Grocery price bunfight - let's see the proof

Open online pricing the key to price facts

Consumer group CHOICE says supermarkets can avoid misleading claims about their prices by being truly transparent and posting the in-store cost of groceries online so shoppers can compare for themselves.

With the cost of living emerging as a key issue in the federal election, industry lobby group the Australian National Retailers Association has attacked Channel 9's Today Show for claiming a basket of groceries has gone up by ten percent in a year.

The shopping survey was seized on by the Federal Opposition but ANRA says CPI figures and their own research shows grocery prices have been stagnant while food prices have increased a modest 1.4% in the year to June.

In recent months, both Coles and Woolworths have used aggressive marketing campaigns to claim thousands of shelf prices and the price of a basket of goods (as defined by them) have actually gone down.

But a survey of a regular shopping basket published in the latest CHOICE magazine found while prices have been steady over the past year there was no discernible decrease.*

“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 now puts some shelf prices on line but with onerous conditions 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.

“If the supermarkets’ hype on price cuts is meaningful they should prove it to their customers and the electorate by putting prices online,” says Zinn.

* What we found (CHOICE grocery survey):

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 our basket at Coles was $152.55; the cost in June this year: $153.04.

Of the 33 products on our list, only seven were cheaper now than a year ago; most were either more expensive or exactly the same price.

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