17 March 2014

Local shopping

When I was growing up, my mother, like most other women, did her grocery shopping at what was often called the corner shop. This was a little shop that sold goods such as flour, sugar, tea, biscuits as well as butter and cheese. She also shopped at the butcher shop, green grocer, and delicatessen, then known as the ham and beef shop. They were all close together along the main road near our home. My first memory of a local "supermarket" was a converted grocery shop that had long narrow aisles where people served themselves and put goods into a basket, and then went to a checkout. The car-friendly, enclosed, all-in-one supermarket/mall came in the mid-1950s but we didn't go to the one a dozen miles from our home because we, like most other Australians then, didn't have a car. But we still thought it was all very exciting.

When supermarkets started opening, it was generally understood they made grocery shopping cheaper. These shops could order stock in much larger quantities, so they sold it on cheaper than the old corner shop could. The idea that supermarkets are cheaper is still with us but I have found that often they aren't. Now they win their market share because of convenience.

There was a time when you could go to your grocer and ask for something in particular and they'd get it in for you, and stock it after that if it was popular. You used to be able to do that to a certain extent in the big supermarkets too, but now it seems we don't tell them what we want to buy, they tell us. Now they trade for the benefit of shareholders; customers come second or maybe third, after the employees. They have more product lines now than you can poke a stick at, far too many in my opinion. Like many other things, you pay for the convenience and if you have the butcher, green grocer, baker and groceries all in the one place, you'll pay extra for it. Step away from that convenience and you'll reap the rewards.

I decided to look at the Woolworths online shop just to get a general idea of what they're selling now. I was shocked.  They have 32 pages of baby products, 43 pages of beauty products, 100 pages of beer, wine and spirits (I didn't know you could buy alcohol at the supermarket), 47 pages of biscuits and snacks, 87 pages of canned or packet foods, 23 pages of condiments, 97 pages of drinks, 87 pages of confectionary. There is a lot more but it's too depressing to go on.

These rolled oats are the best quality for the lowest price we can find in our area.

In the beauty aisle they had a bath cleansing puff, exfoliating towel, loofah pad, toothbrush bath (I don't even know what that is), the ready to wear cosmetic lashes, face wipes, cosmetics and sunscreen. In biscuits and snacks they have the obvious, including breakfast fruit and fibre (whatever that is), popcorn, nuts, "health" bars and crackers. Breakfast foods is particularly depressing. We buy the homebrand traditional rolled oats for 17 cents/100grams, even though we could buy the Uncle Toby's Gourmet Selection Sachet for $1.81/100grams - over priced because you pay for all that extra packaging and the advertising. There are also a lot of different flavoured "liquid breakfasts". What happened to a cup of Milo or a banana smoothie?

In canned and packaged food, there are almost 100 different varieties of tuna (why?), there is canned chicken! canned beef! canned frankfurts! canned soup! something called finishing sauces (whatever that is) long life custard, jelly, cones, waffles, pavlova mix and creamed rice in a tin (oh no!) and get this - one cup of wild hibiscus flowers in syrup for $10.39 - they are rosellas! One cup of rosellas and sugar for $10.39. If anyone here buys them I will personally track you down and show you that if you made this at home it would cost you less than a dollar. Be warned.

Some of the ingredients I use to make soap, laundry liquid and cleaners - borax, washing soda, bees wax and soap flakes.

All these convenience foods cost much more than what you make at home from scratch. Your home made goodies taste better too, there are no preservatives in them and you know exactly what's in the foods you eat. I can clearly see how dependent we are on supermarkets because I wasn't brought up with them, I have seen a different way of shopping. We can all choose to do our shopping in a way that doesn't make us dependent on brands and shopping centres. If you can find a good green grocer or fresh food market, a local butcher, a bulk food store for all your dry goods like flour, sugar, rice etc, if you make your own cleaning products, bread and snacks, then you won't have this reliance on supermarkets. You'll have more money in your purse/wallet too. Women do about 85 percent of the shopping for families. If we all thought more about the power of those shopping dollars I think we'd have a better system.

I have no doubt that like us, you'll still do some shopping in your local supermarket. It's crazy not to stock up on items at a good price when you see them,. There are also things that only a supermarket will stock - like Lux Flakes, butter, Vegemite and the like. But doing all your shopping in a supermarket will cost you more. There is usually a balance in these things which you'll only find if you look carefully at what you're doing and then do some research in your neighbourhood.

If you've already started moving in the direction of local shopping, I applaud you and encourage you to continue. You're not only doing something fine for yourself, you're helping your local business community and you're cutting down on your carbon foot print. If you're still at square one, I hope you'll think about this and deconstruct your shopping. Work out what you buy, list them in categories such as dried goods, cleaners, dairy, meat, fruit and veg etc., then look around your local community and see what the shopping alternatives are. There might not be any, but if there are, I hope you'll try them out and see the difference it makes. And don't feel guilty if you still shop for some of your products at your local supermarket, or even all of them. The main thing is to be mindful of your shopping and change it for the better if you can.

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