Local manufacturers call for dedicated Australian-made aisles in supermarkets

Australian food manufacturers are calling for a dedicated “Australian made” aisle in supermarkets to make it easier for consumers to choose locally made products and keep local businesses afloat.

Glenn Cooper, chairman of Australia’s largest beer brewer and entrepreneur Dick Smith are just two of the high profile names calling on the industry to take action.

Cooper believes laws which force supermarkets to set aside a minimum quota of floor space for locally-made food would be one way to slow the flood of cheap imports and prevent some manufacturers from tricking consumers into buying products they think are made in Australia, but are in fact made primarily from imported products.

"It's not realistic for busy shoppers to read every label to see its country of origin before you put it in your trolley," Cooper told Channel 7's Out Of The Blue program.

"So I think they [supermarkets] should be forced to have a certain amount of locally grown content and that it should appear in a clearly defined area designated for Australian-made products only.

"That may mean two milk areas, two butter areas but at least customers, when they choose something from that designated area, know they are buying Australian-made products," he said.

Coopers became Australia's largest brewer following Foster's controversial sale to London-based SABMiller in September last year, and has always pledged to remain proudly Australian made and owned.

“Being the largest Australian-owned brewer is a badge of honour we will wear with pride,” managing director Tim Cooper said at he time.

“This represents the reward for 150 years of hard work in brewing by the Cooper family."

Along with being the chairman to one of Australia’s most successful beverage companies, Cooper is also the deputy chairman of the Australian Made, Australian Grown campaign group, which aims to encourage more Aussies to buy local products and make the Australian Made definitions simpler.

He does not believe the Australian-made aisle would be a big cost or time implication for the supermarkets, which already have a number of local products, but are difficult to find amongst all the other imports.

"Say, for example, it was 30-odd per cent [of floor space set aside]," he said.

"Well, supermarkets may already have that level of Australian content of food as part of their normal stock but it's just not clearly defined as an area."

"Hopefully, enough people will get behind it to give some sort of leg up to our farmers who are, in many areas, being clobbered by imports.

"I've been told about a Mallee onion grower getting four cents a kilo for his crop.

"These guys are continually under pressure to match cheaper import prices."

And while most food and beverage companies are reluctant to speak up against the anti-competitive and bullying behaviours of the major supermarkets for fear of the repercussions, Cooper said he is not going to be afraid of speaking up for local industries.

"What is wrong with protecting our own industry to a certain degree?" he said.

"I don't see anything wrong with that and most people would support it too, but our politicians, for some reason, don't want to."

Consumer watchdog CHOICE is also behind the plan to make it easier for shoppers to buy Australian made.

"Consumers would like, where possible, to choose Australian products to support local growers," spokesperson Ingrid Just said.

"Consumers are certainly keen to understand where their food is from and it is important for that to be clearly on the label."

Contrary to the opinion of many shoppers, Cooper maintains that increasing the number of Australian made products in a shopping trip would not drive costs up.

Dick Smith has been vocal about Coles’ rejection of his Australian made and packaged fruit spreads, which it says will not sell enough to make a profit.

“Woolworths is taking the five new products, but Coles won’t, mainly on price!" he told workers at Penrith's O-I Glass factory in February.

“Coles are letting Australians down, in this particular case.

“I couldn’t believe it.

“[It’s a] beautiful Australian product, but the minute they found out it was 20 cents dearer, their belief was ‘no.’

“If you go into Coles, and Coles have previously been good supporters of Australia, you’ll find that in their fruit spread range, from what I could see, everything is imported!

“Whereas Coles used to say when you were selling something to them ‘you’ve got to make some money, just as we’ve got to make some money,’ now they actually say ‘we don’t actually care if you go broke, we’re just going to sell the cheapest.’

Smith told Channel 7's Sunrise program this morning that while the idea of an Australian-made aisle in supermarkets is good, he is unsure if it would work in reality.