Coles in Facebook farmer backlash

One consumer’s comment on supermarket giant Coles’ Facebook page about the impact of its price cuts on farmers has gone viral.

The comment, made by Jane Burney, the wife of a dairy farmer, was posted on Friday evening. By the time of Coles’ official response on Monday morning, the comment had gained over 73,000 ‘likes’ and 4,500 comments.

Burney’s comment:

Dear Coles,
Your $1 per litre of milk deal is killing the lifeblood of our dairy industry. The ramifications of it are finally rearing their ugly head. Dairy Farmers has announced it’s price for Tier 2 milk at 13 cents per litre. This is not sustainable in an industry where costs of production can be as high as 30 cents per litre. The consumer is paying $1 a litre and the only winner here is the supermarket. It is time for us to go back to the old fashioned way; in which we bought real milk that tastes like milk; no permeate and where our fruit and vegetables were grown in our beautiful country. Stocking garlic from China, Argentina. What is going on? Obviously it is cheaper to buy it from overseas then from our country; grown in God knows what. And for our farmers and the towns they support and encourage capital growth; it is heartbreaking. Your latest ad campaign sprouting that you support Aussie growers in insulting. You are misleading the public in how you support Aussie growers. Not only have you ruined the fresh milk market but you have also lowered the price on your cheese and butter. The only winner here is you. Eventually all the Aussie growers you so called support will be out of business. Dairy farmers who work 7 days a week, 14 hours a day, who have been dairy farming their whole life, whose cows are their whole life will have to stop farming as it is no longer economically viable to continue. Our “fresh”produce will be flown in. The consumer will be stuck buying expensive, overseas produce. What will happen to our economy and our country towns? I urge people to think about what they buy. The more Australian made produce we buy, the more our money stays here and benefits us. Your $1 milk is a nail in an already suffering coffin. I am ashamed to watch you ads and us farmers burn in resentment when we do so.

The responses to the comment have not all been in support or agreement, but the length of time between the initial comment and Coles’ response means that the initial comment had been reposted by others over 40 times at time of writing, and had reached a huge audience before the official reply was published.

A Coles spokesperson told Mumbrella: “Social media activism has become an effective channel for groups to gather a collective voice with incredible pace. The recent activity on our Facebook page is an example of this. We take such feedback very seriously and emphasises how important it is for us to clearly communicate the extent to which Coles supports Australian farming. We consider social media is an important way for us to speak and listen to our customers and our policy has always prioritised open information. This means we never delete posts and respond as swiftly as possible.”

This isn’t the first time Coles has been involved in a social media backlash, but the scale of this response is such that industry commentators have suggested the possibility of it being part of an organised activist movement.

Coles response


  1. Kimba
    31 Jul 12
    1:25 pm

  2. I happily am prepared to pay more for any produce to keep it in our country and support our hard working farmers!!!

  3. Scoop
    31 Jul 12
    1:27 pm

  4. Perfectly executed by the Dairy farmers…

    Late Friday afternoon is the perfect time to strike a slow moving Corporate beast like Coles with an activism post.

    PR people are too busy chugging down champayne and thinking about where they will go shoe shopping on the weekend.

  5. Zoe
    31 Jul 12
    1:29 pm

  6. I can’t believe the last line of the Coles reply, how rude! Obviously this person doesn’t abode by the crede “The customer is always right”

  7. Justin- South Yarra Marketing Manager sticking up for the Farming Industry.
    31 Jul 12
    1:33 pm

  8. Wow. Cop that Coles…. Woolworths ads also seem to incorporate the ideal that they support farmers and truck drivers… they should both be ashamed as they are both rorting hardworking aussies.

  9. Brandon Hillier
    31 Jul 12
    1:34 pm

  10. Coles never delete posts?
    Even if they contain profanities? Racism?

    They acknowledge social media activism and then basically outline the fact they have no idea how to handle it.

  11. Darren
    31 Jul 12
    1:37 pm

  12. Why not take a look next time you are in store? Really? Do they have an office full of monkeys with keyboards responding to social media comments? OMG

  13. TC
    31 Jul 12
    1:41 pm

  14. It amuses me greatly that a large, corporate company like Coles – who should be well aware of the potential for social media backlash – has absolutely NOBODY monitoring their social media accounts over the weekend?

    Social Media 101: Monitor accounts closely and constantly. Decide whether your plan is to let people self-regulate themselves, or whether a swift response from corporate is required?!

  15. Cognitively Dissonant
    31 Jul 12
    1:45 pm

  16. You want to see social media backlash? Check out the “recommendations” section of the Channel Nine Facebook page. No one is happy with their Olympics coverage. Apparently there are sports on other than swimming. Who knew?

  17. Cognitively Dissonant
    31 Jul 12
    1:46 pm

  18. Hmmm
    31 Jul 12
    1:50 pm

  19. Zoe – I completely agree. It stinks of ARROGANCE!

  20. James Burney
    31 Jul 12
    1:50 pm

  21. I am Jane’s brother and can guarentee that this was NOT “Social Media Activism”, or was it in any way orchestrated with Dairy Farmers or any other body… Jane felt strongly about the issue and devcide to comment herself. For Coles to play it off as “Social Media Activism” typifies their arrogance.

    James Burney

  22. Jeremy
    31 Jul 12
    1:51 pm

  23. Looks like Coles took the post down… that’s bad form. Looks like all user posts from July 27 are gone (it goes straight from Jul 26 to Jul 28).

    Nice PR hijack by the farmers. Someone else put a similar post up today and Coles says “we are committed to paying a fair price for our milk”… they don’t seem to be winning that argument.

    Wonder if any of this actually translates to loss of sales on an on-gloing basis…

  24. archie
    31 Jul 12
    1:58 pm

  25. another example of a company which has suffered because it jumped on the social media bandwagon without deciding if the potential negatives outweighed the perceived positives

    if they’d never established a Whinge Media presence it would have made no difference to their business but having done so they created a rod for their own back in terms of sucking up valuable comms resources and creating net detriment to their reputation

  26. Rodney A Smith
    31 Jul 12
    2:22 pm

  27. I have no pity for Coles, at all, or Woolies for that matter. A close friend’s husband works for a major food manufacturer & they are in danger of having to close because of rentless pressure ‘to cut prices’. This has little to do with how to manage Social Media, its a much much bigger issue. Full points to Jane Burney – lets keep up the rage.

  28. Graham Lang
    31 Jul 12
    2:26 pm

  29. This is a classic mistake that a lot of companies are making . They fail to respect the fact that its the “real time web” and it needs responding to in “real time”. They should have responded on Friday night…period! They paid the ultimate ROI …return on ignoring.
    Companies from the CEO’s down need to embrace this space ASAP and understand that the world has changed the way it communicates and with this change has allowed brands to become “outstanding” in the way they communicate with their customers.
    Memo: Coles, Qantas, Ford Australia, Taronga Zoo and anyone who will listen…
    brands don’t sleep

  30. Hmmm
    31 Jul 12
    2:41 pm

  31. Wouldn’t it be great if we all turned our backs on Coles & Woolies…

  32. Leethal
    31 Jul 12
    2:48 pm

  33. With all the profits that are generated, you would think someone might have engaged a media monitoring company to keep track of their brands in the mainstream and social media landscape.

  34. Hmmmm...
    31 Jul 12
    3:11 pm

  35. Our dairy farmers and other primary producers need to make big red hands, with the middle finger extended.

    Stick it on all your farm gates. Take it to farmer’s markets. Have some fun with it.

    I haven’t bought food at Coles (or Woolworths) for a couple of years now. Hate what they’re doing in this country.

  36. Alice Down The Rabbit hole
    31 Jul 12
    3:13 pm

  37. I don’t shop at Coles any more and stay away from Woolworths too (anyone who owns that many pokies is just pure evil. pokies pokies pokies, what about them hmmmm!!).

    I knew someone who worked in the FMCG industry and they said the level of redundancies being made because of Coles and Woolies screwing them down was shocking. Mass media wont print feature articles on these supermarket giants, covering this topic, because everyone wants their big advertising $$$.

    IGA and Aldi have my support and seem to be the lesser of the evils. Perhaps we should all stop consuming so much hmm? No New Buy In July? Yes thanks.

  38. David
    31 Jul 12
    3:28 pm

  39. Why would any thinking adult be surprised at the behaviour of either of the two big supermarket chains? Ever since $1 milk appeared on their shelves , despite all their protestations to the contrary, we knew the hard-working producer was being screwed.

    Thanks to short-sighted and ineffective regulators (ie ACCC), Coles and Woolworths have been allowed to amass unhealthy market domination. We now have the previously unthinkable situation that even the big branded suppliers can not stand up to these mercenary giants. And, as the familiar and favoured brands are inexorably replaced with bland, “cheap” house brands, identifying the cheap imported ingredients (thanks to our laughably lax, labelling requirements) becomes even more difficult.

    Dairy farmers have been crunched, fruit and veg growers are now being squeezed. Who’s next? Do we have to wait until the last Aussie farmer has walked off his property before the discount price obsessed Oz consumer finally wakes up that there used to be, and still are, criteria such as source, quality, freshness and nutritional value. The price ticket is not the only consideration.

    The more these juggernauts seduce us with their bloated ad budgets, extolling how much they “support” Aussie farmers and fresh food, the more skeptical we should be. Think “food miles”. Coles would sell their grandmother if they thought it would help their bottom line and boost their share price.

    Good on you Jane for standing up and telling it like it is. Sadly, we need a multitude to join you before this oligopoly will even start to listen.

  40. Christian R
    31 Jul 12
    3:28 pm

  41. Saw this on the weekend too. Down Down….they’re going down

  42. Heather
    31 Jul 12
    3:29 pm

  43. I am going to think twice about where I purchase my milk. We really do need to support local farmers where possible, or one day, there will not be any. I’m happy to pay more for local produce.

  44. Jorge
    31 Jul 12
    3:29 pm

  45. Graham you have a valid point. Sometimes the big bosses don’t understand how demanding a social media professional’s job is. We have to work round the clock and monitor activity across numerous channels. Coles got caught with their pants down as a result. On another note why not buy fresh produce locally, it’s more sustainable and the smaller fish benefit from our dollar. Check out Aussie farmers direct and many others.

  46. Robert
    31 Jul 12
    3:36 pm

  47. It is interesting to note the response from Coles as it might be true that “Coles” does not delete posts but I have seen clear evidence that their agency does.
    What Jane has highlighted here is the underlying issue of the margins that Coles and Woolworth are making to the detriment of their suppliers. Australian grocery prices are the most expensive in the western world. Partly due to exchange rate but most due to the margin pressures they place on their suppliers. As a consequence of the Duopoly any supplier that deals with these organisations must set their retail price to accommodate the margin demanded by the bullies at Coles and Woolies. If the farm gate price of milk is 0.13c yet Coles are selling for $1 who gets the remaining $0.87? Assuming the processor is able to extract 100% margin and then works through a wholesaller who takes 100% margin (both of which are unlikely) that means the supermarket is taking $0.48 for every litre of milk they sell. That is 3 times the price paid to the farmer.
    The only way we can bring prices down to fair levels to consumers and ensure that producers are paid a fair price is for Australians to start treating the supermarkets with the same contempt they treat their suppliers and customers.
    Here are a few ideas:
    Demand a 10% discount for payment at time of purchase ( The supermarkets automatically deduct a discount if they pay suppliers after 90 days of delivering the goods)
    Demand a 5% refurbishment fee every time you renovate your house (they have no hesitation doing this to suppliers)
    Demand $18,500 for listing them on your Facebook page even if everyone deletes it. (They do this with those annoying catalogues you throw away as soon as you receive them)
    Demand 5% discount for taking your groceries with you (the supermarkets expect this for the privilege of deliver to their warehouse)
    Demand that they always sell to you at the lowest price regardless of how much they buy and how much it costs to process the order.
    Demand that they compensate you for any food that goes off in your fridge because you haven’t used it even though you ordered it
    Demand that they pay you compensation if they do not pack your groceries the exact way you like them packed.
    If they refuse leave the goods at the counter. It will cost them money to put them back on the shelf. If enough people let them know that what they are doing is wrong they will eventually have to change their ways.

  48. Scoop
    31 Jul 12
    3:43 pm

  49. “Brands don’t sleep”. That may be so, but the PRs protecting these brands do sleep and do rather like to enjoy weekends without work intervening and so too do the head honchos who we have to get approval from before posting responses…

    I hear what you are saying, but no one likes to work 24/7.

    This is why social media doesn’t really work for big brands with cumbersome approval processes.

  50. John
    31 Jul 12
    3:44 pm

  51. Coles and Woolworths deserve every bit of pasting they get! People have to pay what food is worth or we wont have professional farmers producing it here in Australia and will wind up buying in material from overseas which almost invariably will be subsidised.

  52. Wayne Wood
    31 Jul 12
    4:03 pm

  53. The duopoly of Coles & Woolworths have seriously harmed local production of food and other products, a full analysis of the harm done by these company’s over the past 40 years should be conducted. What we need are some whistle blowers to come out and reveal the true story behind trade negotiations and the way they treat local production. (Why else have Heinz and McCains and others moved offshore to produce products?) Consumers should look very closely at labelling on house brands (private Label) anything with PRC should be avoided as it is produced in the People’s Republic of China and conditions that are not regulated and in an environment saturated with chemicals you would not use in experiments on a Lab rats.
    Who’s in charge? Who is looking out for the consumers’ interest? The ACCC? I don’t think so; their involvement is like being slapped with a warm wet lettuce leaf, to quote one recalcitrant ex PM.
    We are left in the hands of two companies being run by people ex ASDA, Tesco and Sainsbury in the UK, having buggared that market, they’re now out here to buggar ours.

  54. Mathew
    31 Jul 12
    4:43 pm

  55. It amazes me that big business go straight to the the word “Activist” the moment someone says something that will hurt thre brand or be a detriment to the company. When will they learn that there are lots of people in the “real world” do have opinions to and not everyone who expresses them is an activist, some of those so called activists are your customers and perhaps we are prepared to pay a little extra for produce. Maybe instead of thinking only about profit you think about whats might be the best for the community the country and inturn i am sure that will give you that profit you are after. We cant reli on the rest of the world to feed us into the future our only hope is to keep a strong and farming and manufacturing of produce and equipment here in Australia. If we want to end up a basket case like some countries in europe then Cole s and all the other big companies betetr stop tal\king like they are buying Australian made and produce and actually start doing it. The consumer can only do so much if big business keeps making decisions to keep importing more and more products from overseas then the consumer will only have that choice to purchase. Coles and Woolworths have forced many smaller companies to close due to there strong arm tactics. Time for someone in these companies to think of the country and community.

  56. CosmicNibs
    31 Jul 12
    6:11 pm

  57. Please somebody do a spoof ad – down down, profits are down, down down, profits are down. Ads are rubbish and so are they after hearing this. I’m from the UK and hate the monopoly of these brands over here. For me, as small and insignificant as it is – will not be shopping at Coles anymore or Woolworths for that matter. Happily pay more for better food and at the same time feel better about eating and drinking it. Good on you Jane.

  58. Simon
    31 Jul 12
    7:16 pm

  59. Maybe I’m not as smart as others, but isn’t there another side to this? If Coles/Woolworths discount their own brands to extremes such as $1 milk, how are the companies who DON’T supply them expected to compete.
    If I had “Simon’s Milk” on the shelves at a cost of $2 per litre and i only made 20c per litre, I can’t discount to $1 to compete, and I am forced out of business.
    Coles/Woolworths don’t so much hurt the people they source their goods from (they would squeeze them for every cent but they would have to remain profitable) this discounting sends their competitors broke!
    Once the competition is out of the way and it’s not profitable for anyone other than their supplier to remain in business what is to stop them charging whatever they like. No competition? A monopoly on every product? it’s not just wrong, it borders on evil. They are screwing with real the lives of real people here with absolutely no morals.

  60. Dorothy
    31 Jul 12
    9:11 pm

  61. +1 What Scoop said (post 25). Being the community manager when your page is getting pillaged on a Friday or Saturday night, and your brand manager, agency manager, and PR manager are all out enjoying their weekend while you are fretting at the computer trying to stem the bile is an all together unpleasant experience. If you insist on ‘getting on that facebook thing’ and ticking that box in your marketing plan, you need to be prepared to answer the phone calls.

  62. SimonB
    31 Jul 12
    9:38 pm

  63. I, for one, totally support Janes comments. I will, and do, pay more for locally produced, good quality goods from other supermarkets. Veggies last 3 times as long as those bought from the big two, milk tastes better and is less watered down than the cheap milk. Give me a CHOICE and I will support the farmers, but don’t dictate what you want me to buy!

  64. Robert
    1 Aug 12
    9:29 am

  65. Totally agree with you Simon. Am happy to pay a fair price for quality produce. Problem with the big two is that they charge same price for rubbish quality as the others charge for a quality product and get away with it because they can. Lets start promoting the alternative. I try to shop for fruit and veggies at Harris Farm and Aussie Farmers Direct. If people have other options would be good to get word out

  66. Kev
    1 Aug 12
    10:38 am

  67. down down prices are down!

  68. Nick
    8 Aug 12
    8:35 pm

  69. I agree wholeheartedly. The price war is anything but…. It is a propaganda war. If they can subdue enough of us who actually give a damn and can see through the lies the sheep out there who don’t have a clue and couldn’t care less will continue to line their coffers unabated. Sadly it is not the prices that are down it is intelligent thought and policy.

  70. Richard Moss
    13 Aug 12
    1:09 pm

  71. I am not attacking Coles or any other supermarket company directly, but I am perfectly happy to do so should a suitable argument arise.

    Supermarkets have one aim and one aim only, they want maximum profits whatever the cost to anyone else. They suit up and face the camera to make obviously unsustainable comments such as “We are dedicated to fresh produce at the highest quality available” So am I, I don’t sell them, but I am dedicated to them.

    Another of their sad comments is “We hand the savings on to our customers” really? then how can you suddenly drop prices when a cheaper offer is made across the street at whatever opposition there may be.

    Supermarkets have used theatrical gimmicks, and confusion tactics for years in order to squeeze more money out of people who have little to spend.
    They have undermined the grocer, the delicatessen, the butcher, the baker and probably the candlestick maker.

    When an item is ridiculously expensive, it is not unheard of, for the supermarket to leave it on the shelf without a price tag, only when the price appears on the little screen (which is not always aimed in such a way as to be viewable by the customer, does it register. Many people just let it go, most are unaware until they arrive home, if ever.

    Supermarket managements run rough over customers, landlords, farmers and other suppliers, in order to serve themselves and their shareholders. There is no doubt about it, they are corporate winners.

  72. Susi
    28 Aug 12
    2:41 pm

  73. Just an interesting thing to note: in Tasmania Coles & Woolies stock locally made boutique milk and butter at full price. I spent some time down there and loved that! I wish they would support more brands in this way.

    I do most of my shopping at the local weekend harvest markets and try to go to a proper butcher, fish monger, bakery etc when I need these things. When I need to get cleaning products I TRY to get to an IGA or Aldi. That said, sometimes the only choice is Coles or Woolies. I would love to see more competition in the Aus supermarket market.