Australia’s two supermarket giants Coles and Woolworths are no stranger to criticism, especially amidst the cost-of-living crisis. They have been repeatedly accused of price gouging on essentials and then resorting to heavy-handed tactics to prevent shop-lifting.
However, they have recently drawn the ire of one group that may might make them re-think their approach. Australia’s largest consumer advocate Group, CHOICE, has been monitoring dishonest or misleading behaviour from companies and have been naming and shaming them at the annual “Shonky Awards”, for the past 18 years.
Last year it was QANTAS, once the pride of Australia’s airline industry, that took the top spot as Australia’s shonkiest company according to CHOICE. This year, both Coles and Woolies were concurrently awarded the number one place by the consumer advocacy group.
CHOICE gave Coles and Woolworths the award based on the results of their CHOICE Consumer Pulse September 2023 survey. According to CHOICE, 88% respondents said that they were worried about the cost of food and groceries from a low of only 56% in January 2021.
More than 60% of shoppers believe the price increases seen at the duopoly are not simply due to higher costs. Very few people believed that either supermarket chain are doing enough to keep their prices affordable.
“Both supermarkets love to talk up what they’re doing to help customers in their advertising, and they heavily promote their so-called specials in store.
“This is despite the fact that for some specials it may be hard to tell if you’re getting a genuine discount,” says CHOICE director of campaigns and communications Rosie Thomas.
“In our September survey, less than 20% of people thought Coles and Woolworths were doing all they could to keep prices down. Only 18% of Coles shoppers and 17% of Woolies shoppers agreed their supermarket was doing everything they could to keep the price on everyday groceries low,” she added.
Furthermore, nearly 40% of those surveyed in the September Consumer Pulse survey told them they would stop shopping at Coles and Woolworths if there was another option.
Woolworths did not respond to enquiries by CHOICE about its profits. Instead, they pointed to a previous media call with their CEO, Brad Banducci.
“Improved financial performance in [the 2023 financial year] reflects a return to relative stability following the material disruption of COVID in the last three years and more than $300 million in COVID-related costs,” said Banducci on the topic of Woolworths’ $1.62 billion annual profit.
A Coles spokesperson did answer CHOICE’s enquiries about their profits and prices however.
“At a time when cost of living is adding pressure to Aussie families and their grocery budgets, Coles is making it easier than ever for customers to find great value in store and online with the launch of its ‘Great Value, Hands Down’ campaign.
“Coles stores across the country and Coles Online will bring immediate value to customers by bringing down the price of more than 500 products for at least three months,” the spokesperson said.