Troy ‘Sniffy’ Buswell put on quite a show in the parliamentary monkey cage yesterday when the Libs’ plan for extended shopping hours was kiboshed by the Opposition. Frothing-mouthed sore loser Sniffy declared the Opposition bottom-feeding scum, then with an extravagant flourish produced a box of Weetbix, a can of Whiskas and some dunny paper and went on a rampage against IGA supermarkets (see report here).
Sniffy Buswell’s fury with the Opposition is over the top given that his party, when in opposition, blocked the previous ALP government’s attempts to extend trading hours, but channeling his frustration into an attack on IGA is el bizarro and contemptible – something akin to kicking the dog cos you’ve had a bad day.
IGA (Independent Grocers’ Association) provides the only competition in Perth for Coles and Woolworths. Under legislation that presumably exists partly to give independent supermarkets some chance against their giant opposition, IGA stores are permitted to stay open after 6pm 7 days per week. In catering for after-hours shoppers, IGA has managed, so far, to operate profitably despite being unable to match the price-cutting strategies of the two mega-supermarkets, which enjoy enormous turnovers and are able to source product on a massive scale.
This price-cutting strategy was used to devastating effect by Coles and Woolworths to kill off independent supermarkets in WA. One by one, the independents folded under a prolonged pricing assault by the Big Two, and IGA is now all that stands between these bullies and the duopoly they’ve long sought.
Their bullyboy tactics extend to shopping centres, where they insist on lease terms that prevent centre managers from allowing rivals in. In the case of new centres, they demand exclusivity and long leases, again keeping competitors out. An excellent article on these anti-competitive practices can be found here.
But that’s not the worst of it. In confidential talks with injured parties, I’ve been told that once they’d wiped out most of their Perth competitors, Coles and Woolworths began exploiting farmers and other suppliers who were now dependent on them, screwing them down to prices that have at times been below the cost of production – while increasing their own margins, free of the competitors they’d culled from the marketplace.
I have no trouble believing this. Indeed, complaints from dairy farmers forced by Coles and Woolworths, on occasions, to sell their milk below cost, have been reported by the mainstream media.
I don’t like supporting these corporate bullies with my custom, but like most folk, I’m a sucker for the convenience of one-stop shopping and their generally lower prices, and do most of my shopping at the nearby Woolworths store. I hate myself for it every time I put my finger through a rotten tomato at the bottom of a bag or take the celery out of the fridge two days after purchase to find it tired and drooping. Or open a pack of strawberries fuzzy with mildew I hadn’t noticed in the store.
Woolworths The Fresh Food People? Pshaw! Fresh Fraud People more like it.
Thankfully, I reap a good year-round harvest of prime organic veges from the backyard, and am able to minimise my purchase of crap from the Fresh Fraud People.
I seldom shop at Coles, but anecdotal evidence from folk I know who do suggests that yer chances of scoring compost fodder rather than fresh fruit and veges are just as high there.
Then there are the errors in their pricing, usually not picked up (if at all) until you glance at the docket when you get home. And how come the errors are ALWAYS in their favour? I can’t be rooted going back to the store to complain most of the time, so they get away with it.
IGA’s fruit and veges don’t look all that inviting, either, so there’s no big incentive to seek them out on that basis. They do have some good lines that the Big Two don’t, and there are times I’ll chase these up, but most of the time I only go to IGA after hours, when I’ve forgotten to buy something at Woolworths. I suspect there are many who do likewise.
Which strongly suggests that extending trading hours would mean the end of IGA. I would not go so far as to propose that trading hours should not be extended to save IGA’s arse (and I’m not going to bother getting into the pros and cons of the larger debate here – just too boring). But I do believe, strongly, that we are better off for IGA’s presence.
Sniffy Buswell’s attack on IGA is a low act. Stick to the debate, Sniffy. Vacuuming up Scent Of Skirt with yer snoz while making coming sounds was contemptible – but at least these antics could be perceived by ideologically shaky types like my irresponsible self as funny in their sheer inappropriateness and as a display of immaturity and boorishness that should have been unthinkable in a senior politician. There is nothing redeemable about beating up the battling local little guy of WA supermarkets.