Haiku weather: 29 August 2013

city lights bwWho needs la bella
luna tonight, when I have
the safe light of home;

the light that is in
equal measure past, present
and future within.

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RIP John Gill – a man who left a great signature on the sheet music of life

I was saddened to discover yesterday, accidentally, that local  busker-around-Perth and ragtime piano virtuoso John Gill had died in April. I obviously missed the news, because there was significant coverage at the time, and deservedly so.

John was one of those people who had been on the scene in Perth for so long that he was no longer a novelty when you saw him in Murray Street or Fremantle, or any shopping centre, but rather a comforting, familiar and friendly reminder of the warmth that comes when a stranger shares his or her talent with other strangers. It didn’t matter where I saw him, I always stopped for a minute and marvelled at his dexterity.

I remember years ago taking the time to read the loosely framed note he had attached to the side of his piano, the details of which I don’t recall exactly, other than they let the reader know that he was a world-renowned ragtime player, and he was raising money for yet another trip to the Scott Joplin Ragtime Festival, or some other get together of like-minded musicians.

More recently, the boys and I watched him perform a couple of times in the city and also, memorably, at the Royal Show in 2009 (we just missed his performance in 2010, much to our disappointment).  When he finished his set, based at the exit of the Agricultural Pavillion, the boys went up to him with our donation and Blondie asked him how long he’d been playing. With a smile John told him he’d started when he was 7, which Blondie told him was how old he was when he’d started. John encouraged him to keep practising. I remember saying to Blondie afterwards, “see, keep up the practice and you could play like that one day.” Blondie was inspired.

While I was looking for further coverage of the news of John’s death, I found this lovely piece from Lee-Ann Khoh who had written a piece about busking including John, just before he died, and she has two great video links on her post which will bring it all back if you would like a reminder of his talent.

I’d like to think that in some small, ongoing way through my donations, I helped John, along with thousands of others, to pursue his passion and no doubt inspire many others to keep at it, while bringing such simple joy to those passers-by who took a moment to enjoy the sound, that glorious sound.

And now I reckon he and Scott Joplin are banging out some fantastic duets somewhere. Oh, to be able to hear them.

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.]

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.

Regards

JB
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 news.com.au for the image.]

Are you buying the cheaper milk?