Coles has announced that it would be cutting prices for beef steaks and lamb chops by more than 20 per cent and a host of other products.
But for Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Dr Craig Emerson, the newly appointed independent reviewer into food pricing, the cost-cutting does not go far enough.
Coles promised to lower prices on more than 300 products including some meats, deli and seafood, dishwashing tablets and tea bags. But, with the price cut coming on the same day that inflation was announced to be at its lowest level for almost three years, the action has been deemed insufficient.
“Our customers are seeking lower prices and immediate value more than ever,” said Coles’ executive general manager of fresh foods Andy Mossop.
But Albo said that the price reduction that supermarkets have seen in wholesale food prices have not been passed onto consumers and grocers’ actions were “out of sync” with people’s lived reality and that the government “will act” if costs increase further.
Earlier this week, former trade minister Craig Emerson was appointed to conduct a review of the food and grocery code of conduct which seeks to improve standards of business conduct.
One solution to increasing food prices posed by Emerson would be to force supermarkets to reveal to farmers the prices they are paying other suppliers for produce.
“It’s a good idea and it’s a matter of generating and providing that information,” Dr Emerson said. “Sometimes information can be powerful for consumers and also for the suppliers.”
He also added that grocers need not fear the extra transparency as they would be able to show they were not price-gouging if the discrepancy between farmgate values and retail prices was due to costs of distribution, labour, marketing and electricity.
How that extra transparency would play with consumers is an open debate, however. While costs of distribution, labour and electricity are tangible in their benefits, most consumers would likely believe that marketing costs are unnecessary.
Emerson also said that the Farmers Federation had called for a mandatory code overseen by the ACCC.
“I think that’s a very live question,” he said. “I won’t today say that’s a conclusion I’ll reach as a result of this review. I’ll follow the evidence – but that’s certainly one of the possibilities.”
He did, however, rule out price caps, which he noted had been “tried in the Soviet Union and people stopped producing those goods”.
Dr Emerson also noted that Aldi’s entrance into the market had been good for competition and had been a positive for consumers.
“If there are ways to facilitate greater competition in supermarket delivery then obviously I’d be interested in that,” he said.
Dr Emerson is due to report back to the government by July.
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