Major supermarkets brace for Senate inquiry as ‘price gouging’ comes under the spotlight

Dec 04, 2023
The investigation seeks to determine if major supermarkets are raising grocery prices amid Australia's cost of living crisis. Source: Getty Images.

Major supermarkets are set to face a comprehensive Senate inquiry into allegations of “price gouging”, as consumers and lawmakers raise concerns about the rising cost of essential goods.

The inquiry, announced by the Australian Green’s party, aims to investigate whether major supermarket chains have been hiking grocery prices as Australians stare down the barrel of a cost of living crisis.

Announcing the inquiry, Greens Economic Justice Spokesperson Senator Nick McKim accused both Coles and Woolworths of “making billions in profits by price gouging in a cost of living crisis.”

“For too long the big supermarkets have had too much market power. This allows them to dictate prices and terms that are hitting people hard,” McKim said.

“It’s time to smash the duopoly.

“Coles and Woolworths are making billions in profits because they feel that they can overcharge people without repercussions. It needs to end.

“We want the CEOs to justify their decisions in a public hearing.

“This inquiry is a critical step toward dismantling the market concentration that’s led to unfair pricing and stifled competition.

“We’ll find a way to dismantle their power and bring grocery prices down.

“It is about ensuring that Australians can afford to eat without being exploited, and that suppliers are treated fairly.”

The Senate inquiry will focus on major supermarkets’ pricing practices and market influence, specifically examining:

  • The impact of market concentration and corporate power on food and grocery prices.
  • The pricing strategies employed by the two leading supermarket chains.
  • The surge in supermarket profits and significant price hikes for essential items.
  • Instances of opportunistic pricing, misleading discounts, and inflated mark-ups.
  • The role of store-brand products in consolidating corporate power.
  • The utilisation of technology and automation for cost-cutting, affecting consumers and employees.
  • Proposed enhancements to regulatory frameworks to ensure lower prices for food and groceries.
  • Safeguards for suppliers dealing with major supermarkets.
  • Any other relevant issues connected to the investigation.

A Coles spokesperson told Reuters that the company was “always exploring ways to reduce prices on the products we sell” and is “not immune to the increased cost of doing business”.

While a Woolworths spokesperson said the company was “working to deliver relief” on the rising cost of groceries.

“As we start to see the rate of inflation ease, we will continue to focus on delivering savings to our customers,” the spokesperson told the publication.

Initial hearings are expected to commence in early 2024.

More and more customers are speaking up about the high cost of groceries, expressing their frustration and adding to a noticeable increase in complaints.

Most recently, a shopper triggered outrage after sharing the “un-Australian” price hike on their beloved Vegemite at their local supermarket. 

“Sorry, I know we hate these posts, but it’s nearly ten bucks for Vegemite now? And this is a low price?” the shopper wrote.

Source: Reddit.

An everyday trip to the local grocery store has triggered a similar social media storm after an Australian shopper took to the internet to express their outrage over the skyrocketing cost of their weekly grocery shop.

The disgruntled shopper took to social media to share the high cost of what was meant to be a “smaller” shop at his local Woolworths.

“Have a go at this,” the shopper said in the video.

“It’s one of the smaller trolleys, too.

“Some bacon, did get a baby formula in there, that was $30 but even still. There’s a couple packets of sausages in there. This just cost me almost $400. This is f**ked. This is an absolute joke. Look at this receipt. F**k me.”

As major supermarkets prepare for the Senate’s scrutiny, the public no doubt eagerly awaits the outcomes of the upcoming investigation, hoping for fair resolutions that protect consumers and foster transparency in the retail environment.

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