Federal Govt’s decision on grocery price labelling disappoints consumers

Cans of food stacked on a shelf in a grocery store

The Queensland
Consumers Association (the ‘Association’) is disappointed with the Federal Government’s
decision to merely extend the regulation that requires large supermarkets to
provide the unit price for prepackaged grocery products until 1 October 2021,
without making any changes.

The
current regulation, which has been in operation for 10 years, was due to expire
on 1 October 2019.

The
unit price is the price per unit of measure (such as per 100g for breakfast cereals
or per litre for milk). It can
greatly assist shoppers to make informed choices, get the best value for money,
help with cost/standard of living pressures, and save time.

The Association and other consumer organisations want changes made to the regulation to increase its effectiveness, and to expand its scope to more grocery retailers and other relevant retailers, such as chemists and hardware shops.

However,
the government is proposing to further consider these changes, rather than
implement them.

The Association says that consumers have endured 10 years of substandard unit pricing and should not have to put up with this for another 2 years.

Grocery retailers should take the current regulation’s requirements more seriously and the ACCC should monitor and enforce compliance more effectively and proactively.

Association spokesperson Ian Jarratt, who led the campaign for compulsory grocery unit pricing, said “Unit pricing is a simple, but extremely powerful tool that, if provided well, can be the consumer’s best friend in the supermarket”.

However, far too often it is provided poorly. A CHOICE national survey showed that 64% of consumers using grocery unit pricing had issues with its provision, especially:

  • the use of small and non-bold print,
  • non and intermittent provision of unit pricing,
  • the use of incorrect or inconsistent units of measure, and
  • inaccurate unit prices.

Grocery retailers make sure that selling prices are very prominent, legible and accurate. Retailers should take the same care to ensure unit prices are easy for consumers to notice, understand and use, as required by the regulation.

Recent research by the Association shows that unit prices often vary greatly between brands and pack sizes which means there is great potential for consumers to use unit pricing to get better value.

For a basket of packaged products, choosing a low unit price brand of similar pack size resulted in overall savings of around 50%, and changing brand pack size delivered overall savings of over 20%.

The savings that individual consumers can make by taking unit prices into account when shopping will vary greatly depending on what they buy and where.

Consumers
spend around $100 billion a year on groceries alone, and many households spend
a substantial proportion of total income on groceries.  

It
would be very beneficial for many consumers if the quality of the grocery unit pricing
required by the present regulation was greatly improved.

The
instrument providing for the extension of the regulation to 1 October 2021 is
available here https://www.legislation.gov.au/Details/F2019L01217

Media contact: For further information contact Ian Jarratt at ijarratt@australiamail.com or phone 07 37195475.