So if you switch to the cheaper brands or change supermarket how much could you save each week, $20, $40 maybe as much as $100 according to some shopper savings blog. We all know the saying, “you get what you pay for” so how can products that look so similar cost half the price?
In most cases there is a serious difference in quality, yet the unsuspecting consumer will not know the difference. Packaging information and ingredients can be very misleading. Take for example peanut butter. It is reported that the cheapest brands remove the peanut oil (which they sell separately) and replace it with the very cheapest commercially produced oils like palm oil. So while it looks and tastes much the same it is not really ‘Peanut Butter’. Not only are you not getting the nutritional benefits you expect from whole food ‘Peanut butter’, you are putting yourself at potential risk of heart disease while unknowingly supporting an industry that is condemned for destroying rain forests.
While the cheap processed and packaged foods should get left on the shelf and set off warning bells for you while shopping, keeping costs low and being a healthy shopper are achievable. Naturally there are times when healthy trusted brands are on special so you can save by buying extra. However the area where we can all save and be healthier is by buying more Australian grown fruit and veg. Compared to packaged and processed foods this is both healthier and cheaper in most situations.
It is becoming clear that the Australian public are kept in the dark about the food they buy. Poor labelling is obviously by design. How hard is it to say ‘Grown in China’? Food brands design their own packaging and many go out of their way to make it difficult to determine where the product is from and what the actual ingredients are. The reason for this makes more sense when you understand the business strategies of the major brands and supermarkets.
The less consumers know about key quality difference of the products and produce they buy, the less they tend to care which products and produce they buy. The purchase decision then becomes driven by dollars and convenience, not quality. This is exactly what the large supermarket chains and brand names are counting on. Ten year ago most product categories had five or ten competing Australian made brands. Now there might be just 2 or 3, and most are made from cheaper imported ingredients. While they are cheaper the profit margins on these products are still much higher. Both Coles and Woolworths have introduced their own brands to easily compete against just a couple of other brands because this gives them greater profit every time they sell one of their own products. If they can source a cheaper base material overseas and pocket the profits they will do it, few questions asked. At the end of the day it is a highly competitive business. When the only choice is imported produce most families just accept that is okay and buy it anyway. When we hear slogans like, “down, down, prices are staying down” we must understand it will cost us in other ways such as quality, safety and healthiness.
To maintain market share major brands like Nanna’s are forced to be cost competitive so take higher risks in sourcing their products from countries like China and Chile . The Australian public have been buying the Nanna’s brand (produced by Herbert Adams) since 1909. No one reportedly got sick from this brand in the past so we suspect these “cheap” brands are safe and pass tough consumer protection guidelines. Sadly the Australian consumer has little reassurance that product produced overseas are healthy or safe.
As more information comes to light it is revealed that Chinese consumers won't eat fruit from their own backyard. Every consumer has the right to know what ingredients are in their food, how it was manufactured, how fresh it is and where it originates from. If some good can come from this Hepatitis A incident it will be greater consumer awareness and clearer food labelling.
So what can we do as health conscious consumers to protect ourselves and our families from these risks?
- Grow your own vegie garden in your own back yard;
- Buy Australian and organic where affordable;
- Buy Australian grown Fruit and veg from large trusted Fruit shops with high turnover to ensure freshness;
- Avoid products that claim they were packaged in NZ from imported products. This is a loophole used to get around tougher Australian standards;
- Read ingredient labels carefully and be suspicious of cheap poorly labelled products even when they have Australian brand names;
Spending more may save you more because what price can you put on your families health!