Coles and Woollies not entirely to blame for supermarket wars, Dick Smith tells Inquiry

Dick Smith has warned against forcing the break-up of Coles and Woolworths, saying it would only further damage the food sector.

Speaking at the Senate Inquiry into the Australian food processing sector this morning, the entrepreneur also said government protection of the food industry, by enforcing a quota of Australian products, would be a positive move.

Industry protection funds, similar to those in the car industry, could be another viable option, he said.

In his submission to the Inquiry, Smith blamed the current supermarket climate, which is pushing Australian companies and farmers out of work, on rich foreign companies, namely ALDI.

He said dividing up Coles and Woolworths will not improve the situation “because I think they will just become uncompetitive when they become small with the internationals we allow them to compete with.”

Smith voiced his concern that the current “extreme capitalism” environment will lead to WalMart and Costco being the only supermarket companies in the world.

He told the Inquiry he does not believe the infamous milk price wars, which saw Coles drop the price of private-label milk to $1 a litre and Woolworths quickly follow suit, was either of their faults, but rather the blame is squarely at the feet of foreign-owned cheap food retailers.

''I think Coles and Woolworths were reacting to the situation that Aldi and Costco have come here,'' Smith said.

He also wants penalty rates in Australia looked at, and says a reduction in the rates would improve our competitiveness.

''Do we value our country towns?” he asked

“Which I do, do we want to go to these country towns and find them boarded up?

“Because our farmers are paying $20 an hour for labour, (and) will never be able to compete with people paying $5 an hour.

''But don't blame Coles and Woolworths for it, I think we are getting off the track…I think it is the fact consumers want the cheapest prices.''

Smith maintains Australians would readily pay slightly higher food prices if it ensured the future of the food industry.

Unfortunately, recent studies have shown that while most Australians say they would like to buy Australian produced and processed food, the main contributing factor is low price.

Similar rules to those in television broadcasting which impose a certain quota of locally-made content, would be effective in the supermarket sector, he said.

''One idea that I heard a number of days ago which could have potential is that we require Australian supermarkets to have a certain percentage of their sales, say 25 per cent, to be from Australian-owned processors and made and grown in Australia,'' Smith said.

''The advantage in doing that is it will create a level playing field.''

Last month Smith, along with Greg Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer started calling for a dedicated “Australian made” aisle in supermarkets to allow shoppers to easily understand which products are locally made and produced, and therefore keep local industries alive.

The current packaging and import regulations leave most consumers confused, they said.

Smith predicts that ALDI’S share in the supermarket sector, currently sitting at 8 per cent, will increase gradually over coming years.

 

AFGC releases Packaging White Paper

In a bid to ensure a more strategic and proactive packaging sustainability sector, the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) has released a White Paper on the ‘Future of Packaging.’

The white paper has been developed in consultation with retailers, government, recycling companies, retailers and consumers.

It aims to provide more strategic and realistic action for packaging sustainability.

The AFGC and its stakeholders have committed to going ‘beyond compliance’ with the APC, addressing broader waste and sustainability issues and identifying opportunities that will increase sustainable packaging.

The AFGC says that while significant progress has been made towards sustainability, with higher recycling rates and more lightweight packaging, more needs to be done to ensure a sustainable future for the packaging industry.

They want the focus on waste and litter to be expanded on and an improvement to the poor level of understanding about the important role that packaging plays in delivering products to consumers and the implications of this for sustainability.

In December 2011 the Packaging Impacts Consultation Regulation Impact Statement (RIS) was released for comment, aiming to identify new measures with potential to increase packaging resource recovery rates and decrease packaging litter.

The government is now considering new packaging policies to address not only recycling and sustainability, but also to provide a simple front-of-pack nutritional labelling system to curb obesity rates.

Dick Smith fronts Senate Inquiry into food industry

Australian entrepreneur Dick Smith will front the Senate Inquiry into the food processing industry and supermarket dominance today.

The Inquiry has come up against problems getting people and companies to participate in the process, as the supermarkets bully them into silence through their market control.

Smith is one of the few who is openly critical about not only the anti-competitive practises of the supermarkets, but also the government policy that is ruining the entire Australian food industry.

The case against ALDI

He  has taken a slightly different angle in his submission to the Inquiry, effectively blaming foreign-owned supermarket ALDI for most of the problems in the supermarket sector.

“ALDI’s lower prices primarily come from having lower labour costs, that is, they employ less Australians,” Smith writes in his submission. 

“When Coles and Woolworths follow this particular trend, (as they will be forced to) where in a large supermarket you might only have one or two Australians employed our food prices may be slightly cheaper but in the long term our taxes will  very likely go up to pay for the social services of people who no longer have jobs.

“When ALDI stocked a limited range of products there was hope that the Australian owned retailers could survive because they could sell the other necessities that were required, place a higher price on those and obtain an extra margin to cover their extra staffing overheads. 

“The alternative was to go broke.

“That’s  now  all changed.  

“ALDI have announced that they are going to increase their product range so a typical Australian family can buy all of their products in an ALDI store. 

“This will result in Coles and Woolworths either following ALDI further on this lower cost, 90% private label, “lack of choice” model or losing substantial market share and eventually failing.”

Woolworths and Coles are already increasing their private-label products at a rapid pace, pushing Australian companies out of business and placing unfair demands on producers and transporters.

Supermarkets killing drivers

Yesterday the Transport Workers Union (TWU) accused the major supermarkets of causing road deaths by forcing truck drivers to drive for unsafe lengths of time and meet unrealistic deadlines.

"The union is saying very clearly to Coles and the other retailers that [their] practices have to change, that they are literally killing people on our roads because of the economic pressure," TWU federal president Tony Sheldon told ABC News.

"What happens with Coles and other major retailers with dominating the market at 32 per cent of road transport tasks, is that they say to manufacturers, they say to farmers and they say to transport operators that you've got to do this work the cheapest and the fastest way you possibly can.

"They're price takers, which means the trucking industry either makes the decision to do the work or they don't have a job."

Collapse of Australia's beetroot industry

Smith points towards the beetroot industry as a prime example of the damaging impact the ridiculously low prices have on Australia.

“As an example, for many decades, a simple can of Australian grown beetroot has sold for about $1.50 in our supermarkets and this has allowed a viable farming and  processing industry to exist,” he said in his submission to the Inquiry.

“The cost price of such a can is about 90 cents, the remainder being the supermarket overheads and profit margin. 

"Not at any time in the past few decades have I  heard of consumers complaining about the price of a can of beetroot. 

“In fact, it’s about half the price of a cup of coffee and I find it truly amazing that it could be so cheap, considering that Australian award wages and conditions are included in the price.

“Notwithstanding the lack of pressure on price, ALDI started to sell beetroot at 75 cents a can.   Immediately, Coles and Woolworths matched the price, as they had to.  

“ALDI proudly claimed that the beetroot they were selling was from Australia however they did not state that this would basically sound the death knell to our beetroot growing and processing industry.

“Within a short period of time, Heinz announced the closure of its beetroot processing plants in Australia, sacking hundreds of workers and Australian farmers were ploughing their beetroot crops back in the ground. 

“Heinz announced that their beetroot from now on will be grown and processed overseas.

“At the present time, there are still stocks of Australian beetroot at 75 cents a can, but it’s obvious that once these go, if the price is to remain the same, all beetroot in future will come from overseas. 

“We will have lost a complete industry, but this didn’t happen  because of pressure from consumers. 

"This is an important point. 

“It happened because one of the most astute examples of modern “extreme” capitalism, fully foreign owned ALDI, decided to flex its power.”

Smith said another differentiating factor between ALDI versus Coles and Woolworths is that the latter two are publically-listed companies, dependant on and accountable to shareholders, whereas ALDI is privately owned by a German company.

The “highly secretive” ALDI is therefore creating an uneven playing field, he said in his submission.

"Intentionally vague" labelling

He also takes aim at the labelling laws for country of origin, claiming they are deliberately misleading.

 “The current food labelling laws in Australia are intentionally vague so the requirements are accepted by the large multinational companies who  have political clout,” he said. 

“Although there have been campaigns such as the “Australian Made” mark, this was in reality an indication that the majority of the cost of production of a product was made up with Australian content. 

“For example, if the cost of a jar, a lid, label and an ingredient such as sugar represented greater than 50% of the total cost, but the primary ingredient (say, the strawberries in strawberry jam), was imported, the label could  still  state  “Australian Made”.

“In more recent times many labels bear the words “Made in Australia from imported and local ingredients”.  In this case, the local content may be very small.”

Smith’s own company, which produces food ‘as Australian as you can get” has felt the impact of the obsession with cheap, often imported food, and is personally watching his products getting pushed out of the market.

“Turnover peaked at $80 million per year in 2002 and has now dropped to $8million per annum as most Australians move to lower prices,” he said of his company, Dick Smith Foods.

“It’s interesting to note that the prime reason Coles have refused to stock our products is that  they are about 30 cents more expensive, and they believe Australian consumers will not  support this extra cost.”

A statement from Senator Richard Colbeck, the Liberal Senator for Tasmania who called for the Select Committee last year, said he is pleased that the Inquiry has secured both Coles and Woolworths to appear as witnesses at a subsequent meeting in Canberra next week.

The committee is due to release the findings of the Inquiry by 30 June.

Sales of fair trade certified products still rising

Sales of products carrying the Fair Trade Certified logo have increased by almost 40 per cent, as consumers become more informed about work conditions for foreign workers.

Saturday marked the beginning of Fair Trade Fortnight, which aims to bring more awareness to the free trade cause.

Fairtrade Australia New Zealand (Fairtrade ANZ) said the increase in Fair Trade certified products in 2011 represents just over $165 million for the cause, which helps to ensure decent working conditions for employees.

In 2010, over AU$63.8 million in additional Fairtrade Premium payments were made globally to farmers for investment in growing their businesses, improving the quality of product and providing their communities with essential services such as healthcare and education.

Fairtrade ANZ chief executive Stephen Knapp said the growth shows Australian shoppers and businesses continue to believe every choice matters when it comes to giving farmers in developing countries a fair go.

 

“Whether it’s your morning coffee or the products your workplace uses for the office canteen, every choice matters,” Knapp said.

 

“Unlike any other third party certification system, Fairtrade works in partnership with small-scale farmers in developing countries to provide fairer prices, better terms of trade and additional funds for business and community development.

“Making a choice that matters and choosing Fairtrade is now easier than ever for Aussies shoppers with the number of Australian businesses licensed to sell products carrying the FAIRTRADE Mark rising by over 13% per cent to 220 and a range of Fairtrade Certified products now readily available on major supermarket shelves across the country,” he said.

Last year a number of large food brands started offering Fairtrade choices to Australian consumers including Starbucks and San Churro, which both now serve 100 per cent Fairtrade Certified espresso in their stores throughout the country.

Fairtrade Certified coffee on the supermarket shelves also continued to grow with brands including Republica, Oxfam, Global Café Direct and Grinders and Marco offering Fairtrade Certified and organic coffees.

“The choice of these businesses to support and offer Fairtrade Certified products is reflective of the continued demand by consumers who more than ever know that every choice matters, even in harder economic times,” Knapp said.

“Even in tough times Aussie shoppers understand the sense and importance of a fair go for all.

“They are continuing to make the choice to buy Fairtrade Certified products because they know they are making a choice that matters – one which makes a real difference to the lives of millions of farmers and their communities in some of the world’s poorest countries,” he said.

 

In October last year , a global poll has revealed  more Australians not only recognise the Fairtrade label, but are also actively looking for it when making purchases.

Of the 17 000 consumers Fairtrade surveyed from 24 different countries, over half said they believed buying certified free trade would help farmers in developing countries.

Over six in ten surveyed said they trust the Fairtrade Label and use it to make decisions.

Do you look for Fairtrade Certified products when shopping or eating out?

Magnum invites you take a simulated bite

In an Australian first, ice cream maker Streets has launched a facial recognition billboard to allow passer-by to simulate biting a Magnum.

The billboards, places in high pedestrian traffic areas in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane, instruct people to pretend to bite the picture of the new Magnum Infinity.

A camera inside the billboard recognised the movements and imitates it with a bite out of the ice cream.

Users can even pose for a photo which is instantly uploaded to the Streets Magnum Facebook page.

Joe Peschardt, corporate director of Spinifex Group, the marketing company behind the campaign said the billboard is the first in a series of developments for its revolutionary campaigns.

 “We are very excited to help Magnum launch Australia’s first ever facial recognition billboard,” he said.

“In partnership with JC Decaux, we were able to combine the latest in technology with the art of great storytelling to deliver a highly immersive, unforgettable experience.

“For us this is just the beginning and we’re looking forward to working with Unilever to keep pushing the boundaries of outdoor media.”

Image: Mumbrella

Quarter of juice boxes contain 25 per cent real juice: Choice survey

A quarter of ‘poppers’ or juice boxes marketed as fruit juice in Australia actually contain 25 per cent or less actual fruit juice, a new Choice study has found.

The consumer watchdog examined the serving size, sugar content, additives, Vitamin C and percentage of actual juice of 100 juice box products available in Australia and compared the results.

Choice has recommended parents heed the findings of the research and think twice before buying the products for their children, as they may not be as nutritious as they assume.

The sugar content of many of the products tested should ring alarm bells for parents, who could unwittingly be providing their child an entire day’s worth of sugar in one box.

The research found, for example, that Golden Circle Pineapple and Golden Circle Sunshine Punch juice boxes each contain more than six teaspoons (30.5g) of sugars in a 250mL pack, a significant amount for a young child.

“Juice boxes definitely offer lunchbox convenience but many are packed with added sugars and deserve the status of a treat,” Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just said.

“While the 100 per cent juice poppers can give you valuable nutrients such as vitamin C and folate, they don’t have the fibre of fresh fruit.”

Choice also found the serving sizes of many of the drinks were too large for children, with three quarters of those tested double the recommended size of 125mL.

 “Many juice boxes offer a double serve which makes it easy for children to end up drinking more juice and more associated kilojoules and sugars, than what is generally recommended,” Just said.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that many beverages labelled as ‘fruit drinks’ are confusing consumers into thinking they’re healthy, when in reality many are worse than fizzy drinks.

In January, researchers in the United States began pushing for a tax on sweetened drinks, which they say could save 26 000 lives per year.

The team from the University of California, San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Centre and Columbia University have found that increasing the cost of fizzy drinks and other sweetened beverages by a penny per ounce, would reduce consumption by 15 per cent in ten years.

Research on the hidden additives in foods has led to the government tightening up restrictions about health claims made on packaging, and as more people become informed about the impacts of unhealthy diets and obesity, consumers are turning back to basics and demanding healthier fruit juices.

Check out our feature on this trend towards health here.

Advertising in bottle shops encourages youth binge drinking

Point-of-sale alcohol advertising is creating a generation of binge drinkers, according to new research.

Researchers from Curtin University and the University of Wollongong’s Centre for Health Initiatives (CHI) looked at 24 different bottle shops throughout Sydney and Perth and found the POS advertising potentially damaging to young drinkers.

The report, published in the Drug and Alcohol Review, found that merchandise giveaways, discount offers and competitions to be “aggressive” in attempts to lure younger drinkers, who are more likely to respond to such advertising.

The POS methods are creating a pro-alcohol environment, focused largely on young consumers, who are more likely to buy cheap alcohol and engage in competitions, the researchers found.

“Many people may think cheaper alcohol is a good idea, but this is generally because they are not aware of the strength of the relationship between price and consumption among young people,” CHI Professor Dr Sandra Jones said.

“What we have found in other studies is that young people are influenced by these promotions.

“They purchase more in order to obtain the 'free gift' or the 'discount' and, in many cases, they consume what they purchased – that is, more than they would otherwise have drunk.”

It’s not the first time a study has examined the link between advertising of cheap alcohol on young people’s brains, and Jones referred to a 2011 study which found an average of 33 promotions per alcohol outlet in Sydney and Perth.

It also reported that shops attached to supermarkets had a higher number of promotions which required a large quantity of alcohol to be purchased to be eligible for competitions.

Injury Control Council of WA Chief Executive Officer Debroah Costello believes the large quantities of alcohol required to enter competitions and the delivery of POS advertising is concerning.

“This exploitative form of marketing targets ‘at risk’ groups of drinkers, particularly youth, creating positive associations with alcohol and encouraging higher levels of alcohol consumption.

“This is particularly concerning when the Alcohol and Beverages Advertising Code states that ‘advertisements must not encourage excessive consumption or abuse of alcohol’.”

“As with all alcohol advertising there needs to be stricter guidelines around the use of POS that considers the negative impact on the community and way it can clearly perpetuate are drinking culture,” she says.

The researchers believe restrictions need to be implemented to limit the POS promotions in bottle shops and liquor outlets.

Do you think advertising alcohol in bottle shops needs more regulation?

WA farmers meet with Wesfarmers to discuss milk price

Western Australian farmers have met with Wesfarmers boss Richard Goyder to discuss the impact of the milk price wars on production and try to find a solution.

The farmers want fairer pricing strategies from the group, which includes Coles, and last week the WA Farmers Federation passed a motion to boycott Wesfarmers and its subsidiaries.

The WA Farmers Dairy Council say the “predatory pricing” by the major supermarkets have devalued the industry.

"Unsustainable" pricing

Australian farmers have been fighting the major supermarkets over the price wars since Coles slashed the price of its private label milk to $1 a litre in January last year.

Woolworths quickly followed suit, and despite a Senate Inquiry and an investigation by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the supermarkets were allowed to keep trading at the reduced price, which the industry has slammed as “unsustainable.”

But president of the Australian Dairy Farmers Association, Chris Griffin, told Food Magazine earlier this year that the financial pressures placed on farmers through the price wars has led to many leaving the industry.

“We know there’s been at least 30 leave the industry in Queensland alone, and the majority are sighting the uncertainty of milk prices as the reason,” he said.

Unsurprisingly, dairy farming was rated the second worst job in the world last week, based on physical demands, work environment, income, stress and hiring outlook. 

Many WA farmers wanted to support the proposed boycott immediately, but the motion was passed on to the executives of the association for assessment.

Managing director of Wesfarmers, Goyder, met with WA Farmers president Dale Park and senior vice president Tony York this week to discuss some of the issues, including the impact of the pricing on the industry, which it says has lost it $25 million.

Who absorbs the price cut?

Coles has continually denied that its low-priced milk is impacting the dairy industry, claiming it is absorbing the costs, but those in the industry know that while that may be the case for now, in the long run producers will be taking the financial hit more than they already are.

“What it comes down to, according to the supermarkets, is that it comes down the them looking after us as consumers by cutting prices, but it comes at the expense of quality and also, they’re not asking consumers if they’re OK with this, they’re just deciding for us,” Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) food and confectionary secretary, Jennifer Dowell, told Food Magazine earlier this year.

“Invariably they say it is not absorbed by the grower or the manufacturer when they cut the prices but in the end it always does.”

Following the intense debate about the cost cutting by Coles and Woolworths and the ruling that $1 per litre was acceptable Food Magazine asked Griffin if the chances of the big two supermarkets increasing the price of milk to help with the increase in farmers’ costs, including the carbon tax, would most likely be slim.

“That’s a question for Coles,” he said.

“We believe the tactic all along by Coles was just to get people through its doors, and since dairy products are in 97 per cent of consumers homes, it’s a draw card they’ve used.

“It’s always at the back end of the supermarket, so you have to walk through all the other products and displays to get to it, so it is simply a marketing ploy they’ve implemented at the expense of the dairy industry.”

When contacted by Food Magazine to find out if they would consider absorbing the cost increase, Jim Cooper from Coles said "we are not speculating about the potential impact the carbon tax will have on retail pricing."

Fear campaign

While the meetings between farmers and the major supermarkets are a step in the right direction, hopefully it will pave the way for other suppliers to follow suit and start talking about the impact of the price wars, because up until now the Senate Inquiry into the power of Coles and Woolworths has been met with fear from producers to afraid to criticise the supermarkets.

“WA Farmers wants to work with all food retailers to develop a supply model which ensures locally available product is their preferred source, pricing structures are sustainable and to develop a program which highlights to consumers the source of their product,” Park said.

More meetings are planned between the executives in coming weeks.

Image: News Limited

Burger King to use roam free eggs and pigs by 2017

Burger King has announced it will only use animal products that come from free-range farms by 2017.

The global fast food giant announced the decision to only serve humanely bred and grown animal products in it’s US outlets within five years, but has not said whether the remainder of its 12 500 outlets throughout the world will also do the same.

Food Magazine has contacted Australia’s version of Burger King, Hungry Jack’s, to ask whether local outlets will be following in the footsteps of the American stores, but calls have not yet been returned.

Use of gestation crates a complicated issue

The company’s statement says it will only use accredited free range eggs and pork from suppliers who do not use gestation crates.

The gestation crates used to breed pigs have been getting a lot of attention in recent weeks, with welfare groups in Australia calling on producers to stop the use before the 2017 deadline set down voluntarily by the industry.

But a spokesperson from Australian Pork Limited told Food Magazine earlier last week that the use of the crates is for the best interests of the animals, to protect them from attacks due to increased hormone levels during the early stages of pregnancy and ensure proper nutrition.

The 200 centimetre long and 60 centimetre wide metal-barred crates are used to hold all sows for at least part of their 16-week pregnancy.

Almost 18 months Australian after pork producers agreed to ban the steel pens, a third of pregnant sows are no longer confined to the small stalls.

Recent Australian Pork Limited findings showed that 67 per cent of pregnant sows were still housed in the stalls one to four weeks after mating, while the remainder where not in the stalls at any stage of pregnancy.

Animals Australia’s Lyn White, believes that while it is ”pleasing” that some pig producers are no longer confining the pigs to the cages, the ban should be introduced sooner than first decided.

”The two-thirds of pigs who remain subjected to the cruelty of sow stalls won’t be alive to receive the benefits in 2017,” she said.

”It is clearly within the ability of the pig industry to alleviate their suffering now.”

But the Australian Pork Limited spokesperson told Food Magazine that many people don’t understand why the stalls are used and how it ensures the safety of the sows.

“As an agricultural group, we are looking at ways to please the consumers and also ensure the safety of the animals, because there are a lot of pictures out there that make it look bad, but in reality it is in the wellbeing of the animal and her piglets.

In response to questions about the Animals Australia’s calls to introduce the ban sooner than 2017, the spokesperson said it is not as simple as some people think.

“The problem we have is you can’t liken this move to walking into a room and turning off a light, it’s far more complicated that that, and we always have the welfare of animals at heart.

“And for producers to make changes within their own infrastructure, they need authority approval, from local councils and state regulatory services, and that takes time.

“Then need finances to undertake the changes.”

The spokesperson explained that the readily available horror stories and images of animals housed in the stalls during pregnancy are not painting a realistic picture.

“People are under the false impression that every pig is in a cage, but these sow stalls are only relevant to pregnant pigs, and they are placed in there for safety reasons,” the spokesperson told Food Magazine.

“What it means is that they are mated and within 5 day period are moved to groups.

“Depending on the operation, each producer will decide the size and location of the group and when they’re nearly ready to give birth they are moved to a farrowing stall, a birthing stall, which is a spring-loaded contraption to prevent her suffocating the piglets by lying on them.

“This alone saves about 1 million babies per year.”

The latest trend for retailers?

Coles has pledged to only stock fresh pork meat supplied by producers who have abandoned sow stalls by 2014 and experience would indicate Woolworths would quickly follow suit.

Burger King’s statement was made in a joint statement with the Humane Society.

"For more than a decade, Burger King Corp. has demonstrated a commitment to animal welfare,” Jonathan Fitzpatrick, chief brand and operations officer said.

"We continue to leverage our purchasing power to ensure the appropriate and proper treatment of animals by our vendors and suppliers.”

Animal rights group the Humane Society welcomed the decision by Burger King.

"These changes by Burger King Corp. will improve life for countless farm animals and encourage other companies to abide by animal welfare principles up and down their supply chain,” said Wayne Pacelle, head of the group.

Higher taxes needed to curb binge-drinking: health group

We’re losing the war on alcoholism and binge drinking and changing the tax system to bump up prices on stronger varieties is the only way to start to improve it, according to health groups.

The Alcohol Policy Coalition (APC) wants the government to implement changes to the way alcohol is taxed, which it says should focus more on the strength of the alcohol, to alter binge drinking.

The group, which is made up of VicHealth, the Cancer Council and various drug and alcohol representative associations wants the price of casks of wine and cider to be bumped up, as many turn away from the price-inflated ‘alcopops’ towards the cheap boxed varieties.

Their proposed volumetric tax would essentially eradicate the wine equalisation tax, which is levied at 29 per cent of the wholesale wine price and instead calculate the price based on alcohol content.

"In a climate where we are seeing a sharp increase in consumption of cider and cheap wine, particularly by high-risk drinkers, we need to ensure that the price of alcohol is related to alcohol content," APC legal policy adviser Sondra Davoren said in a statement.

Most ciders are taxed under the same system as wine, which equates to about 7 cents less per glass then standard full strength draught beer, despite the similar alcohol content.

Alcopops are taxed at about 95 cents per standard drink, which is leading consumers to turn away from the premixed varieties, with a drop of about seven million drinks per week since 2008.

"Yet because of the anomaly in the tax system that allows traditional ciders to be taxed like wine, these products are increasingly filling the gap left by alcopops," Davoren said.

"Cider consumption increased 18 per cent in the year following the introduction of the alcopops tax and continues to rise."

The UK has a minimum floor price for alcohol which raises the price of high-stength, high-volume drinks which have been proven to be connected with alcohol-related crime and harm.

The APC is now calling on the Australian government to introduce a similar scheme.

Woolworths sends jobs offshore

Woolworths is the latest food producer to send its operations abroad, as the cost of doing business in Australia continued to increase as the dollar does.

The high cost of manufacturing in Australia has been blamed for several food companies, including Heinz, sending jobs offshore – mostly to New Zealand.

The supermarket giant transferred 40 contact centre jobs to Auckland this week and it will be quickly followed by Imperial Tobacco, which announced it would be relocating its cigarette manufacturing across the Tasman also.

The combination of the high Australian dollar, increases to wages and the supermarket price wars are making it very difficult for food manufacturers to stay afloat.

According to the International Labour Organisation, Australian manufacturing workers earned more than $US35 an hour in 2008, compared to less than $US20 an hour in New Zealand.

Australian manufacturing workers also earn more, on avjeerage, that those in the UK, US and Canada.

In 2010, McCain relocated its vegetable production to New Zealand, leaving Simplot Australia as the largest vegetable producer in Tasmania.

Last year, Foster’s controversially accepted a takeover bid by London-based SABMiller, making Coopers the biggest local brewer, a reputation the company has pledged to maintain.

While the wages in the manufacturing sector are better here than abroad, they still struggle to compare to the high-paying mining jobs, which are seeing countless Australians leave farming and manufacturing jobs behind and relocating to mining towns.

The average age of an Australian farmer is over 60 and a recent study found 75 per cent of Australian year six students think cotton socks are an animal product while others believe yoghurt grows on trees.

Earlier this week, dairy farming was rated the second worst job in the world, based on earning ability, hiring outlook, work environment and physical demands.

”Penalty rates are a significant cost difference to manufacturers, particularly in the agricultural game where you’re unable to properly plan,” Callum Elder, the executive general manager of quality and innovation at Simplot, told the Sydney Morning Herald.

”Our productivity hasn’t increased in the past three to four years, as an industry, but yet we’ve been paying 3 to 4 per cent increases [in wages], which is a large part of the cost.

“It’s very expensive to put people into Australian factories.”

Salt levels in fast food varies between countries

It’s pretty common knowledge that the salt content in fast food is high, but new research shows that the exact level varied between countries, even if it’s the same chain.

Researchers compared the same food items, bought in six different countries, and found that overall the UK foods had less salt that the US and Canada, and Australia was somewhere in the middle.

They bought foods like McDonald’s nuggets, burgers and pizza from global chains to conduct their research.

In the UK, McDonald’s nuggets had 240mg, or 0.6 grams of salt per serving, compared with 1.7 grams – which equates to 600 milligrams – found in the same item sold in the US.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the Heart Foundation advise the average person should limit their salt consumption to about 2000 mg, or 4 to 6 grams per day, so depending what people in the US pair their nuggets with – salty fries, for example – they could be at risk of consuming more than half their recommended daily salt intake in just one meal.

Most people in Australia today consume eight to twelve grams of salt each day, mostly from processed foods.

The study, published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, found that while most Australian fast-food options are somewhere in the middle of the salty US options and less salty UK variations, we do have one burger on offer which tips the scales in all the wrong ways, according to lead author Elizabeth Dunford, a PhD student at theGeorge Institute in Sydney.

Hungry Jack’s Ultimate Double Whopper has 6.3 grams, or 6300 milligrams, of salt in each serve, almost triple the recommended daily salt intake.

Closely following that is the Burger King Angus bacon and cheese burger from Burger King in the US, which contains 5.2 grams of salt per serve.

This week a study was published which found the chances of a child being obese greatly depends on their neighbourhood, while earlier this month other researchers discovered that a “low salt” label on food will make a consumer experience a decreased level of taste, even if it is not in fact any lower in salt than other varieties.

High consumption of salt has been proven to raise blood pressure, increase the chances of diabetes and stroke, and cause weight gain.

The Heart Foundation, doctors and health organisations are constantly recommending low-salt diets to improve health and life expectancy.

"The main outcome of high salt is high blood pressure levels and that is the leading risk factor for cardio vascular disease and stroke, which is the number one cause of death in Australia," Dunford said.

Only last week there were fresh calls for a “fat tax” in Australia, following its introduction in Sweden and the UK, and Dunford believes part of the reason for the lower salt content in food bought in the UK is the awareness of fat and salt on health.

"We think the reason for [the low salt levels in the UK] is that they have a national salt reduction campaign," she said.

"In Australia we started that process with some processed foods, but we’re a little behind in other foods.

“We’re heading in the right direction."

Local manufacturers call for dedicated Australian-made aisles in supermarkets

Australian food manufacturers are calling for a dedicated “Australian made” aisle in supermarkets to make it easier for consumers to choose locally made products and keep local businesses afloat.

Glenn Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer and entrepreneur Dick Smith are just two of the high profile names calling on the industry to take action.

Cooper believes laws which force supermarkets to set aside a minimum quota of floor space for locally-made food would be one way to slow the flood of cheap imports and prevent some manufacturers from tricking consumers into buying products they think are made in Australia, but are in fact made primarily from imported products.

"It’s not realistic for busy shoppers to read every label to see its country of origin before you put it in your trolley," Cooper told Channel 7’s Out Of The Blue program.

"So I think they [supermarkets] should be forced to have a certain amount of locally grown content and that it should appear in a clearly defined area designated for Australian-made products only.

"That may mean two milk areas, two butter areas but at least customers, when they choose something from that designated area, know they are buying Australian-made products," he said.

Coopers became Australia’s largest brewer following Foster’s controversial sale to London-based SABMiller in September last year, and has always pledged to remain proudly Australian made and owned.

“Being the largest Australian-owned brewer is a badge of honour we will wear with pride,” managing director Tim Cooper said at he time.

“This represents the reward for 150 years of hard work in brewing by the Cooper family."

Along with being the chairman to one of Australia’s most successful beverage companies, Cooper is also the deputy chairman of the Australian Made, Australian Grown campaign group, which aims to encourage more Aussies to buy local products and make the Australian Made definitions simpler.

He does not believe the Australian-made aisle would be a big cost or time implication for the supermarkets, which already have a number of local products, but are difficult to find amongst all the other imports.

"Say, for example, it was 30-odd per cent [of floor space set aside]," he said.

"Well, supermarkets may already have that level of Australian content of food as part of their normal stock but it’s just not clearly defined as an area."

"Hopefully, enough people will get behind it to give some sort of leg up to our farmers who are, in many areas, being clobbered by imports.

"I’ve been told about a Mallee onion grower getting four cents a kilo for his crop.

"These guys are continually under pressure to match cheaper import prices."

And while most food and beverage companies are reluctant to speak up against the anti-competitive and bullying behaviours of the major supermarkets for fear of the repercussions, Cooper said he is not going to be afraid of speaking up for local industries.

"What is wrong with protecting our own industry to a certain degree?" he said.

"I don’t see anything wrong with that and most people would support it too, but our politicians, for some reason, don’t want to."

Consumer watchdog CHOICE is also behind the plan to make it easier for shoppers to buy Australian made.

"Consumers would like, where possible, to choose Australian products to support local growers," spokesperson Ingrid Just said.

"Consumers are certainly keen to understand where their food is from and it is important for that to be clearly on the label."

Contrary to the opinion of many shoppers, Cooper maintains that increasing the number of Australian made products in a shopping trip would not drive costs up.

Dick Smith has been vocal about Coles’ rejection of his Australian made and packaged fruit spreads, which it says will not sell enough to make a profit.

“Woolworths is taking the five new products, but Coles won’t, mainly on price!" he told workers at Penrith’s O-I Glass factory in February.

“Coles are letting Australians down, in this particular case.

“I couldn’t believe it.

“[It’s a] beautiful Australian product, but the minute they found out it was 20 cents dearer, their belief was ‘no.’

“If you go into Coles, and Coles have previously been good supporters of Australia, you’ll find that in their fruit spread range, from what I could see, everything is imported!

“Whereas Coles used to say when you were selling something to them ‘you’ve got to make some money, just as we’ve got to make some money,’ now they actually say ‘we don’t actually care if you go broke, we’re just going to sell the cheapest.’

Smith told Channel 7’s Sunrise program this morning that while the idea of an Australian-made aisle in supermarkets is good, he is unsure if it would work in reality.

Children’s neighbourhoods making them obese

A US study has found conclusive evidence that where a child lives has a significant impact on their chances of being obese.

A neighbourhood’s good walkability, proximity to high quality parks, and access to healthy food can lower the chances of being obese by almost 60 per cent, the study found.

The report, published in the American Journal of Preventative Medicine, Obesogenic Neighborhood Environments, Child and Parent Obesity: The Neighborhood Impact on Kids, was one of the first to look at how location impacts children’s nutrition and physical activity.

Researchers assessed Seattle and San Diego area neighborhoods’ nutrition and physical activity environments, which were defined based on supermarket availability and concentration of fast food restaurants.

The physical activity environments were defined by environmental factors including a neighbourhood’s walkability, and needed at least one park with more or better amenities for children.

Children living in neighbourhoods with low physical activity and nutrition environments had the highest rates of obesity at almost 16 per cent.

That figure is akin to the national average for obesity rates in the US, those high physical activity and nutrition neighbourhoods had half that obesity rate.

"People think of childhood obesity and immediately think about an individual’s physical activity and nutrition behaviors, but they do not necessarily equate obesity with where people live," Dr. Saelens, professor of pediatrics at the University of Washington and one of the leaders of the study, said.

"Everyone from parents to policymakers should pay more attention to zip codes because they could have a big impact on weight."

Fresh calls for a “fat tax” in Australia

Another Australian health group has joined the chorus of organisations demanding better initiatives to encourage healthy eating.

Public Health Australia believes a “fat tax,” similar to the one introduced in Denmark last year, would enable the food industry to reverse the current discrepancies in price between junk foods and healthier alternatives.

It believes the tax on foods with a high level of saturated fat would raise money which could be used to subsidise healthier foods.

One of the problems with the current pricing of foods is that junk food manufacturers are able to mass-produce unhealthy foods for an extremely low price – burgers at McDonald’s for example, cost as little as $2 – while sourcing quality ingredients and producing healthy foods costs the manufacturer more and therefore retails at a much higher price.

This is part of the reason the peak industry body rejected the original calls for the fat tax last year.

“There is already a 10 per cent tax on processed foods – the Goods and Services Tax (GST) which came into effect in 2000,” Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) chief executive Kate Carnell said.

“Australia has had a GST on processed foods – not on fresh foods or staples – for the past decade yet obesity levels have continued to rise.

“Food taxes are regressive as they penalise people who can least afford it – fat taxes were also dismissed by last year’s Henry Tax Review.

But Public Health Australia’s chief executive Michael Moore says a tax on sugar would be no different to the tax on tobacco.

"In the end, whilst the industry is making big profits out of junk food, it’s actually the taxpayer that’s paying for the results," he said.

"And you only have to look at the health costs, and the skyrocketing health costs, relating to obesity and other dietary related diseases to realise it’s just a transfer of money from the taxpayer to big industry."

The health impacts associated with obesity have earned it the title of ‘the new smoking’ amongst many experts, and as society becomes more informed about the detriments of being overweight, behaviours are beginning to change.

The tax has been introduced in parts of the UK already, and Greggs bakery will take the Chancellor George Osborne’s decision to impose the Value Added Tax (VAT) on its hot products to court in the next six weeks.

The bakery chain, which has 1500 stores across the UK, has lost £30 million value in its shared after being reclassified as hot food, but it argues that because it makes no effort to keep the foods warm, they should be exempted from the tax.

Australian doctors are also calling for warning labels on energy drinks, while a US study found a tax on sugary drinks could save 26 000 lives per year.

Health ministers and industry rejected the compulsory traffic light labelling on the front of packaged foods, suggested by Choice, last year, but have pledged to introduce some other form of simple, front-of pack nutritional guides within the next year.

Shocking conditions in poultry industry revealed: report calls for changes

Poultry workers and consumers are being put at risk by increasing demands to produce cheap poultry, according to a new report.

The National Union of Workers (NUW) today released the findings of an investigation into the workplace safety practices in the poultry industry, which found “worrying signs that some of the country’s leading poultry suppliers are sacrificing safety for higher profits.”

The Better Jobs 4 Better Chicken report makes five recommendations for improving safety in the sector, across employment, labelling, housing of animals and food safety.

It says the increasing demand for cheap poultry by supermarkets and fast food chains is creating health problems for consumers.

“While the supermarkets may want Australian consumers to believe they are always buying top quality products, the NUW believes that often they are not,” the report states.

“Woolworths and Wesfarmers have flagged chicken meat as the next battleground in their ‘price war’.

“The pressure to lower costs has been passed on to suppliers, leading them to compete on
labour costs rather than reduce their own profit margins.

“Unscrupulous suppliers are then passing this pressure onto the worker on the production line.”

The companies causing the most problems for the industry are identified in the report as Coles, Woolworths and Aldi, while the worst fast food offenders are Nandos, Red Rooster, McDonald’s and KFC.

“The domination of the major supermarkets is having a detrimental impact,” the report states.
“The major purchasers of poultry meat are the supermarkets.

“They purchase around 60% of the chicken meat produced.

“The Australian grocery retail sector is highly concentrated, with only two major competitors; Coles (Wesfarmers) and Woolworths.

“These two companies control 72% of the market, which has resulted in low cost promotions and places pressure on poultry processors to lower the cost they demand for their product.”

Old chicken re-packaged and sold as "free range"

In one case study, the union found workers re-label old chickens returned by supermarkets and send them out again as new products.

One worker told researchers he often packs chickens that have been left lying on dirty floors, which are then sent off to be sold, while others have highlighted the concerning working conditions inside the factories.

“Returned tray packs are turned into kebab or marinade and sent back out,” Poultry worker Erica* says.

“I would never buy chicken from Coles or Aldi because of what I have seen.”

Some student workers report sleeping at processing facilities instead of going home, and Adelaide chicken worker, Sokhom Koey, told how he lost his job because he asked that workers doing 12-hour shifts receive breaks.

He was paid 44 cents for each chicken he deboned and was not allowed time off.

"I have a family and I want to spend more time with my family," Koey said.

"But when I have tried to take time off in the past, I have been told that if I take time off there won’t be a job for me when I come back."

Safety issues not being addressed

A recent site audit completed by NUW offi cials indicates that 20% of workers in processing are engaged through non-standard means of employment, including cash-in-hand work, sham contracting and unethical employment, the report says.

“I asked the contractor many times to be paid at the legal minimum but she said there wasn’t enough money,” Harpreet Sing, a contractor at a poultry facility in Melbourne says.

The report also provides details on accidents and deaths in poultry processing plants, as workers are often asked to clean machinery they don’t ordinarily work with.

“Baiada Poultry is not the only company to be fi ned for a death in a poultry processing plant in recent years,” the report says.

“In 2003 Ingham Enterprises was fined $20,000 for the 2001 death of 37-year-old Stirling Gerard Comey. Comey, a contract truck driver was working at Ingham’s Somerville plant when a faulty brake caused him to be crushed and killed.

“WorkSafe Victoria found Ingham’s processes were unsafe because people and trucks were not separated before and during loading and unloading.

“Once again a death occurred when an indirect employment relationship was involved.

“In December 2005, Baiada Poultry was also convicted and fined $100,000 for safety failings which led to the death of St Albans contractor, Mario Azzopardi.”

The NUW has recommended a ban on using contractors in the poultry industry, as well as the introduction of a code of conduct for workers.

To help further reduce the level of illegal contract work in the industry, the NUW also wants changes to student visa working hours and to the Migration Act.

Ingham’s commended for ethical and safe practices 

But amid the shocking stories of possible food contamination and workers safety, one company was highlighted for its commitment to safety and quality.

Ingham Enterprises is highlighted in the report as a good operator with a direct employment model, which reduces the risk of cross-contamination of raw poultry in its processing facilities.

"Ingham Enterprises is a profitable company that respects its workers and helps them find roles to suit their skills and needs," the report says.

Image: NUW Report.

“Reduced salt” label reduced taste perception: study

A “reduced salt” label on a food product will make a consumer experience a reduced level of taste, even if it is not in fact lower in salt.

A Deakin University study, which recruited 50 participants to taste soups with the same salt content, but it labelled some as “reduced salt.”

Those labelled as low sodium actually had the same salt content as the other soups, but participants reported that they found them less tasty.

After the initial tasting of each soup, participants were could add salt to all the soups they thought needed it.

“We found that when a product was labeled as ‘reduced salt’, people believed the food was not as tasty as the unlabeled version, despite it having the same salt content,” Deakin health expert Dr Gie Liem.

“This negative taste experience resulted in more people adding more salt to the soup, than when such a label was not present.

“Interestingly, the Heart Foundation tick did not influence taste perception.”

As cardiologists and nutritionalists keep advising low-salt diets as the ideal way to curb the ever-increasing rates of high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes, the findings from this study could impact the way salt reduced products are marketed, according to Liem.

“The reduction of salt in processed foods is needed and highly encouraged.,” he said.

“Often consumers can hardly taste the difference between salt reduced and non-salt reduced products.

“However, the results of our study indicate we need to be careful about how salt reduced products are marketed, so that consumers will not be turned off these products from a taste perspective.”

Most people today consume eight to nine grams of salt each day, while the recommended dose is no more than four grams daily.

“This study highlights that promoting salt reduction as part of front-of-pack labeling can have a negative effect on how consumers perceive the taste of the product and on salt use.

“Therefore it’s important for researchers, public health professionals, industry and governments to work together to carefully consider how best to communicate this message to consumers.”

Pizza at your door literally at the push of a button

Did you think it was pretty cool when pizza chains allowed you to jump online to order pizza, and save you the trouble of having to pick up your phone or, heaven forbid, go into a pizza shop? Well hold onto your couch cushion, because things just got lazier.

Desperately need pizza after a big night out, but can’t quite remember how to work a computer, or hold a conversation? Well, stumble on over to your fridge and push the emergency pizza button, and collapse onto the couch and await the arrival of the delivery guy. Maybe drink some water while you wait, rehydration and all that.

Maybe you’re just feeling particularly lazy and the only strength you can muster is pushing a button?

This is pizza delivered to your door, literally at the push of a button. The future is here, but unfortunately, for now, only Dubai has gotten there.

Check out the inspiring advertisement below, you’re beliefs about pizza will never be the same again.

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Cadbury officially Australia’s favourite chocolate

The results are in, the favourites have been identified, and it’s really no surprise that Cadbury is the most popular chocolate in Australia.

Roy Morgan Research conducted a study to find the leading chocolate brands in the Australian market, and in 2011, Cadbury came out on top in both the chocolate box and chocolate bar category.

It surveyed 18 641 Australians aged 14 and over between January and December last year, then projected the number to represent the national population.

It found that in 2011, more than 2 million Australians over 14 would have purchased a Cadbury Dairy Milk bar “in the last four weeks,” and almost 900 000 would have bought the Fruit & Nut variety.

Behind both the Dairy Milk and Fruit & Nut manufactured by Cadbury as third most popular was the Lindt Dark bar, which was bought by approximately 648 000 “in the past four weeks.”

But fourth and fifth place were both achieved by Cadbury, with the Caramello purchased by about 614 000 people and Cadbury Hazelnut bar by 588 000.

And if there was any proof needed that Australians have a sweet tooth, the research found that over 6.7 million Australians purchased a chocolate bar “in the last four weeks.”

In the lead-up to chocoholics’ favourite time of year, Easter, Cadbury is looking forward to capitalising on its popularity.

“Cadbury looks set to enjoy a big Easter break as the data shows many of their products are the most popular among Australians,” Cadbury’s Norman Morris said.

“In 2010 Cadbury Dairy Milk chocolate became Fairtrade Certified, and in 2011 they released the first Fairtrade Easter egg.

“This has given consumers a Fairtrade choice among mainstream chocolate brands, and possibly led to increased market share because of it.”

Do you think the study’s finding’s represent the favourite Aussie chocolates? Does the fair-trade certification impact your choices?

Do we need tougher regulation on ‘free to roam’ claims

Farmers and suppliers who produce actual free range eggs want a crackdown on the definitions of ‘free range,’ after leading national suppliers were found to falsely make the claim.

Last year the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) announced it would be taking a number of chicken suppliers to court, claiming they wrongly advertised chickens as free range.

According to the ACCC, national Steggles suppliers Baiada Poultry and Barttner Enterprises, La Iconica suppliers, Turi Foods and the Australian Chicken Meat Federation were misleading or deceptive in the promotion and supply of chicken products.

It said the impression that Steggles chickens are raised in barns with plenty of room to roam freely used in the advertisement and promotion greatly influence consumers, and in reality, most of the animals have a space no larger than an A4 sheet of paper.

La Ionica’s decided to stop using the “free to roam” claim and pay the $100 000 penalty as a result of the court case, but Steggles and Baiada are refusing to bow to pressure and are instead arguing against the ACCC’s claims.

And despite John Camilleri, the managing director of Steggles’ owner Baiada Poultry ordering the ‘free to roam’ slogan be removed from packaging, frozen poultry with the claim are still being purchased.

He told the Federal Court in Melbourne earlier this month that a chicken purchased by an ACCC representative last month that had the ”free to roam in large barns” slogan on it was out of the company’s control.

While the case continues, the debate over ‘free to roam’ claims is heating up.

Paul Papalia, Western Australia’s Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Food, told the ABC this morning that consumers are still being delivered misleading information by companies finding loopholes in the ‘free range’ definitions.

"In WA there is no regulation or legislation governing the use of the term ‘free range’ and as a consequence consumers are being ripped off by some people who are claiming free range status on their eggs," he said.

"That is deceptive behaviour on behalf of some of those producers."

But the Agriculture Minister does not believe it is the state government’s responsibility to create rules around the housing of animals on farms, despite the RSPCA branding the decision by the Australian Egg Corporation to increase stock density from 1500 to 20 000 per hectare as inhumane.

"It’s not our job to regulate things that sit outside of the formal rules around animal welfare and environmental standards," he told the ABC.

While the Commercial Egg Producers Association of WA says it would welcome more regulation on the housing of animals, President John Simpson believes companies have to be realistic.

"I think we’ve got to move with the times," he said.
"We need to feed the growing population; a lesser density wouldn’t achieve those things."

A farmer of free range eggs, Jan Harwood, told the ABC that the state government needs to step in for the sake of the bird’s health and safety.

"I can’t believe the hens could express any of their normal behaviours under those conditions," she said.

"This isn’t just a marketing tool; this isn’t sustainable for the environment or for the welfare of the hens."

"I want to deal with this issue before it becomes a problem."

Harwood has been farming free range in the Margaret River region for two decades, and keeps stock density of her chickens between 1 500 and 2 500 birds per hectare.

Do you think ‘free to roam’ claims need better regulation? Do you buy roam free eggs?

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