Australian Grocery Prices on the Rise?

by Stubborn Mule on 1 September 2008 · 7 comments

Last month, the Australian Government launched the GroceryChoice initiative, with the goal of helping consumers find the cheapest place to shop for their groceries. As I wrote at the time, the GroceryChoice website allows users to compare prices in a given area, but comparisons across areas are not made easy. Undeterred, I simply scraped all the data from the web-site for easier analysis. Today GroceryChoice released prices for the month of September, making it possible to start analysing prices over time as well as by region and retailer.

The website provides prices for a number of specific grocery “baskets” (Fruit & Vegetables, Meat & Seafood, etc.) as well as for a more general “Basic Staples” basket. A crude average of prices of this Basic Staples basket around the country would suggest that prices are on the rise, having increased from $75.41 for August to $75.97 for September. However, this figure should be taken with caution. Quite apart from the fact that this analysis does not take into account the differing population sizes in each region, there is also significant variation across the different retailers, as is evident in the chart below.


“Basic Staples” Prices by Retailer (A$)

While Franklins prices increased by 4%, Coles and ALDI prices actually fell. So this is not a simple inflationary story. Digging a little further into the details, some interesting phenomena begin to appear. In the inner West of Sydney, where I live, Franklins prices also rose sharply, increasing by almost 3%. But what is more interesting is that there have been some enormous increases in the price of some of the specific grocery baskets. Coles put their price up for the Meat & Seafood basket by 6% and Woolworths put their Dairy basket up by 7%. Compounded monthly, rises like this would amount to more than 100% per annum! What is particularly noteworthy is that in both cases the basket in question had previously been the cheapest in the category. The price rise simply moved each basket closer in line with other retailers. Could it be that I am not the only one analysing this data?

The table below shows the biggest price increases and decreases by retailer and region for the Basic Staples basket. While Eastern Central NSW experienced the biggest price hike at their local Franklins, they also saw the biggest price drop at ALDI. Is Franklins throwing in the towel in Eastern Central NSW, surrendering to ALDI?

Region Retailer Aug-08 Sep-08 Change
Eastern Central NSW ALDI 63.55 59.59 -3.96
Outer Melbourne South East Coles 80.20 76.43 -3.77
Outer Sydney South West Coles 79.19 75.43 -3.76
Outer Melbourne East Coles 79.50 76.01 -3.49
Inner Sydney East ALDI 61.66 58.39 -3.27
Gold Coast Independents 82.27 87.22 4.95
Western NSW Franklins 75.71 80.84 5.13
Outer Sydney South Independents 80.04 85.61 5.57
South Eastern NSW Franklins 75.48 81.15 5.67
Eastern Central NSW Franklins 76.37 82.36 5.99

Biggest Movers: Top 5 Increases and Decreases

Overall, the region with the biggest price rise was North Western WA, where Basic Staples rose 3.3%, while Inner Melbourne South East saw the biggest savings with prices falling there by 1.9%.

Once again, I am making this data available over on the data-sharing site Swivel. There is a data set for the new September prices, a set for the August prices and a combined data set.

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{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Steve Reynolds September 1, 2008 at 11:19 pm

FYI, tonight’s “Four Corners” program on the ABC looked at the market power of Coles and Woolworths: together they account for 70% of dry groceries and 50% of fresh food. Interestingly, this dominance seems to pose a bigger threat to food producers than it does to consumers.
http://www.abc.net.au/4corners/content/2008/s2348906.htm

2 stubbornmule September 1, 2008 at 11:26 pm

@Steve: unfortunately I missed the 4corners show, but as it’s now online, so I’ll watch it tomorrow.

3 tfforums September 5, 2008 at 4:39 pm

URL hack for GC website

Add &version=0 or 1 for versions of the data – presumably this is incremented every release.

4 stubbornmule September 5, 2008 at 4:43 pm

@ttforums: Excellent hack, thanks! It’s just a shame that version=1 doesn’t give us November data…

5 tfforums October 6, 2008 at 10:18 am

No October release analysis on this?

6 stubbornmule February 15, 2009 at 12:44 pm

Well, it seems I have been caught out by my complacency. The GroceryChoice website has been taken over by the consumer group Choice and, in the process, has been revamped. Unfortunately in the process the &version hack no longer works. I have not been very consistent in keeping the data, assuming I could rely on the hack, so it looks as though I have missed out on December and January data. I will, however, have a look at the latest data and may post on the topic.

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