Checking out…the quest to be supermarket free

May 09, 2014

by Rose

So, how d'you go with Supermarket Free Month this April? Are you a fully fledged 'super-freegan' now - a fearless crusader who rejects large corporate supermarkets in favour of smaller local retailers and producers? Or maybe you hadn't heard about being supermarket free? Well, it's pretty unlikely you're all fully converted in a few weeks but Supermarket Free Month certainly gives us an opportunity to ask where our food comes from, how far it travels and what the real cost of convenience food is.

Supermarket Free Month, held in April each year, celebrates everyone's efforts, however small, to adjust their shopping habits, whether that be reducing food miles with trips to the local farmers' market, supporting your local grocer or simply making healthier choices. 
So why would anyone want to be supermarket free and is it even possible? After all, the supermarket has improved our lives in many ways. It's convenient and offers a huge array of food and household goods all under one roof. They sell Australian brands and products are available all year round. You also know what to expect - every store looks the same. I mean, even the food looks the same - perfectly formed, equally sized fruit and veggies are the norm - right? 

Well here's some supermarket stats that might interest you. In Oz, we have one of the most monopolised grocery sectors in the world with the 'big two' supermarket retailers hogging nearly 80% of all supermarket sales. By dominating the market, large retailers can often leave suppliers vulnerable to pressure to sell for low prices, sometimes below the cost of production. This is known as predatory pricing. Lower food prices can benefit the consumer's hip pocket but more often than not large profits are retained by the retailer. Forcing down prices can have a devastating impact on suppliers and affects jobs and wages in Australia and overseas. The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (the ACCC), is currently taking one supermarket chain to the Federal Court over its alleged unfair treatment of suppliers (source ABC). 

The big two supermarket retailers also account for 50% of fuel sales and 40% of total retail sales in Australia. And for the record, pokies - yep, those dastardly gambling machines - one retailer owns nearly 12,000 of them. The logistics behind our food sector are simply staggering too - it's pretty confronting that the average Aussie shopping basket can have travelled in excess of 70,000km to reach the supermarket - that's almost two loops around the globe! (source Choice)

Check out this You-Tube video clip The Hungry Beast, from the ABC Beast Files, for more insights on the 'big two' supermarkets.

Only you can decide what's best for you and your family but the good news is that there are many alternatives to the supermarket. I'm not going to preach that you should never shop at a supermarket but if you're feeling like you want support your local producers or reduce your food miles, here's a few suggestions to help make little changes on the path to becoming a fully fledged super-freegan.

  • Grow your own veggies - start small with herbs in pots, then work your way up and before you know it, you'll have tomatoes in summer and broccoli in winter. Once you've eaten homegrown produce, you'll be addicted and reducing your food miles is one of the easiest ways to reduce your impact on the environment.
  • Get to know your local green grocer and butcher - they'll generally provide locally grown or raised, quality seasonal produce and by putting dollars into local business, your helping to keep local jobs and you're investing in the future of your community.
  • Frequent your local farmers market…markets are awesome! Fresh, raw or cooked food, locally grow, raised, caught or made. You can chat direct to stall holders and try veggies you've never heard of or eaten before. I've become a market stall holder myself and it's fab - its certainly not about the money - it's hard work - but you get to establish wonderful friendships with your regular customers.
  • Choose a local independent - if you need a supermarket, choose an independent and select brands that are ethical and/or healthier. The Shop Ethical guide can help with this, giving insightful tips about who's behind which brands, who's true blue Australian and which products you should really avoid.
  • Buy through a food co-op - these are really useful especially if you're after bulk produce like pulses and grains or if you're after something different such as organic or biodynamic produce. You'll also get to make some good friends!
  • Buy socially responsible brands - have you heard of Who Gives a Crap toilet paper? Good for your bum, great for the  world! This toilet paper is 100% recycled with no chlorine, inks, dyes or scents. 50% of their profits are donated to charity Wateraid which means that every roll you buy is helping to build toilets and improve sanitation in the developing world. And these toilet rolls are also super cute! We sell them on our site but once you're hooked, and you will be, you should probably just go straight to their website ( organise a bulk subscription.

So how about my quest to be supermarket free? Well I'm pleased to report I've been 'big two' supermarket free for over two years now and it's been a really rewarding journey. It's now so normal for me to not to shop at the 'big two' supermarkets that I can't imagine ever going back. I made the decision that I would put my dollars into locally made, produced or retailed groceries and support my local market scene. Now my local grocer knows my name and even opens the door for me and because I grow most of my own veggies, my food can often be measured in 'food footsteps' rather than food miles. It's a great feeling and helps offset some of my less sustainable habits like car and air travel. 

My quest to become supermarket free has taken a few years but now I've broken the big box habit I'm happier about what I buy and it's saved me heaps - I'd say by growing my own, swopping with friends and buying only what I need, I'm saving around $200 per week, maybe more. I'm no longer exposed to the marketing hype that pervades the aisles of the big box supermarkets so I'm able to shop mindfully and I don't' feel compromised about my for choices anymore.

So I wish you luck on your own sustainable food journey and recommend you give the big box a miss this weekend and get down to your local markets instead!

Here's some useful links that might help with your quest to be supermarket free:

Supermarket Free Month - find out more about Supermarket Free Month
Local Harvest - find local produce and producers near you
Permaculture Australia - join a permaculture course (this is invaluable if you're thinking of setting up your own food garden!)
Farmers Markets - search the Australian Farmers Market Association market directory for a local farmers market in your patch

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