Ever heard the phrase “don’t piss on my leg and tell me it’s raining”? Well, if you ask me it’s something to bear in mind when considering the way that the bastardly duo of Coles and Woolworths are slowly taking over every facet of our lives, especially when it comes to the whole eating, drinking and entertainment side of things (which in case you haven’t noticed is kind of my thing). Don’t know what I’m talking about? Ok then, just try and leave the house and buy food, booze or a drink at a bar without shelling out some of your hard earned to either of the aforementioned companies. It is possible I know, but you often have to go out of your way to do so, and the worst thing is is that everyone seems to be fine with this. “That’s just the way it is” they say, “they’re both great companies that offer great products at competitive prices”. Bollocks! Everyone keeps telling me it’s raining, but I can’t help but notice the heavy stench of urine hanging in the air.
Looking at just the supermarkets themselves, I’d like you all to join me in a little compare and contrast exercise between our little Aussie duopoly and the system in the UK. Over there they have a hierarchy of shopping options that reflect one’s income and spending habits and allow one to exercise a relatively large amount of discretion when it comes time to do the weekly shop. Top of the chain is Marks and Spencer (aka Marks and Sparks) followed closely by Waitrose, both expensive options populated predominately by the upper middle classes and, in the case of old Marks and Sparks, those of a lower socioeconomic background looking to impress their friends at dinner parties by passing off the pre-made food you can buy there as their own. Next rung down is Sainsbury’s and a half step behind that is Tesco, both respectable middle class supermarkets for respectable middle class people. Even within this bracket there is some wiggle room, with customers having the option of choosing brand name products, store brand or the ever-so-slightly more posh Tesco’s or Sainsbury’s “finest” store brand. A bit further down the scale you find Morrison’s and “every little helps” Asda. You can generally tell when you’re in one of these two as there tends to be a much higher percentage of people wearing tracksuits and greater numbers of teenagers girls pushing prams down the aisles selling canned food and ready-meals. Probably the scummiest of the lot is Iceland, home of both the frozen prawn ring and the alcoholic single mother, which makes their choice of Kerry Katona as spokeswoman especially apt (that one was for my UK peeps and fellow former expats, sorry Aussie friends, you’ll just have to let that one fly right on over your sunburnt little noggins). Bringing up the rear are my two favourites, Aldi and Lidle, two non-brand name selling havens of teutonic efficiency and value for money, fantastic for both your standard grocery shop and the fabulous aisle of miscellaneous crap down the middle of the store (I once went in to my local Aldi to buy a can of chilli con carne and a loaf of bread and came out with outdoor pants and a winter jacket. Brilliant!).
Ok, now let’s compare that to the options I have when deciding upon a supermarket here. Ah, I can go to Coles, Woolworths or IGA and pay way too much for everything no matter which one I chose. Now do you see what I mean? There is no real choice or competition, and you don’t have to have a degree in economics to know that that means that consumers like you and me are going to get shafted, and shafted good. However, I do most of my shopping at the markets (at Coventry Square in Morely mostly, it’s awesome and I highly recommend checking it out, but anyhow, I digress) and could probably handle the corporate bumming if it were limited just to the mundane world of groceries, but oh no, Coles and Woolies have to go and fuck with the alcohol and pub scene now too, don’t they? In a diabolically fiendish move, perhaps knowing that their outrageous grocery prices would drive people to drink, both companies now also own most of the bottle shops and pubs in town, which has the double fisted impact of eliminating price competition and transforming previously great, unique bars into bland corporate examples of gentrified beigeness. I submit as evidence here the sad tale of the Hyde Park Hotel. Formerly a fantastic independent pub that was a staple of the local music scene with a awesomely seedy back bar, 20c pool tables, a toilet in which one could indulge in the odd “jazz cigarette” and a cheap bottle shop that was always open till midnight, the Hydey was bought by Woolworths and is now, like someone who gets married and whose spouse forces to quit their awesome punk rock band and get a “real job”, a shadow of its former self. The carpets are now clean, the bottle shop closes early and it’s all “nice”. Sad enough an example on its own I know, but this scene is being repeated a countless venues all across our fair city. Thankfully the small bar licenses have gone some way to rectifying the situation, but it still stinks if you ask me.
But, I hear you ask, what is the solution to all of this? It’s all very easy to sit back and criticise, to bitch and gripe about the state of the world, but much harder to get off your arse and change it. Well folks, I don’t have one, and short of making more people aware of it and encouraging them to boycott establishments owned by either company as often as you can, as I do, then there isn’t really much one humble blogger can hope to achieve. Besides, this is my blog, and if I want to piss and moan without offering any constructive ideas then I bloody well will. Also, it feels good to just get it off my chest really. So in short, moral of the story, folks, is that if someone with something to sell you keeps on telling you that it’s raining, take a good look at what’s running down your leg before you buy it.