Is buy local really best?

23/10/2013

The NBR reports that New Zealand exporters will be hit by Woolworths’ Australia’s plan to stop importing vegetables for its own-brand frozen products.

The decision was driven by consumer demand for locally produced food.

This is a trend among better-off consumers everywhere and on the surface it’s appealing.

It’s not only charity which starts at home, business can too.

Why wouldn’t you support local businesses, employing local people, using local goods and services?

Local produce would be better wouldn’t it – fresher and more trusted?

The freshness argument doesn’t always stack up. Frozen and canned goods which are processed within a very short time of being harvested can be more nutritious than unprocessed fruit and vegetables which deteriorate more between picking and plate.

On the surface the other arguments make sense but the buy local campaign doesn’t take account of other factors including availability and price.

Local produce isn’t always at its best or available when it’s wanted nor is it always the most reasonably priced. Price might not matter to some people but it is the largest determining factor for many shoppers.

Australian producers will, at least at first, benefit from Woolworths’ buy local policy but there are risks for them too.

The supermarket wars which have depressed milk prices on that side of the Tasman could happen to other fresh produce.

Then there’s the hypocrisy problem for those producers who are exporters too.

They can’t argue in favour of buying local at home when they also want people in other places to buy their produce too.

The buy local policy will give Woolworths a marketing advantage but like a lot of policies based on emotion it might not be in the best long term interests of either producers or consumers.


Do customers really want to buy local?

17/10/2012

Coles supermarkets have upset customers by dropping the Mainland cheese brand from its supermarkets in favour of Australian products.

Two months after withdrawing Mainland from its cheese lineup in August, Coles has been forced to explain the move following customer complaints, which continue on the company’s website. Coles said the decision was part of commitment to Australian-made products. It aims to stock 90 percent locally made groceries.

“In a recent review, we set to ensure the vast majority of our cheese range is Australian-made and as a cheese manufactured in New Zealand, Mainland was one of the brands we replaced with an Australian-made option,” Melbourne-based Coles said on its website. “Coles Brand cheese is also now 100 percent Australian following a new contract with Bega.” . . .

The supermarket wants to stock 90% locally made groceries but at least some of its customers are less concerned about where their cheese comes from, they want Mainland.

Feedback on the Coles website suggests Australian customers sympathise with the sentiment, but not the decision.

An indicative comment, from a customer named Valerie, said: “I prefer buying local produce where possible, but Mainland is a superior product. We’ve always shopped at Coles in the past but will now have to go to Woolies to get a decent cheese.”

Buy local is a marketing ploy but where something is produced is only one factor customers consider. The quality of a product can be more important than its country of origin. Price will also be a consideration.

Fonterra isn’t concerned about Coles’ action.

Bega was licensed to Fonterra in 2001 and other supermarket chains are still stocking Mainland products.


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