Coles and Woolies hit out at ‘shonky’ consumer watchdog report on Australia-made claims of home-label products

Woolies own label brands: Aussie made?

Woolworths and Coles have responded angrily to a report from consumer watchdog Choice that claims that the supermarket giants have been making overblown claims about the Australianness of their home-label products in their advertising.

In research covering 360 products across 90 grocery categories, Choice claims that 55% of Coles’ home-label products and 38% of Woolies’ own-label products were locally made or grown, compared with 92% per cent for grocery items from branded goods.

This does not fairly reflect what the retailers have been saying in their advertising, the watchdog claims.

Choice spokesperson Ingrid Just said: “Coles and Woolies claim their buyers only look to overseas markets when local suppliers are unable to meet customers’ needs. However, one farmer told us that that 70,000 tonnes of vegetables including onions, potatoes and carrots will go to waste in Tasmania alone this year.”

“We have also been told that tenders to supply vegetables for private label products are not being made public, or are often by invitation only,” she said.

Choice’s review of the origin of Woolies’ packaged, tinned and frozen items found 13 of the 14 home-label frozen vegetable products were sourced from overseas, while 19 of Woolies’ 21 private label tinned fruit and vegetable products were sourced from abroad.

And the watchdog claimed that while Coles has started including more Australian produce in its frozen goods, its research found that nine of the supermarket’s 13 tinned home-brand fruit and vegetable products came from overseas.

A Coles spokesman called Choice’s research “shonky”, accusing it of being “deliberately selective” and designed to gain headlines – not help consumers.

Jon Church, Coles head of communications, told Mumbrella: “Choice should award itself one of their well-publicised ‘Shonkies’ for this piece of research. It’s deliberately selective and designed to produce a headline rather than help consumers, which is supposed to be their brief.”

“Choice has ignored the advice Coles previously provided on why some lines are imported – particularly tinned vegetables. The simple fact is that there is not enough production of local tinned vegetables to meet demand, and both branded and house brand products are often sourced from overseas,” he said.

Coles’ Australian First policy means that the company looks to buy at home whenever it can and this means that around 90 per cent of our Coles Brand grocery products are Australian Made, Church said.

“Add to that 100% of our meat and milk and 96% of our fruit and veg and you have a supermarket passionate about supporting and promoting local producers. Could we do more? Sure, and we are with programs in place to repatriate millions of dollars of products, but Choice needs to give people the facts not the soundbite.”

A Woolies spokesman called the survey inaccurate, saying that it appears Choice has “surveyed less than 20% of our own label products”.

“Woolworths stocks a large range of Australian grown and produced products including 100% of our fresh meat and 96% of our fresh fruit and vegetables; 71% of our own label products (Homebrand, Select and Macro) by sales volume are made in Australia.”

Woolies said that it has a “strategic focus” on boosting the amount of Aussie-produced own label products through its ‘import replacement program’.

The company pointed to last week’s launch of own-label rice from Riverina in NSW, Select frozen potato wedges launched a fortnight ago and the imminent launch of own label ice cream, mini potato balls, chips and virgin olive oil to support its claim.

Woolies launched a campaign – the first by new agency Droga5 – to push its own label products in April.

The ad campaign came shortly after a story in The Australian reported that Coles took 23% of its sales from own label products last year, while Woolworths took 18%.


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