No use crying … ?

Well, I was made to eat humble pie (flavour of the week) yesterday when I read the outcome of the ACCC report into the ‘milk wars’ between supermarkets earlier this year. Regular readers may remember I got a bit annoyed at Coles when the $1 per litre was announced.

The Age reports that, according to the ACCC, there’s no evidence that Coles has acted in breach of competition rules or engaged in predatory pricing. Also, importantly:

“As to the relationship between dairy farmers and milk processors, it is the case that some processors pay some farmers a lower farm gate price for milk sold as supermarket house brand milk.

“However on the evidence we’ve gathered over the last six months it seems most milk processors pay the same farm gate price to dairy farmers irrespective of whether it is intended to be sold as branded or house brand milk,” Mr Samuel said.

I’ll be watching to see dairy farmers’ response to the report, but it all still seems a bit hard to swallow.

[From in pastel’s photostream]

Fun with sugar

Well if that isn’t a blog post title reeking of Donna Hay, nothing is. Consider this my nod to food porn, flaccid though it may be.

On Tuesday afternoon the planets aligned for me and Brownie to finally put together the gingerbread house given to him at Christmas.  This is what we were aiming for:

Exhibit A:

As the resident engineer-in-training, he was in charge of ensuring that all the structural elements were intact and ready in order of assembly when the ‘glue’ – ie, melted sugar – was ready:

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Exhibit B:

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.All I had to do was melt the sugar. I’d forgotten how hot liquid sugar is, especially when you dip your finger in the spoon to have a quick lick (luckily it didn’t get to my mouth):

Exhibit C:

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It’s actually quite difficult to apply melted sugar as a wall binder when it’s just at the toffee stage. Especially when the engineer is now frightened of the sugar and doesn’t want to hold the walls together, let alone organise the roof to have eaves, having seen his mother yelling and stomping with a burnt finger, and applying said sugar haphazardly with one hand. But we got there, kind of.  And fortunately my, “this looks about right” icing recipe worked well, and the engineer and I had a great system going when it came to applying the M&Ms on the roof, sort of:

Exhibit D:

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Note the architecturally interesting roof line. Note the absence of chimneys, visible in Exhibits A and B (they succumbed to ‘taste testing’ prior to building). Note the carefully angled photo. That’s because the other side ended up like this:

Exhibit E:

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Not quite a cake wreck, but something to be proud of nonetheless, don’t you think?

The (milk) glass is still half empty

“We don’t want to do it because we’re the good guys in this, and we want farmers to like us, but we have to because – sorry, folks – that’s competition.”

From ABC news online:

Woolworths says its ongoing milk price war with rival supermarket Coles is unsustainable and will inevitably hurt Australian dairy farmers.

Executives from Woolworths and Coles have held talks with the National Farmers Federation about the potential impact of the price reductions on dairy farmers.

Coles recently slashed its milk prices to just $1 per litre and Woolworths community relations manager Simon Berger says the supermarket has been forced to cut its prices to compete.

“That’s the nature of a competitive industry,” he said.

“But we are very forthright in saying that this is not a price war we would have started … and it’s a price war we do have some concerns about.

“We do prefer to work with farmers, rather than against them.”

Mr Berger says a good relationship with farmers is essential to delivering quality produce, and says Woolworths is siding with farmers on the issue.

“We told them that we share some of their concerns about this particular price war,” he said.

“Coming after the floods, which have devastated the dairy industry after a decade of drought, also gives them very real concerns about the future viability of the dairy industry.”

It’s all a bit hard to swallow, isn’t it.

Update: milk price flow-on effects

I am feeling flush full of people power today, as if I have been personally responsible for developments in the milk price war in Western Australia.

Last week I posted the contents of my email to Coles Customer Service which outlined my discomfort with the price war.  I was pleased to receive the following reply, which not only answered some questions but provided extra background:

Good Afternoon

Thank you for your email regarding the recent price reduction of our Coles brand Milk.

Coles have an ongoing commitment to provide our customers with a great range of quality food that costs less. The recent price reduction of our Coles brand 2 and 3 litre milk is just one of the many ways that we are delivering on this commitment.

We hear and understand concerns that price reductions may adversely affect Australian farmers, however, we believe that there is no foundation to these concerns. Coles buys its milk from major dairy processing companies, not directly from dairy farmers. Coles have made the decision to absorb the costs of this price reduction and has not sought any reduced prices from the processors we buy from. In turn, our processors should not need to seek price reductions from the dairy farmers.

Additionally, the farm gate price of milk is set by dairy farmer cooperatives and dairy processors, not retailers.  The farm gate price is largely influenced by the international price of milk products.   Australia exports about half of its annual milk production and is one of the biggest dairy exporters in the world.  To put this in perspective, Coles milk sales represent less than 5% of Australia’s annual dairy production.

Coles is committed to maintaining lower milk prices for our customers, however, if there are genuine cost pressures coming through the milk supply chain, Coles has and will, continue to review them with our dairy suppliers.

Once again, thank you for taking the time to contact us. We do hope the above information has helped alleviate your concerns.

Yours sincerely

Lucinda Moses
Coles Customer Care

It’s fair to say that this reply did, in fact, alleviate some of my concerns, and I thanked Lucinda in a return email.

Imagine my surprise this morning then when I heard on ABC news Coles to pay farmers affected by ‘milk wars’. In the story, Coles says it will pay a five cents a litre price increase to the WA milk processor Brownes Dairy to ensure farmers are not affected by recent cuts to its retail milk prices:

Coles spokesman Jim Cooper says the higher price will be fairer to Western Australian dairy farmers.

“The processors there didn’t get a substantial price rise in the last round of contact negotiations,” he said.

“We felt given some of the competition that’s been happening, that extra payment was only appropriate and bring them more into line with other states.”

“We believe that this price rise should be passed through to them and should further alleviate any concerns they might have,” he said.

The Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative chairman Ian Zandstra says Coles appears to be acknowledging the error of its ways.

“We hope this is the first step in them admitting they’ve got it wrong,” he said.

“Clearly they want to get some farmers support after the somewhat arrogant statements that surrounded their announcement of their retailer behaviour.

“Equally it’s telling us that they acknowledge they they do influence regional milk prices and the prices paid by processors for the supplies on the domestic shelf.”

It’s times like these that I feel for the Customer Service and Communications Managers whose job it is to turn last week’s message on its head and rewrite the new strategy into something that consumers will buy – literally and figuratively. And yes, that’s their job, but I’m probably more sympathetic than most because I’ve had to do it myself.

But the end result? Cheaper milk for consumers, more income for primary producers, and a clawing back of reputational damage for Coles’ owner, the still-newish-retail-kid-on-the-block: Wesfarmers.

Now I’m off to have a celebratory, extra milky, latte.

[Thank you Little Thoughts for the image.]

My Top 10 lists

You either love ’em or you hate ’em, but Top 10 lists are popular these days, so here are my top 1o lists:

  1. The shopping list – an eternal favourite, never quite complete, which you never quite know until you get home without the milk/lentils/Vegemite/castor sugar. However, disappointment and frustration can somewhat be mitigated by using just gorgeous shopping list stationery. Two of my favourites – Remo’s fridge magnet and pad with helpful memory prompter (right), and, from the 1980s, Sandra Boynton’s clever little ‘Chopin Liszt’ (couldn’t find an image anywhere!)
  2. The Christmas present list – begun in earnest about September, edited and reviewed about November 30, and then scribbled and rewritten frantically on 23 December, just to make sure. Try not to add a $ column; I used to, but have now abandoned it as I just get depressesd.
  3. The Christmas card list – this one’s just come back into vogue as a reaction to the separation of church and state good ol’ fashioned card writing from the online social media circus that allows us to say “Merry Christmas”- and in only 15 characters too, enough left over to tweet a link to my blog with the remaining 125 and upload a pic of the Christmas tree on Facebook and did you see The Digital Story of the Nativity on YouTube it was really cool and Tumblr’s the one to watch — where was I?? Oh yes, getting out my pen and writing cards to the special people on this list who may only hear from me once a year, but it’s Christmas,  goddammit, and we’re all full of love and my thoughts are with them; that is, if I have their address, and extra time after the present shopping. So don’t take it personally if you haven’t received a card, it’s early days in a Back to the Future kinda way.
  4. The dreaded ‘To Do’ list – oh, my notebooks are full of them. It’s a subset of its own: there’s the renovation to-do list, the cleaning to-do list, and the work to-do lists (blog post lists, chargeable hours lists, tax document lists); even the gardening to-do list, which seems a bit silly as you’re not going to have your notebook outside to check items off the list with mulch-encrusted gloves.  But this is a real one from a clean-up a few years ago – and notice the diagonal line, a healthy sign of list completion!
  5. The New Year’s resolutions list – the last one seen was as recently as 2009.  Most of it is still waiting to be achieved. Achieving my new year’s resolutions is going to be one of my new year’s resolutions … next year.
  6. The calendar list – this is a fairly new arrival on the scene, for all those busy parents who now not only have the option of individual columns for each family member, but can also make lists within the columns with nifty little stickers that say things like, “Piano,” “Dentist” and “Play date”. They never seem to have stickers for “Euphonium,” “Gynaecologist” or “Big night out” so you can see who they’re pitching at. I received one of these as a present this year (although I confess I’ve been buying them for the past couple of years) and, by coincidence, it’s a Boyton calendar. With stickers. And a fifth column, which I like to call ‘Other’.
  7. The holiday list – now divided into four columns to ensure all parties of the household are accounted for, although the kids pretty much need the same things which wastes a column, unless you use that now-vacant column to put in all the things that are for the whole family – like iPods and toilet paper.
  8. The ‘just in case’ list. This is not a favourite of mine.  This is the list you make when you have to remember details just in case they a) are needed for future medical purposes, b) are needed for future insurance purposes or c) are needed for future legal purposes, possibly as a result of the outcomes of a) or b).  I have one of these too, from a particularly nasty time in 2009 that involved four hospitals, three ambulances, an RFDS flight and a great potential for the unintentional spread of misinformation. So I recorded everything according to who was affected and treated over a 30-day period. Don’t call me OCD – but at the time I would have answered to “that anxious, stressed-out and exhausted mum over there”.
  9. The wish list! This is a real thing in our house now, thanks to my friend Julie. How many times throughout the year do you see or hear about something and think “I’d love that for Christmas”, or your child/spouse/ significant employer says “I’ve always wanted one of those”.  Well, when you/they do, nip over to the printout you’ve stuck on the fridge/filing cabinet with the handy table courtesy of MS Word and write it on the wish list! Then, come little or big Johnny’s birthday six months later, or at Christmas, you nip back to the list and see that he wanted a Star Wars: the Force Unleashed DS game, or Bluetooth, or hopefully something under $200. Problem solved!
  10. Rounding out the top 10 list is this top 10 list because, frankly, I didn’t think I’d be able to find 10 lists I use and can demonstrate. But I have. And that’s a bit revealing.  Hmm, there’s an idea for a list: top 10 things I’ve revealed about myself on this blog …

[And I’ve just thought of two more: the Santa List for True Believers, coming soon on Brownie Talk; and the, ahem, To All The Men I’ve Loved Before list, Julio Iglesias style.  I’m not the only one, right?]

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