Woolworths and Coles signage
Accusations of price gouging by supermarkets will be scrutinised by a senate inquiry. Image by Luis Ascui, Joel Carrett/AAP PHOTOS
  • politics

ACCC to ‘forensically’ probe supermarket prices

Andrew Brown January 26, 2024

The consumer watchdog has vowed it will “forensically” examine possible price gouging at the checkout as part of an inquiry into the supermarket industry.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese on Thursday announced the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission would carry out a 12-month inquiry into supermarket prices.

It follows accusations major supermarkets had been significantly increasing prices on fresh produce compared to what they were paying farmers and suppliers for products such as fruit, vegetables and meat.

ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh said the industry had rapidly changed since its last inquiry into the sector in 2008.

“The focus will be on the extent to which there’s competition between supermarkets and the margins that are gained on the way through the supply chains,” he told Sky News on Friday.

“This will give us the opportunity to quite forensically look at those pieces of information and get to the bottom of what is going on there.”

ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh.
 ACCC deputy chair Mick Keogh says the Coles-Woolworths duopoly will be a significant focus. Image by Sam McKeith/AAP PHOTOS 

Mr Keogh said the surge of online retailing in supermarkets and consolidation in supply chains will also come under the microscope as part of the inquiry.

He also said the duopoly of Coles and Woolworths will be a significant focus.

“There’s been significant growth of the two majors, and it still remains the fact that Australia has got one of the most concentrated supermarket sectors in the world,” he said.

“Coles, Woolies just became too strong, too big, too powerful and they’ve just basically pushed out anyone else who tried to get in their way.”

The meat section at a Woolworths Supermarket.
 The consumer watchdog probe into supermarkets is on top of a review of the grocery code of conduct. Image by Glenn Campbell/AAP PHOTOS 

The inquiry will come on top of additional funding provided by the government to the consumer group Choice to help provide information to shoppers on supermarket prices.

Mr Albanese said the funding would allow for consumers to have more knowledge on the cost of goods.

“Choice is a recognised consumer-based organisation that has respect throughout Australia. It’s trusted,” he told reporters in Canberra.

“This isn’t the government setting up something, this is just providing additional assistance to a respected organisation so that consumers can be better informed.”

The consumer watchdog probe comes as well as a review of the grocery code of conduct, being overseen by former Labor minister Craig Emerson, along with a Senate inquiry.

Mr Keogh said he was confident of the ACCC inquiry leading to results in the industry.

“We’re going to look and make sure we understand the nature of any problems that emerge,” he said.

“We did a similar inquiry into the dairy industry in 2018, and that resulted in very significant change in the way the industry operates … the agency has a good track record of recommendations that governments adopt and that do make a difference.”

Shadow treasurer Angus Taylor said it was critical to see a competitive supermarket sector.

“You got to make sure the customers are the regulators in the economy, you got to give them the power to make sure that they can get the best possible deal,” he said.

“My hope is that we can … get to real competition policy and make sure that we do have a competitive sector that’s good for farmers, good for consumers and good for Australia.”