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.

Retailers milking the profits

I sent a letter to Coles today. I’ve never done it before, but something is making me very angry about milk.  I had to use a sterile online feedback form, as I don’t happen to have Archie Norman’s direct email (though I tried looking for something remotely corporately close), and this is what I wrote:

My feedback is directed to Mr Archie Norman, or, if this is not possible through this channel, to the Manager of the Rockingham store who could forward on my feedback.

I am very concerned about the milk price war, and I am not happy that Coles jeopardises the livelihoods of primary producers for a short-term advantage – especially in the lower socio-economic areas like Rockingham where lower prices are more of a ‘sure thing’.

This is not the likes of mega-manufacturers such as Uncle Toby’s or Goodman Fielder who are being affected, but family suppliers.

The issue has already gained widespread media coverage, and my gauging of public opinion is that most people are siding with the dairy farmers.

When the dairy farmers go bust – what then happens to the price of milk?? It will be more expensive than it already was due to the lack of supply.

As a former proud Wesfarmers employee, and current shareholder, I have to tell you that I just couldn’t buy the cheap milk when in the store yesterday.

I will continue to pay a higher price for locally-produced milk rather than be part of this short-sighted retail strategy.


Safety Bay

It’s an interesting feeling when you hit the ‘send’ button after writing something like that.

Part of me feels like a purse-lipped ol’ battler, having a whinge about “it’s just not right, you’d never have that in my day” etc, and another part of me is thinking that there’s an awful lot I don’t know about the retail industry, and especially the machinations of this particular episode. I don’t know what deals are being done, and who might or might not be benefiting.

But after my supermarket visit yesterday, it seems I’m not the only one thinking about this.  ABC news has posted this story which explains it better.

What worries me more is just how symptomatic this is of the gulf between primary producers and consumers – and how the flashing dollar signs can confuse us, depending on how we are living our lives.

[Thanks to for the image.]

Are you buying the cheaper milk?

Postscript on the buckets

Further to yesterday’s post, I could hardly believe my eyes when I drove across the intersection today: the buckets have gone.

The chains remain, attached still to the disintegrated rim of one of the buckets. I suspect they have been yanked away from the chains, but by whom?

And will they be replaced?

Road deaths a heavy cross (and buckets) to bear

There’s a busy intersection near my house where a single-lane road briefly becomes double to intersect a dual carriageway road.  There’s a set of traffic lights in place, with median strips on each of the four intersecting arteries.

When I cross this intersection, at Read Street and Rae Road, I always look left and right at the opposing traffic no matter what time of day it is, because people have been killed at this intersection and on more than one occasion.

Within weeks of moving here in 2007 there was a horrendous crash which instantly killed a local married couple in their 50s.  The 24-year-old driver of the other vehicle was subsequently charged with an offence but I can’t remember if it was reckless driving (going through a red traffic light?) or alcohol related, or both.

And then last year there was another crash.  This was another act of carelessness which killed a woman in her late sixties and left her 70-year-old female friend with critical injuries.  And I say ‘crash’ and not ‘accident’ deliberately, because I remember from my court typing days how often road safety experts would give evidence in court about some incident that had killed or maimed or injured, and they would stress that rarely, if at all, do accidents happen on the road. They are crashes, and can be avoided if people drive safely. It’s a subtle difference, but that’s language and culture for you. Anyway, I digress.

Where the two crashes differ very much is in the way they are remembered at the intersection.  In following what has become a commonplace gesture of grief and remembrance at the location of death, roadside memorials have been put in place.

The married couple’s memorial consists of two crosses alongside each other, each with the name of the man and woman upon them, and has been placed in an out-of-the-way-yet-visible spot just back from the road – in the lower left green section of the map above, near the word “Drive” of Port Royal Drive.

Driving west on Rae Road across the intersection, I see their crosses most days. On the days when I consciously focus on them I’m always taken back to that tumultuous time in my life and how the crash and horror of their death seemed to smash me to the ground with a thud into our new environment and the shock of it all.  So theirs is a traditional and restrained memorial that does its job so beautifully and coldly: two people died here.

The death of the other poor woman is being remembered quite differently.  Instead of a cross at the side the road, her champions have gone much, much closer to the scene of the crash.  They have used two pink buckets, filled them with plastic flowers, and chained them to the traffic light pole in the median strip on Read Street.

A lot of things went through my mind when I first saw it, but my opinion has changed since then.  Where I first saw tacky, I now see it’s what could be done, and with love.  Where I first saw the location as completely inappropriate, I now see a dogged determination that what occurred right at that spot will not be forgotten.  Where I first saw the jarring of metal and plastic, I now recognise that chains are necessary to hold the buckets in place … and to prevent them from being stolen.

It’s one of the most poignant memorials I’ve seen.

But, do you know what? It’s been nearly a year since the accident, and three months since this photo was taken, and now all the flowers are gone.  And one of the buckets is lying on its side, and has been for weeks.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to jump out of the car and put it back, just so, but it’s a right-arrow lane, and the lights change quickly, and I’m never close enough, and …

And I wonder whether her champions know, or whether they’ve realised that the memorial is going to be difficult to maintain this way, in this place – or perhaps, even worse, that her champions are just no longer able to tend to her memory for whatever reason.

Its poignancy has been heightened. The buckets are now almost pathetic, and with the absence of flowers (real or plastic), might even cause some people to wonder what two empty buckets are doing chained to a traffic light pole.  They have lost the symbolism of their memorial, their reverence for the departed. But I bet the people responsibile for its installation, and the woman’s family and friends, have not forgotten what happened here.

And in the meantime, above the pink buckets, the lights keep changing: red, green, amber, red, green, amber…

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