestions that savings in checkout costs can be outweighed by research time costs and transport costs to go to a store which is further away. The Treasury, though, maintains that funding for these initiatives will promote competition and improve price transparency in the Australian retail petrol and grocery markets. If nothing else, it will certainly keep grocers on their toes.