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New from your supermarkets

I noticed two changes/additions/innovations, call them what you will at our local supermarkets this week. Both purportedly to be helping us with the environment. One is definitely new this week the other has been going for a week or so.

The first is from Coles, who have introduced a new digital initiative - Coles & Co. I have to say that at first and simply by watching a TV ad and going to the website, I was not quite sure what this was all supposed to be about. How did it differ, in fact, from Coles Online? So I searched for articles and found what was basically a media release that included the following from the CEO.

“We are living at a time of unprecedented societal change, including a surge in the diversity of consumer tastes and dietary needs. As customers add more fresh food to their diet they’re shopping more often, and their appetite for immediacy and digital information means a weekly, one-size-fits-all, catalogue in their letterbox is no longer as relevant for them as it once was.” Steven Cain

The fundamental change then is the cessation of the paper catalogues, which I have to say I have not ever used. And some will still be produced and available in their stores. Mostly I don't use them because, unlike the weekly Aldi printed catalogue it is a much larger production in the sense that there are more pages and many, many more products and so, therefore, much harder to take in. Besides I get my 'personalised' email every week with the week's offers that will most appeal to me. Because, of course, Coles is keeping track of what I buy via my supermarket receipt and my Flybuys card, which I explored a little bit in my March article Your supermarket receipt.

In addition, unlike a growing percentage of the shopping public it seems, I really like going to the supermarket and browsing the shelves. If I notice something that is on a special that I usually buy or if I notice something new and interesting, then I can buy it or not as I please. It's a bit like buying books. If I want something specific I can certainly buy it online, although it will cost me more because I have to pay for delivery usually, but there is no opportunity to browse the bookshelves for something interesting looking. You cannot browse a bookshop's catalogue in the same way and you certainly cannot read all the blurbs on the back, or read a few pages of the book to get a taste. It's a bit the same with online supermarket shopping. OK if you are organised enough to know exactly what you want - you can even read the labels on the back of the tin or packet, but you can't just browse the shelves in quite the same way, There is no serendipity. No little surprises.

But back to Coles & Co. It has, of course, been mostly framed in community friendly ways - saving 80,00 trees per year (20,000 tonnes of paper) and also responding to a 50% increase in the use of digital catalogues over the paper ones. They also emphasise the community friendly nature of the site that besides including those all important catalogue specials also has recipes, tips and tricks for cooks, as well as advice on things like growing vegetables, competitions, giveaways and various things for kids - at the moment there is an audio book that can be accessed there for example. So a sort of ever-changing magazine.

Which rather made me panic. Are they stopping their Coles Magazine I wondered? I enjoy flipping through this once a month to see what the trends in cooking and buying are these days. But no, it seems that this is continuing. Certainly there is a September issue and no mention of it being discontinued. So, at least for now my monthly chill out session with it is safe.

But why, really are Coles doing this? Yes I'm sure that they will save money as well as the trees by stopping the printing of paper catalogues - which you can still pick up in their stores by the way. And yes, I'm sure there is a lot more shopping online. I do know that everyone is not like me and that some people hate going to the supermarket, but it really isn't for me. Not until I am so old and decrepit that I can't do my own shopping, but I think by then I shall probably be in a nursing home anyway. No I suspect that it is yet one more way of collecting data on your shopping habits. Whether this is a good or a bad thing depends on you really. Here is another of Steven Cain's vague marketing statements:

“We’re using our digital capabilities to replace it with something more personalised."

And that has a slightly ominous ring to it. If you are a privacy activist that is. I don't think I mind if it means that what is on sale in the shops is more targeted to the demographic needs of the customer base, or that it makes stocking of shelves and warehousing more efficient. After all these things bring prices down surely and we all want that. I see there is an option to 'Sign in' but I don't think you need to do this unless you are going to buy something.

Interestingly I just checked out one of their recipes on the website, expecting to find some kind of direct link that would enable me to purchase some or all of the ingredients. But no - just a straight recipe that you can print, email or share via Facebook or Pinterest. Not Instagram I see. Maybe this facility is coming because surely this would be of benefit to them. Get you sucked in with a delicious recipe and then get you to buy what you need to make it.

I don't know if Woolworths is doing something similar. Will check it out.

Aldi on the other hand is continuing with its catalogues. Well they are rather a different animal in that Aldi relies a lot on its weekly special offerings of this and that, so I don't think they are going to stop that any time soon. Though I notice that they too have started introducing recipes - or links to recipes anyway.

What they have done though is introduce plastic crates that you can purchase for your shopping instead of bags. They cost $9.99 - well $10.00, are collapsible and reusable of course. They also have handles, fit in the Aldi trolleys and can carry 15kg of weight. Which probably means that you aren't going to carry them very far. Good idea? Well I guess so as. they are indeed sturdier than a bag and are presumably recyclable when they are getting just too battered, although that would probably take some time, I guess it's a partial recognition that the 'green bags' that we buy are not reusable ad infinitum and I'm not sure that they are recyclable, so eventually become a waste problem in themselves. Why can't more use be made of the cardboard boxes that most supermarket goods come in anyway? But then again I guess the supermarkets do recycle those boxes themselves in a responsible way - I hope so anyway - and there's no guarantee that the customers would.

Always a question about motives isn't there when it comes to supermarkets? We don't trust them. After all their chief purpose in life is to make money. Hopefully, however, they can make more money by responding to society's problems and to their customer's needs.


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