Annalisa Young has done everything she can to ensure every dollar counts at the grocery store check-out.
- In remote communities, freight costs and a lack of competition mean some products are more expensive than urban areas
- Foodbank says it has seen increased demand in the NT, WA, and Victoria
- A company that manages remote stores says balancing food security with a sustainable business is a challenge
Her current shop involves a two-hour round trip to Alice Springs and back to her home in Santa Teresa, also known as Ltyentye Apurte.
The main reason she does this is the sizeable price gap between the store serving her community and shops in Alice Springs.
“[Alice Springs has] fresher foods and it’s cheaper, much cheaper. In the community store, $200 or $300 doesn’t get you much,” she said.
The grocery trip is not just for herself, but her four children, her partner, and her mum.
“When I shop in town I noticed a big difference. I can feed the kids and feed the family more and it lasts up until the next payday,” she said.
She noticed she was not the only one making the trip from the Eastern Arrernte community.
“A lot of people are doing that as well. But it’s hard for others … the ones that haven’t got cars,” she said.
She once noticed a jar of Vegemite was double the price at her local store compared to Alice Springs.
Cost of living hurting regional Australia
Many Australians have been experiencing cost of living pressures, with grocery store giants now the focus of a federal government probe.
People in regional parts of the country are more likely to feel the pinch, according to a professor of economics at Griffith University, Chris Fleming.
“So much of what we import into this country comes in through the major ports, and therefore if you’re not near a major port the transport cost to get it to you is higher,” he said.
Relief for those unable to afford groceries has never been in higher demand, according to Foodbank Alice Springs’ manager Michael Hartzsch.
“Alice Springs is a small town and we are pretty much rapidly growing here,” he said.
Mr Hartzsch said other states were experiencing similarly high demand for Foodbank’s help.
“We have seen in Victoria, for example, an increase of up to 200 per cent in recent times, and in Western Australia the same growth,” he said.
The service has also found itself catering to more remote residents who have travelled to the Alice Springs site.
Outback Stores manages more than 50 sites across Australia, the majority of which are in the NT.
A spokesperson told the ABC the stores faced a significant challenge in trying to remain sustainable while also ensuring food security.
“Prices are the result of the landed cost price of the product, plus the margin the store needs to be sustainable, plus the cost of the freight,” the spokesperson said.
Professor Fleming said the costs were largely passed on to consumers, especially when there was only one store in the community.
“Incomes certainly compared to capital cities are relatively low,” he said.
“So you can get trapped in the cycle where you’re spending so much of your income on the sheer basics that you’d have to forego other things, perhaps healthcare, perhaps schooling costs, and so forth.
“There’s a real knock-on effect.”