CHOICE survey reveals grocery costs steady

Posted by Nicole Eckersley on 5th August 2010

Woman grocery shoppingA survey by consumer group CHOICE suggests that despite a marketing price war between the two major supermarkets, and an increasing focus in federal election campaigns on the rising cost of living, grocery choices have not actually changed substantially in the last year.

The survey found that at Woolworths, the average price of a shopping basket over a three-month period in 2009 was $152.70. Over the same period in 2010, it was $153.08. In 2009, the
average cost of CHOICE’s basket at Coles was $152.55; the cost in June this year: $153.04.

Of the 33 products surveyed, only seven were cheaper now than a year ago; most were either more expensive, or had stayed the same price.

Both Coles and Woolworths have claimed price cuts across their ranges – claims which are difficult to substantiate, given the companies’ close hold over publicly available price information. Likewise, claims of a ‘cheaper basket’ from the supermarkets doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing for the consumer, given that a ‘basket’ could contain anything.

Conversely, a small survey by Channel 9’s Today Show claimed that grocery prices had gone up 10% in a year, a claim which was widely quoted by the Federal Opposition, but refuted by both industry lobby group Australian National Retailers Assoication, and CHOICE.

“They have made a sweeping and flawed assumption on the basis of one basket from one store and promoted a message of food inflation which is plain wrong,“ said Australian National Retailer’s Association CEO, Margy Osmond.

CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn said the debate over the issue was entirely unnecessary, given that there is no need for grocery prices to be an unknown.

“This current bunfight reveals hypocrisy – the supermarkets have accurate information on their prices, which they could openly share instead of making generalised and unverifiable claims of widespread price cuts,” says CHOICE spokesman Christopher Zinn.

“As a result of recent changes, many prices in supermarkets are the same nationally or at least within each state and territory, so it’s quite possible to publish accurate, timely information in a form that allows consumers to shop around.”

Woolworths recently began publishing some shelf prices online, but with onerous conditions attached, which make costing a basket or making comparisons with other outlets impossible. ALDI, which has a smaller range, posts all its prices apart from some bakery and fresh items.