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.  


  1. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's wondered this! I am a bit disappointed that they are likely to disappear though. I shopped at the Cornett's IGA at Riverside sometimes - they have some really good specials sometime.

  2. Also, I chuckled at the same quote you did. Since when do we import milk from China? :P

  3. I have to admit, I've never shopped at IGA with any great frequency. When we lived in Perth often the only option to get groceries on a Sunday was to shop at IGA (due to regulated shopping hours), however often you paid 2 - 3 times the price just for the 'convenience' of longer trading hours. (Another reason we were happy to move to Qld).

    As far as I am concerned, IGA is just another big competitor. Whilst not the size of Coles or Woolies, they are not any more local than anyone else.

    Although we deliberately do not buy $1 milk. I remember watching a doco (I think it was Food Inc.) where a farmer basically said that to get $1 milk you have to expect cows to be standing in S*#t in order to keep the costs down.

  4. We have a 'local' IGA - which I think i've gone to twice. I think the reason is it is directly opposite our local grocer Abu Salim. The thing we notice about the produce at Abu Salim's is that the apples or cucumbers for example, are not all uniformly shaped and we've come to expect from IGA, Coles or Woolies. In fact they are often down right ugly and mishapen! When I was a newbie, it was off putting - because I was sooo used to seeing everything 'pretty'!! But boy oh boy do they taste good compared to the pretty ones from other places. AND IT'S CHEAP! Just yesterday we got a bag of mixed salad leaves for $12/kg. At Coles it's almost $20/kg. Why? coz I know for a fact the cucumbers are coming from a farm an hour away owned by the cousin of our next door neighbour. And I'm assuming a lot of the other stuff is too. It's interesting. They also are renowned for being generous. If you buy something that's $15.76 they ask for just $15. Or if they think the roasted nuts aren't as fresh anymore, they refuse to sell them to you. This happened to us the other day, and it was really nice. They could have sold them to us, and we would have been none the wiser until we got home and tried them. But there's a level of integrity that's sadly lacking in other 'local' fresh food places...

  5. I thought this was an interesting article from Not Quite Nigella

    It frustrates me that there aren't many options to really 'buy local' here, we don't have any sort of regular farmers market, it's very hit and miss at the different markets around town, the best pineapple producer in the region (in Australia, I'd dare say) has been forced to stop producing pines and turn to other crops because the golden circle cannery (who bought most of his product) has sent their work offshore to china. This means that it isn't viable for him to even offer pines locally so we all miss out on his awesome crop.

    I have looked into f&v co-ops but they don't seem to suit us at the moment, maybe as the kids get older and are less fussy about exactly which veggies and fruit they will eat we'll give it a go.

    Our 'local' IGA though very derro in customer base (and staff, really) has great fresh fruit and veg, often with about half of it being over priced and the other half being well below what Coles and Woolies are charging.

  6. This is part of why I am looking forward to the new Willows upgrade, it is supposed to include a farmers' market in it!!