agriculture, food, value chains

Who are the winners in the supermarket wars between Coles, Woolworths, ALDI and Lidl?

We like to romanticise our relationship with our produce, but our actions betray us as a nation that rewards size and doesn’t choose so much as follow. If we can’t go to a shopping centre without being hauled in by the duopoly….. then that is the power we have given these two companies.
– Malcolm Knox, The Monthly (Aug 2014)

Duffy’s, a small independent supermarket that I shop in close to my apartment for the last eight years finally called it the day when they posted a notice to say they were leaving the building after 20 years.

There was a stream on my social media news feeds as the new tenant was purportedly ALDI which everyone knows offers a wider selection of products at more affordable prices. I felt a tinge of sadness as Duffy’s closing was yet another tragedy that marks how large supermarkets are increasingly dominating Australia’s retail basket at the expense of smaller, independent operators.

In Malcolm Knox’s book on Supermarket Monsters, he points out that 70 cents of every dollar spent in Australia’s supermarkets goes to Coles and Woolworths. Not forgetting, more flows towards the liquor, hardware, merchandise and petrol interests they have under their conglomerates.

I’ve loved Duffy’s for many years. It might not have been flash or offered discounted products the way large supermarket retailers could. But it had a simple, small business my community rallied around. There is calmness about shopping in Duffy’s because there are no monster trollies, large discount signs or long check out queues on our streets.

I’ve watched the ‘gentrification’ and transformation of Oxford St and Surry Hills over the last few years. Many small businesses departing as Westfield made its stronghold in the CBD and Bondi. The NSW liquor licensing laws ripping apart the bar scene and the impact of licensing laws on the small ecosystem of businesses that support its patrons.

A small bottle shop near the Burdekin Hotel is now owned by BWS (Woolworths) and its closest competitor is a Vintage Cellars at Oxford Square that is owned by Wesfarmers (Coles). If we can’t sustain the independents who feed our suburbs, we will be leaving a future generation of retailers that will be aligned to either brands or the Europeans, Aldi and Lidl who are waiting confidently by the sides.

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