ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said the industry had rapidly changed since its last inquiry into the sector in 2008.
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ACCC inquiry to examine supermarket prices
"Coles, Woolies just became too strong, too big, too powerful and they've just basically pushed out anyone else who tried to get in their way,“ ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said. (AAP Image/Luis Ascui, Joel Carrett)

The consumer watchdog inquiry into supermarkets is “good news” for farmers, says the National Farmers’ Federation.

NFF president David Jochinke said farmers had long called for greater transparency from the big retailers.

“It’s appropriate the ACCC lead this inquiry, using its powers to compel information to form a clear picture of paddock-to-plate pricing, and whether that’s fair for both farmers and consumers,” he said.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has vowed it will “forensically” examine possible price gouging at the checkout as part of its inquiry into the supermarket industry.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday, January 25 announced the ACCC would carry out a 12-month inquiry into supermarket prices.

It follows accusations major supermarkets had been significantly increasing prices on fresh produce compared to what they were paying farmers and suppliers for products such as fruit, vegetables and meat.

ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said the industry had rapidly changed since its last inquiry into the sector in 2008.

“The focus will be on the extent to which there’s competition between supermarkets and the margins that are gained on the way through the supply chains,” he told Sky News on Friday, January 26.

“This will give us the opportunity to quite forensically look at those pieces of information and get to the bottom of what is going on there.”

Mr Keogh said the surge of online retailing in supermarkets and consolidation in supply chains will also come under the microscope as part of the inquiry.

“Coles, Woolies just became too strong, too big, too powerful and they’ve just basically pushed out anyone else who tried to get in their way,“ ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said. (AAP Image/Luis Ascui, Joel Carrett)

He also said the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths would be a significant focus.

“There’s been significant growth of the two majors, and it still remains the fact that Australia has got one of the most concentrated supermarket sectors in the world.

“Coles, Woolies just became too strong, too big, too powerful and they’ve just basically pushed out anyone else who tried to get in their way.”

Mr Keogh said he was confident of the ACCC inquiry leading to results in the industry.

“We did a similar inquiry into the dairy industry in 2018, and that resulted in very significant change in the way the industry operates … the agency has a good track record of recommendations that governments adopt and that do make a difference.”

Mr Jochinke called for “ongoing commitment of government to act on any outcomes from this inquiry”.

“We’ve seen past reports collect dust on shelves in Canberra,” he said.

“Reports and recommendations don’t make our food system fairer. We need sustained political leadership and action.

“While we await the ACCC’s findings, we call on the government to maintain its momentum on broader competition reforms which will create a fairer policy environment for farmers.”

Federal Nationals leader David Littleproud accused the Albanese Government of being “shamed” into calling the inquiry after consumers faced months of pressure.

“The Nationals tried to bring forward the much-needed review more than a year ago and support big stick legislation that included increased penalties and divestiture powers back in 2022, but we were ignored,” he said.

“Labor must now get cracking and give farmers and families the answers they need and deserve.”

Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci said the company would assist the ACCC with its inquiry and acknowledged pressures of the food shop on household budgets.

In a statement, Coles said it looked forward to illustrating to the inquiry how it provided value to customers and its positive relationships with suppliers.

The ACCC probe comes as well as a review of the grocery code of conduct, being overseen by former Labor minister Craig Emerson, along with a Senate inquiry.

Fluid milk consumption has seen a decline among US consumers since the 1960s.

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