More on the Scylla and Charybdis of supermarket retail from The Monthly:
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 – apples from Woolies, cereal from Coles, beer from Liquorland, wine from Dan Murphy’s, a hammer from Bunnings, shoes from Kmart, ink from Officeworks, a toy from Target, a pillow from Big W, petrol from Coles Express – then that is the power we have given these two companies.
Steve, a Woolworths-contracted lettuce grower who does not want to be identified, is destroying more produce than he used to farm. The supermarket’s orders vary in volume, but Steve has to be ready to fill the largest one possible. He has duly increased the size of his farm. “I have to grow for the maximum size of an order, or else I lose the contract. So I grow on that scale even though the order is usually a lot less. Everything I don’t sell, I have to destroy.” While Steve’s contract with Woolworths gives him security, his margins are tiny and increasingly squeezed by rebates and marketing “kick-ins”. In June, he was one of the Woolworths suppliers asked for a “voluntary” contribution of 40 cents a crate – on top of a standard marketing payment of 2.5% of sales – to pay for a Jamie Oliver advertising campaign. “I didn’t like it, but I can’t afford to risk not paying,” Steve says.