Monday, April 16, 2012

How the locals like it?

I was surprised, as I’m sure many others were, to learn recently about the impending fate of seven of the eight IGA stores in Townsville, as well as others across the state.   

I must confess, I am not a regular IGA customer. I’m not really a regular anywhere customer.  I’ll shop where I happen to feel like shopping, not out of loyalty.  I’ve never even been a semi-regular IGA customer.  Maybe if they offered a better range of fresh foods, or a point of difference to the major supermarkets I would shop there more often.  At best, they seem to be competing, evidently unsuccessfully, with Coles and Woolies, rather than offering something unique.  

Actually, they do have a point of difference: something unique.  They are ‘local’.    Which begs the question: what does ‘local’ mean?

Neither Terry Walters nor Derek Cornett who own the IGAs in Townsville actually live here, or in many of the other towns they own stores in.  (One of Cornett’s Townsville stores has been open for over 12 months, but has only just been included on their website this week.)  As far as I understand, they are franchisees, and so pay an annual fee to the parent company, as well as buy their stock through them or their distributor.    They pay their employees (local) and sponsor events (local) and the rest of the money…. Leaves town?  

Metcash, the parent company of IGA, is based in Melbourne, and is listed on the Stock Exchange.  The IGA brand is all over Australia.   In fact, the IGA brand comes from America, though the name has been changed from Independent Grocers Association to Independent Grocers of Australia.    I occasionally shop at Cornett’s IGA locally, occasionally shopped at Cornett’s IGA when I lived in Gympie, and usually go in to a Cornett’s IGA when we visit my in-laws near Brisbane.   All this takes away from the impression that it is a local store, at least it does for me. 

I’m going to hazard a guess that the in-house brands - Black and Gold and IGA Signature - aren’t all labelled ‘Product of Australia’ or even ‘Made in Australia’.   I’m also suspicious that tomatoes and bananas grown within a couple of hundred kilometres travel a lot further than that, via a major distribution centre, before they reach the shelves.  (This is a beef I have with supermarkets in general.)   

Now, suddenly, I’m not so convinced the IGA is ‘how the locals like it’.  Ultimately, is there a difference between IGA, Woolworths and Coles?  I don’t like the dominance that Coles and Woolworths hold over the grocery market, but that is an issue for another day.  

If started a campaign ‘Buy Local: eat at McDonalds’ most would think I was mad.   But most of the McDonalds franchises in Townsville are owned by George Colbran, who lives in Townsville and has been an active member of the Townsville community for many years.  McDonalds supports and sponsors numerous local events, big and small.    It seems that McDonalds is more ‘local’ than IGA.  

(Just as a side note, in a different article I read in the print paper that I couldn’t find online, a local (?) economist was quoted as saying the problem was that people wanted to be “$1 milk from China”.  This amused me no end, as IGA also sell $1 a litre milk, and I’m not aware of any milk in any supermarkets coming from China.) 

What do you think?  Am I missing something really important here?  Feel free to set me straight in the comments.