Rural Queensland Supermarkets Threatened by Major Chains

Independent supermarkets in Queensland are facing severe challenges due to the dominant market presence of major retailers Woolworths and Coles, an inquiry has heard. Wayne Mason, the Queensland operations manager for Australian United Retailers, which represents 103 independent FoodWorks supermarkets in the region, raised concerns about the impact of these large supermarkets on smaller, community-based stores, especially in rural and regional areas.

Addressing a Queensland government inquiry into supermarket pricing, Mason highlighted the detrimental effects that could arise from the government’s plan to eliminate freight subsidies. These subsidies currently help remote and regional FoodWorks stores manage their delivery costs, making it affordable to supply essential goods to these communities. Mason warned that removing these subsidies could lead to a staggering 351 percent increase in freight costs, which would inevitably be passed on to consumers, raising prices substantially.

Mason expressed confusion and concern over the government’s rationale behind increasing costs for stores that serve as lifelines to regional and remote communities. He questioned the fairness of making life more expensive for residents in these areas and stressed the critical role independent retailers play in the health of rural economies by providing employment and essential services in areas that Woolworths and Coles often overlook.

“These communities rely on us,” Mason said. “We’re not just a store; we’re part of the fabric that holds these towns together. Without our presence, not only would the availability of goods be at risk, but so too would the livelihoods of many people.”

Roy Leisk, general manager for Metcash in Queensland and Northern NSW, echoed Mason’s concerns at the inquiry, stating that the removal of subsidies would severely impact ‘mum and dad businesses’ by forcing them to raise their prices just to cover increased delivery costs. He illustrated the competitive disadvantage faced by small businesses with the closure of a FoodWorks store in Oxley shortly after Woolworths opened nearby, highlighting the relentless pressure small businesses face from larger chains.

Mason concluded with a call to reconsider the decision to end freight subsidies, emphasizing the broader implications for community welfare and the survival of small businesses in less profitable rural locations. “We’re facing a crisis not just of business, but of community survival,” Mason remarked. “If the major chains won’t serve these regions, we must support those who will.”

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