Food brands fall short in Australia

25 January 2013

SYDNEY: Food brands in Australia are confusing shoppers with varying claims regarding whether their products are entirely "made" in the country, a study has found.

CHOICE, the consumer advocacy group, polled 700 adults, of which 62% "tried" to buy Australian food but were sometimes swayed by price and other factors, while around 33% "always" opted for local products.

A further 88% of interviewees agreed being able to simply ascertain if such offerings are grown domestically was "crucial" or "very important", and 80% said the same for their manufacture.

However, only 12% of the panel correctly identified what it means for products to be "Made in Australia", especially as this definition doesn't always cover ingredients.

Just 3% of the sample understood the meaning of the term "Made in Australia from local and imported ingredients", rising to 8% for "Australian grown" and 25% for "Product of Australia".

The main reasons for buying Australian brands included the country's reputation in a given category, better overall quality, the environmental benefits and confidence in manufacturers' ethical production techniques.

Overseas alternatives tended to come out on top when they were available at a lower price, or the nation they were made in had widely recognised credentials in the sector concerned.

"When choosing food, consumers tell us that knowing where it comes from is an important issue – second only to information on the ingredients it contains," Angela McDougall, CHOICE's food policy adviser, said.

Country-of-origin information was most important for fresh meat on 73%, with seafood on 68% and fruit and vegetables on 67%. This figure also hit 57% for dairy products and 50% for processed meat.

Juice brands posted 42% on this metric, with bread, cereal, rice and pasta logging 31%, canned and frozen food on 27%, snacks recording 17%, soft drinks yielding 15% and confectionery on 13%.

In supplementing this research, CHOICE assessed 360 products sold in Coles and Woolworths, two of Australia's main grocery retailers, comparing own-label and "market leading" brands.

Some 42% of offerings in the latter category used "qualified or confusing" statements about whether they were packaged locally, rising to 63% for Coles private label and 71% for Woolworths' store brands.

Data sourced from CHOICE; additional content by Warc staff