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Why we care so much about supermarket prices

Holding supermarkets to account is part of our history.

fourteen supermarket products in and around wire basket with price tag and logos
Last updated: 12 June 2024

Recently a colleague at CHOICE emailed me a document I've become completely obsessed with. Created for our 60th anniversary back in 2020, it's a painstakingly researched list of all CHOICE's major wins since the magazine's inception back in April 1960. 

There's some incredible stuff in there. 

We tested pantyhose back in 1970. We disproved the existence of "Sea Monkeys" in 1974. A personal favourite dropped in 1981, the year I was born: a guide to the legal rights of nude bathers in their own private swimming pools. 

We've been fighting the good fight for decades, but our work is far from over.

CHOICE to track grocery prices

In January this year, the federal government announced a partnership with CHOICE, to provide transparency around supermarket prices in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis. CHOICE is aiming to provide Australians with clear, consistent information on prices across a basket of supermarket goods, all over the country.

This week we're publishing the first results of that partnership, and over the next three years we'll repeat the process – to track prices over time and provide additional nuance to the burgeoning supermarket price discourse.

But this is far from a new problem. CHOICE is an OG in this game. We've been holding supermarkets to account for over 60 years. 

Our history of holding supermarkets to account

It started in 1963, with an article called 'Seduction by the package', where we took one food package designer to task for claiming that female shoppers "enjoyed" being seduced by supermarket packaging.

The gall of this man. I'm assuming he was a man. He was probably a man, right?

But our first ever proper survey of supermarket pricing took place over 40 years ago, in June 1980. Back then we surveyed 60 plus supermarkets, to figure out which city was the cheapest (it was Sydney). 

We covered price discrepancies in the 80s, leading the charge for instore unit pricing all the way back in 1990. In 2015, following a CHOICE investigation, Coles was ordered to pay a $10 million fine for "unconscionable" conduct, misusing its outsized bargaining power to threaten suppliers that didn't comply with its demands. 

woolworths produce in store

We'll be surveying supermarket prices over the next three years.

Working to disrupt the duopoly

Fast forward to 2024. Over the last 12 months something major has been brewing. 

Late last year we gave Woolworths and Coles a Shonky for raking in record profits during a cost-of-living crisis. Of all the Shonkys we doled out in 2023, this had the most outsized impact. The floodgates were open. This was the Shonky our readers (and the media) wanted to talk about. It reflected a groundswell of shifting public opinion, driven by an ever-present sense that the cost of living was becoming unsustainable. 

In its wake the pressure on supermarkets has become increasingly intense, resulting in Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announcing a 12-month inquiry into supermarket pricing. The inquiry will look into the relationship supermarkets have with suppliers, and the extent to which savings are passed on to consumers. 

The pressure on supermarkets has become increasingly intense, resulting in Prime Minister Anthony Albanese announcing a 12-month inquiry into supermarket pricing

Our supermarket surveys are part of this inquiry and hopefully – in the long term – will help everyday Australians who are struggling with food prices.

The results? Well, I won't spoil them here, but they reflect a troubling duopoly in the process of being disrupted. We believe that disruption is probably a good thing, but only time will tell. 

That's why we're in this for the long haul. 

See you in three months.

We care about accuracy. See something that's not quite right in this article? Let us know or read more about fact-checking at CHOICE.

Stock images: Getty, unless otherwise stated.