Earlier this week, South Australian senator Nick Xenophon raised concerns that the Government’s FuelWatch scheme would lead to higher petrol prices and that small independent petrol retailers were likely to be disadvantaged by the scheme. So it looks likely that the FuelWatch legislation will fail to pass the senate and then fade into oblivion. I can’t say I’m too upset about this as I have been critical of the scheme. Furthermore, falling oil prices have led to a fall of around 20 cents/litre in petrol prices which takes much of the sting out of the issue.
So now I am free to turn my attention to another Australian Government initiative, GroceryCHOICE**. This scheme aims to “[help] consumers find the cheapest supermarket chain in their area without having to compare hundreds of prices”. Every month a survey is conducted of prices on around 500 different grocery items at over 600 supermarkets around the region. These prices are aggregated into “baskets” of goods in the following categories:
- Meat & Seafood
- Fruit & Vegetables
- Breads & Cereals
- Drinks & Other Snacks
- General Groceries
- Household & Personal Care
There is also a “Basic Staples” basket, which includes some items from each of the more specific baskets. Prices of these baskets are averaged across 61 regions around the country and reported on the site for each of the major retail chains.
Italy has introduced a similar scheme, which allows consumers to receive text messages giving them prices around the country for specific items. Unfortunately, the Australian scheme only provides prices for baskets not individual products (supposedly “to prevent the manipulation of the price survey”, but this doesn’t seem to worry the Italian Government), so for an Inner West shopper like myself, if I am interested in tomatoes, this is what I can learn from GroceryCHOICE:
|Retailer||Fruit & Vegetable Basket|
So, while I can save 42 cents by shopping at Woolworths rather than Coles, that’s only if I buy an unspecified selection of fruit and vegetables (possibly including Brussel Sprouts, which I would be prepared to pay not to eat). So, GroceryCHOICE would not seem to be very useful for me. Not only that, while the Italian service explicitly compares prices around the country, the GroceryCHOICE site makes it rather tricky to make regional comparisons.
I took this as a challenge, so I wrote a little script* to extract all the data from the chart and published the results on Swivel. There are separate datasets for the product category baskets and the Basic Staples basket. The data can be easily downloaded, so feel free to explore further!
The results are not too surprising: ALDI is consistently cheaper than all of the other retailers and the independents are the most expensive, as is evident in the chart below.
However, first glances can be misleading. For each retailer, these averages are taken across those regions for which prices are available. Since Franklins price data is missing in many of the most expensive regions (such as the Northern Territory), this is an unfair comparison. For example, restricting prices to just the regions where Franklins prices are available brings the Woolworths average price down from $77.57 to $76.26, making it cheaper than Franklins.
Looking at the product category baskets gives us a bit more detail (although ALDI prices are not available for these baskets). The following charts provide a graphical comparison of Woolworths basket prices compared to all of the other retail groups. Blue points represent baskets that are cheaper at Woolworths and red represents baskets that are more expensive at Woolworths.
Grocery Prices: Woolworths versus The Rest
Overall, this comparison makes Woolworths look quite good, but if you are wondering about that outlier where Coles is much cheaper than Woolworths, it is the Fruit and Vegetable basket in North NT. It costs $29.03 at Coles but it will set you back $32.54 at Woolworths, which is an impressive $3.62 mark-up.
To get a sense of the range of prices around Australia, this chart gives the full picture for the Basic Staples basket. It is sorted by the price at Woolworths and I could not help noticing that the cheapest area to shop at Woolworths is Outer Sydney North West. Isn’t that right near head office?
* The script used to scrape the data is available here (choice.pl). Coding tips are welcome!
** UPDATE: since writing this post, the GroceryChoice scheme has been discontinued and the web-site no longer exists.