Urgent action needed to help grocery shoppers save money

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The Queensland Consumers Association (QCA) wants action now from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Albanese government to make it much easier for consumers to manage the cost of living and grocery price inflation crises by getting better value when shopping for groceries.

QCA’s spokesperson, Ian Jarratt, says the results of a new CHOICE consumer survey show the need for urgent action to improve the quality of the unit pricing (pricing per standard unit of measure – such as per 100g for packaged breakfast cereals) that many grocery retailers are required to provide to make it easier for shoppers to compare values and prices.

The survey found that 71% of instore and 80% of online grocery shoppers experienced difficulties when using unit pricing to compare the value of grocery items.

These percentages are unacceptably, and unnecessarily, high and the difficulties consumers experience substantially reduce their ability to use unit pricing to spend less on groceries or to get more for the same outlay.

Many of the difficulties are caused by easily fixable problems such as: unit prices being difficult to read; unit prices not being provided; and the use of inconsistent units of measure to show the unit price of the same or similar types of products.

These problems are well known and, despite numerous consumer calls for reform, have existed ever since the start of compulsory unit pricing for packaged grocery products in 2009.

QCA says action is urgently needed now to reduce these percentages quickly so that consumers can get even more benefits from using pricing during the current cost of living and grocery price inflation crises. Consumers spend at least $100 billion a year on groceries and unit prices vary greatly between items. Theefore, the overall benefits would be very large ($100s of millions a year) and be particularly significant for high grocery bills and low income households.

The ACCC needs to immediately take a much more proactive approach to enforcing compliance with the provisions of the current mandatory Grocery Unit Pricing Code that it administers. 

The federal government needs to commission an independent and comprehensive review of unit pricing. Such a review was supposed to be undertaken 5 years after the Code started but that was never done.

The review needs to be very broad and in addition to looking at how the grocery Code can be improved should also include:

  • Trade measurement requirements – which significantly influence the provision of effective unit pricing.
  • Whether some other retailers of packaged products, such as pet supplies retailers, chemists (for non-prescription items), hardware stores and stationers should (as in much of the EU and in the UK) also be required to provide unit pricing.