Shop and Swap

South Australians are, generally, terribly parochial. Best football team? The Crows*. Best iced coffee? Farmers Union (FUIC). Best chocolate? Haighs. Best city? Obviously Adelaide. Although we will spend a fair bit of time denigrating our city, woe betide someone who’s not South Australian for doing the same thing! You get the idea.

A couple of weeks ago, local food producer, Spring Gully, went into voluntary administration. The CEO of this 60 year old, family owned South Australian institution pleaded with customers to get out there and support the company’s product.

And South Australians did so in style. The products promptly disappeared from supermarket shelves and, while the company’s future is far from assured, support, and continued support, such as this is a really good start.

Shortly after, Robern Menz (of FruChocs fame, another South Australian icon) produced a “word cloud” of proudly South Australian producers. This promptly went viral.

And on the back of this, we now have the “shop and swap” campaign. The idea is that when you shop, you swap just one item in your trolley for a locally owned and produced product. Perhaps you are buying cordial: swap for Bickford’s. Perhaps you are buying dried pasta: swap for San Remo. Perhaps you are buying milk: swap supermarket own brand or even big brand milk for locally produced milk such as Paris Creek B-D or Fleurieu Milk Co.

The campaign is realistic: just ONE item per shop, every shop. If you can buy more, then that’s great. If we could all buy entirely local products, that would be brilliant. But that’s often an unrealistic goal: sometimes local is artisan so it’s more expensive, sometimes a local alternative just isn’t available. This is all about doing what you can.

There’s a list of companies on its own page. I don’t pretend it’s comprehensive so please, if you know of a champion South Australian food producer who should be include, leave a comment, or drop me an email.

By supporting South Australian companies you support South Australians. These companies employ South Australians directly but also keep others employed through all the industries that support the supply and distribution of food.

Remember – it’s a lot easier to maintain a company than it is to save it!

* Waiting for the flaming on that one!

Wine in Supermarkets?

wine selection
wine in a supermarket in Paris, photo by christine592

The idea of wine in supermarkets is hardly novel. Indeed, many people reading this outside South Australia will be puzzled why this is a question at all.

Currently, South Australian supermarkets do not sell wine (or beer, or spirits). This doesn’t mean that we South Australians are going crook for a drink. There are plenty of bottle shops: many of them are owned by one of the big two supermarkets but there are also excellent examples of independent retailers. In addition, many pubs have bottle shops attached, and these tend to be drive-throughs (yes, you drive into the bottle shop and you can either get out and browse, of, if you’re in a hurry you stay in the car and someone will bring you your carton of cold beer). Drive-throughs have pretty generous opening hours so there aren’t that many hours in the day when you can’t buy an alcoholic drink retail.

But recently, some of the smaller supermarkets have decided they’d like to be able to sell wine, South Australian wine in particular. They say it will help the wine industry. Independent wine merchants say it will add to their woes as they struggle even more against behemoth retailers. The wine industry itself seems to be split.

On Wednesday night this was one of the issues I discussed with Peter Godfrey on 5AA. You can listen to the audio:

As a consumer I can see how compelling the idea of wine in supermarkets is. Yes, it would be fabulous to be able to nip into the supermarket, stock up on some lamb chops and loo roll and pop a bottle of some interesting, quirky, boutique, local red into the trolley.

But is that what is going to happen?

My gut feeling is … er, no. According to the Attorney-General’s discussion paper at the end of November 2012, Woolworths and Coles held (approximately) 53% of liquor licences in South Australia. Over HALF.

I’d be very interested to know how that translates to spend, because I’d bet my bottom dollar that much more than 53 cents in every dollar spent goes to the duopoly*.

The discussion paper says:

Small to medium sized wine producers currently face difficulty in getting their wine on the shelves of retail liquor stores, which has a direct impact on their ability to access the retail liquor market.

So, if liquor licences go to supermarkets (and only those with a floor size greater than 400m2) how is this going to support small to medium sized producers? I have no idea. Coles and Woolworths are unlikely to support South Australian only producers, which the independents** claim they will. Coles and Woolworths are unlikely to support small producers who can’t supply enough wine for all (or at least a great many) of their stores.

And this means we are likely to head the same way as the UK. The wine buyers in the big supermarkets in the UK exert amazing buying pressure over producers around the world. I’ve heard stories about wine arriving in the UK for a big supermarket and being rejected outright. Producers are squeezed on price (have we heard that one before?). The supermarkets allegedly sell wines at inflated prices for a period of time so they can sell them at a big advertised markdown. The consumer, picking up that bottle of quirky, interesting red to go with his or her lamb chop is over paying for a bottle of something that has been mass produced.

If you feel upset about the squeeze on dairy farmers, on fresh food producers then you need to be prepared the same thing happen to our wine industry.

Is that what you want?

* For non Australians, that’s a common way of referring to Coles and Woolworths and the grip they hold on the supermarket scene.

** Your local independent may be sporting posters about an epetition. This campaign is a little disingenuous on two levels. Firstly, the poster I saw suggested that the idea had been floated by the State Government. The discussion paper notes that this has come about “following an approach from independent supermarket chains”. Secondly, epetitions are not recognised by the South Australian parliament: it’s always disappointing when people don’t do their research.

To Tip or Not To Tip

photo by Aaron Freedman

It’s not often I write an op-ed here on Eating Adelaide. If you want to read opinion, if you want to be told which spending decisions to make or not to make, there are plenty of blogs that will sate those cravings.

In fact, I think last time I bored you with my opinion over something more meaty than a restaurant was when I wrote about the Matt Skinner generic wine tasting note hoo-ha back in 2009. So please excuse me a Sunday evening diversion …

Recently, there’s been a fair amount of chat about tipping. Over at fatboo, based in Melbourne, he discussed what he perceives to be the ins and outs of tipping in Australia. There’s been questions raised about tips on credit card payments going to restaurateurs rather than waiting staff. And there’s even been a bit of discussion on twitter about adding service charges to bills automatically.

My personal position on tipping in Australia is pretty ad hoc. If the experience (and that’s not just service, it’s everything else too) blows me away, I’ll be generous; if I’ve had a good, but not awesome, time, I might round up to the nearest $5 or $10. And if everything has been OK, well, I pay what’s on the bill. The restaurateur needs to factor in the cost of service, along with the costs of food, rent, chefs and so on, when he or she sets the prices on the menu.

More controversially, a waitress* in America has been fired after posting a copy of a bill to reddit. A patron took exception to the 18% auto gratuity added to the bill on the ground that he/she pays 10% to God, so why should waiting staff get more. The redditor, one Chelsea Welch, was not actually the person who served the table, but had taken a photo of the receipt at the end of service, and subsequently posted it. It looks like she’s been a user of reddit for about a year and has posted on a variety of topics, including issues relating to service and restaurants. I suspect that, up until the offending post, she had not been disciplined by her employer for these postings. I’d also be interested to know how comprehensive Applebee’s social media policy is.

Ms Welch has also written a considered piece for the Guardian’s Comment is Free section. She makes the valid point that waiting staff in the States not only rely on tips but are also taxed on them. Her piece focuses on imploring customers to ensure that they tip, at least, correctly. She acknowledges that legislation around waiting staff wages is, perhaps, less fair than in other countries, but she doesn’t note what would be considered in many places the gross illegality of her sacking. And she does not posit any solutions to an inequitable wage system.

Naturally, the comments on her Guardian piece, rather do address those points.

Redditors are quick to point out how un-Christian the patron’s action was.

Over the years I’ve read a lot of American blogs and food sites and I am surprised that this is a discussion that is still going on. It crops up repeatedly. Many argue that a tip based system encourages good service. Having visited America more than once (last time was in 2001, so my perception is a little out of date), I cannot say that I found the service exemplary. Generally, it was either frighteningly obsequious and intrusive or non existent. I’ve had superior service in other countries where staff genuinely engage with their customers, read the situation, and aren’t worrying about paying their bills.

I did a brief Google of Applebee’s and it turns out its parent company is headed by a CEO who used to be … a waitress. Applebee’s itself appears to have been embroiled in various industrial disputes over the years, including allegations of forced arbitration and allegations of underpaying staff when they are not waiting tables.

I appreciate that people need to work, need to earn money and that, in the US, they need punters to tip. Should I ever visit the US again, I’ll make sure to tip appropriately and in cash.

But I also hope that, somewhere, some day, a waiter or waitress in the US will become CEO of a restaurant chain and decide to pay staff fairly.

Better yet, one will be in a position to make broader, more positive change, for all waiting staff.