Tuesday, October 30, 2012

What I buy at the supermarket & how I "Shop Ethical!"

I'm a strong proponent of voting with my wallet. This is a general post about how I do that at the supermarket. There are many product categories available at supermarkets, each deserving of its own post (or series of posts) that I'll cover in future. These include food, toiletries and cosmetics, cleaning products, pharmaceuticals, clothing and textiles, and more.

I feel the two big supermarket chains in Australia have a real duopoly. (Gosh! I just googled it and Maggie Beer agrees in this article published online 30 minutes ago.) The "big two" lure us in with loyalty programs, loss leaders and discount fuel offers. They're big pushers of tobacco, alcohol and gambling. I try to shop at independent supermarkets, farmers markets, greengrocers, butchers and other independent retailers. When I do shop at the "fresh food people" or "down, down, prices are down" I'm careful to choose brands and products that I want to encourage them to stock more - local, Australian owned, organic and fair trade products. These products are usually found on the bottom or top shelf or inexplicably (in the case of organic hot chocolate and instant coffee), the "health food" aisle.

Making choices at the supermarket can be overwhelming. Packaged products are covered with all sorts of misleading labels trying to convince us of their health or environmental benefits. Marshmallows are "99% fat free"! Likewise, many "natural" products are neither healthy for us nor the environment. Many iconic Australian brands, like Vegemite and Tim Tams, are no longer Australian-owned. You may be boycotting Nestlé but not realise that they own Connoisseur ice cream (I can attest to this; the logo is very subtle).

One tool to assist supermarket decision-making is the Shop Ethical! app or its hardware form, the Guide to Ethical Supermarket Shopping book. I used the book before I had a smartphone but I find the app more convenient. I also get less weird stares from fellow shoppers. The app allows you to search for products via brand name or category. For each product, it offers information such as ownership, number of Australian employees, any boycotts, scores on various ethical shopping profiles, environmental pros and cons, treatment of employees and other ethical considerations. For each product, there is also an overall recommendation and you can quickly scroll through these for each product category. You can "favourite" products for quick reference.

I do not blindly follow the recommendations in the guide (eg sometimes I buy Green & Black organic cocoa, even though it is owned by Cadbury) but in most cases I agree with the recommendations and it makes my supermarket shopping much easier. If you don't follow the overall recommendations of the guide, there is enough information (and hyperlinks) to assist you in making your own decision about individual products.

Further reading:

Ethical Consumer Guide - the not for profit organisation responsible for the Shop Ethical! app
Dick Smith's Magazine of Forbidden Ideas "Censored by the Murdoch Press!"
Ausbuy, Australian Owned and Australian Made
Fair Trade Association, Australia and New Zealand
Australian Made, Australian Grown
Choice magazine's survey on country of origin labelling

This blog post is purely based on my opinion. I do not have any financial stakes in any of the companies or brands recommended and I am not affiliated with them, other than being a consumer.

1 comment:

  1. Loving your blog and your stance on ethics and consumerism in general. Each read of a new post stimulates a bit more self-reflection, so I'm hoping that over time your goodness will rub off on me!

    On a side note... I do try very hard to support small producers, free trade and sustainable produce, but it's so difficult to resist those 'discount' signs in the big supermarkets when you're on a tight budget :(