HomeFoodCan anything change the supermarket duopoly?

Can anything change the supermarket duopoly?

What’s the possible outcome of the two current investigations into the Coles and Woolworths market duopoly?

Just about everyone agrees it’s a bad thing, with the possible exception of the people employed at these companies. But what can we actually do?

The two companies are being investigated  by a senate committee and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and are generating a lot of headlines and a lot of subsequent outrage. But will they generate any action?

The government has very little power to break up monopolies in Australia and very little appetite to spend the time and political capital in establishing the legislation to do so.  

Would more supervision be the answer?

Once again, the government is reluctant to oversee private enterprise unless it’s outright fraudulent and would have no interest in interfering in the day-to-day running of a company.

The ACCC can fine companies, but unless the figure is in the multi, multimillions, that’s going to slide right off Coles and Woolworths.

Parliament claims senate committees can ‘throw light on dark corners’, which sounds great, but unless there is legislation to back it up, it’s really just a bunch of politicians turning it on for the media.

All that the duopoly is being accused of is very hard to prove. Their profits are in acceptable limits for companies of that size, so price gouging is going to be a difficult subject.

They are probably squeezing their suppliers, which attracts some hefty fines under ACCC rules, but few suppliers, if any, are going to dob in their major buyer. Sometimes their only buyer.

The ABC revealed how one supplier was asked to ‘donate’ a one-off payment of $25,000 before Coles would agree to a price rise.

Of course, the supplier refused to be named and I don’t blame them.

I have personally known a few supermarket buyers who worked for the big two. The stories they told of the corruption these buyers indulged in were eye opening. Holidays to Hawaii, jewellery for the missus; it was all considered perks of the job and not a problem, ‘because everybody did it’.

Maybe, but customers are the ones paying for it.

The only way to break up the duopoly is for people to shop elsewhere. I’m probably a good example of why that is hard. My closest IGA is two suburbs away. I shop at the local greengrocers and butchers when I can, but they are often closed by the time I finish work. I try to shop at farmers’ markets but the prices are often ridiculous. Chicken breasts for $25/kg? So much for savings by cutting out the middleman.

This week’s best specials


Sensible: Easter range, 25 per cent off. Never pay full price on Easter eggs. Supermarkets are gearing up in earnest for Easter and beginning to discount. The 25 per cent off range for Easter includes Coles’ own brands, Cadbury, Kinder Surprise and Darrell Lea.

Indulgence: Golden Crumpets, half price $2.20. Is it too warm for crumpets, probably, but this special can get you in training for winter. Remember, you haven’t used enough butter unless it is dripping out the bottom.

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: Moroccan food week. Slightly disappointed here. It’s light on delicious Moroccan food and heavy on nuts. Three different types of cashews alone. Nuts are good but I was hoping for delicious spice mixes. Try harder, Aldi.

Indulgence: Emporium Selection Double Cream Brie, $4.99. I am constantly surprised at the quality of Aldi specialty cheese. I’ll eat this double brie and worry about my early death due to hardened arteries later.  

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: Red seedless grapes, $4/kg. It’s prime grape season now and the stuff in stores is glorious. Do your health a favour and snap some up.

Indulgence: Rana Filled Pasta varieties, $6, save $2/kg. This is my ‘I love you, but I hate the idea of cooking for you tonight’ meal. By far the best filled pasta brand on the market. We like ours with a little Napoli sauce on top.

See the catalogue here.


Sensible: Twinings tea varieties, 80-100 pack, better than half price, $6.75. Twinings tea is another on my list of ‘never by full price’ as it’s on special so often. It’s also my favourite supermarket tea brand. Stock up for winter with this special.

Indulgence: Streets Viennetta, $6.60, save $2.20. Not quite sure why this ’80s fave has made a comeback. Is anyone buying it? Gotta admire it’s resilience if nothing else

See the catalogue here.

Do you think there is any chance the two supermarket inquiries will achieve anything? Why not share your opinion in the comments section below?

Also read: Why supermarket prices don’t come down with interest rates

Jan Fisher
Jan Fisherhttp://www.yourlifechoices.com.au/author/JanFisher
Accomplished journalist, feature writer and sub-editor with impressive knowledge of the retirement landscape, including retirement income, issues that affect Australians planning and living in retirement, and answering YLC members' Age Pension and Centrelink questions. She has also developed a passion for travel and lifestyle writing and is fast becoming a supermarket savings 'guru'.


  1. Let me predict: NOTHING will come out of the Senate Inquiry nor the ACCC investigations.
    Why? Because we live in a Free – Market economy where prices cannot be controlled by law.Then,why do they go to the trouble of a Senate inquiry? It’s because the Government knows that we are all simpletons, and they want us to feel that they are doing their utmost to help us!

  2. This is all just a big political beat up and nothing can or will come out of it. The ACCC is toothless and private enterprise cannot be government controlled in Australia unless they are doing something illegal!
    As much as many of us would like to support local butchers and green grocers, they are mostly considerably more expensive than the duopoly and quite un-unaffordable for for mortgage stressed families and those on fixed incomes such as pensioners.

  3. Any supermarket inquiry will simply be like the ACCC looking into petrol prices. A joke. I have kept 12 months of Supermarket catalogues, and I laugh at some of these ads saying ‘down, down, down’ and ‘same price as 12 months ago’. What also needs to be looked at is the sneaky reduction in size, but same price. Another sneaky trick is an item saying ‘10% extra for same price’. But then a few weeks later the price jumps way out of proportion.

    • Yes, SuzyQ, the reduction in the quantity of goods but the price remains the same is my big beef too.
      Another is the box/outer package is changed and the price of the goods inside goes up.
      Now that I shop weekly and am a retired accountant, who loves figures, all these tricks stand out to me.
      Really, it is just marketing.

  4. I agree with “clancambo” with regards to ACCC as a toothless tiger.
    1986 the independent grocers tried to join together to become the third arm of grocery shopping. The group had to have approval from the ACCC.
    Answer from ACCC “NO”. Coles and Woolies had a approx total of 49% or thereabouts together. This would mean the Independent grocers would have 51%. “can’t have that can we”.

    Who was in charge of ACCC ? I believe it was Alan Fels? who is now making so called headlines of the volume of Coles and Woolies control of the supermarkets.
    ACCC had their chance and screwed it up. Do you think they will change. Big money for doing nothing

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