Consumer items that have a quick turnover, including chocolates, soft drinks and personal care products, can be found in bargain basements and local corner stores around the country. Demand for cheaper groceries is fuelling the growing movement of parallel products into this sector, boosting competition and bringing prices down.
But Tony Mahar, director of sustainable development and trade at the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC), suggests this may not all be good news for consumers. Manufacturing processes overseas are not always as stringent as Australian standards, particularly when it comes to allergens, and Mahar believes a proportion of parallel imports aren’t correctly labelled with ingredients or allergen warnings before they hit the shelves.
CHOICE shopped at a number of discount stores, and the parallel products we found complied with local labelling regulations. But some retailers haven’t always been so compliant. In the past two years, the NSW Food Authority has issued a number of fines to businesses that have failed to provide consumers with adequate labelling information on parallel imported products.
The AFGC says product recall and quality control mechanisms are also questionable for some parallel products. This year alone, the ACCC has recalled more than 20 food and grocery products for posing a risk to consumers. But recalling a product that has entered the country through the unconventional channels may not be so straightforward.
It’s not only $2 shops that have tapped into the parallel import movement. A growing number of local retailers have developed a taste for parallel-imported French champagne – and few consumers will complain about a half-price bottle of Bollinger. After all, Australians drank 4.86 million bottles of French champagne in 2011, up 25% on the previous year, according to champagne expert Tyson Stelzer.
In a recent blind taste test conducted by Stelzer, a panel of experts preferred parallel-imported champagne on four out of seven occasions. He believes concerns raised by traditional importers about inadequate refrigeration and handling during the shipping of parallel imports are largely unfounded.
“From the consumer’s perspective, parallel importing can be a positive thing,” says Stelzer. “It helps to stimulate positive competition in the market”.