The biggest changes in health come about from the actions of individuals and the collective influence this then has on businesses. Whilst governments and health authorities like to take the credit it is usually not deserved.
Increasingly people want better food and supermarkets are responding. Why are they doing this? The trend for people to shop at markets and smaller food shops is affecting the bottom line of the bigger supermarkets. Hence in the best traditions of Adam Smith, they respond to consumer demand.
In the USA, Trader Joe’s is one of the fastest growing food chains as it focuses on healthier (including organic) food coupled with friendly service.
In Australia we have seen two significant recent developments. Woolworths, Australia’s biggest supermarket chain announced it is revamping the formats in its stores to make them feel more like an outdoor market. There will be new in store butcheries where meat can be trimmed to suit rather than being just in cling wrap.
The fruit and veg will be in smaller stainless steel containers rather than large pallets and there will be an increased range of organic produce. The bananas will be ranged from green to yellow so people can select how ripe they like their bananas. High shelves will be replaced with lower ones to add to the market feel.
The moves by Woolies are seen as a response to similar moves by rival chain Coles that in turn announced it would sell only hormone free beef. This is a great move. There is absolutely no need for our beef (or chicken) to have hormones in them.
What was really interesting was the response to the Coles announcement. The chairman of the Australian beef association was quoted in the press calling this a “marketing exercise” and that there was no evidence that hormone free meat tasted better.
This is completely beside the point. Hormone free beef is healthier as we are not consuming hormones we do not need. It is also better for the cattle. I would expect taste would be unaffected. Hence this is a nonsense argument.
Coles also indicated that it would absorb any additional expense. To be honest it is worth paying a bit more for beef, which is better for your health. However the self-appointed defender of consumers, Choice, warned consumers to be vigilant.
Shock, horror-for a healthier product you might pay a few cents more. You would think that a group concerned with the best interests of consumers would see the health of consumers as important-apparently not. Their only concern is that there may be a small price to be paid for a better product.
Choice would be better off advising consumers to be vigilant about what they eat and the beef association needs to be aware that consumers are decreasingly prepared to accept hormones antibiotics and other additives in their meat.
The bottom line is that supermarkets are responding to the demonstrated preferences of consumers who are voting with their feet. The bleating of the beef association and Choice show they are out of touch with what matters to consumers. Consumers want healthier food. Those who are in the business of selling food and want to continue to be in business need to respond.
These developments show that this is happening.