ARTICLE

What is your supermarket importing now?

Continuing my occasional quest for examples of disappointments in supermarkets, I have found a new example of the import-cheap-product-at-all-costs approach to retailing.

What do you think I found?

1. Canned corn
2. Artisan bread
3. Exotic mushrooms
4. Rubbery balls of mozzarella
5. Tomato sauce

Can you guess? Can you? Can you?

In Australia, we're familiar with US cherries out of season. We know some local brands of chocolate are imported in part from New Zealand. And some local biscuit products now come from factories in China.

I've got past my surprise at seeing that Woolworths/Safeway "Select" chocolate biscuits are from New Zealand (and I think the Coles supermarket house brand biscuits are from Scotland). Such a pity the supermarkets' drive to stuff higher-margin house branded goods onto their shelves is so clearly at the cost of local manufacturers and producers.

So what next?

Ladies and gentleman, I present my first piece of evidence.

usbread1

A seemingly innocent display of fancy breads. They look quite appetising.

usbread2

They come to you direct from the USA.

I don't know about you, but at first sight, my brain refused to process the label. "Why are they bothering to tell us the origin of the cheese?" I thought to myself. Nope. Silly. The bread. Woolworths/Safeway is importing its "artisan bread" from across the Pacific Ocean. I wonder how many cents the USAmerican manufacturer managed to undercut a local baker by in order to win the contract! Was it really worth transferring business to an overseas producer for a product we can make very well at home?

Do any readers have other examples of stunningly stupid imports? (Please ignore (un)seasonal fresh produce issues, as they already receive a fair bit of attention.)

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COMMENTS

29 responses to “What is your supermarket importing now?”

  1. Manggy

    Ooh, the best part is they have that fresh-out-of-the-oven feel to them. L O L . Mmm… Cargo-fresh!
    Since fresh produce is off-limits here, I'm reluctantly happy to report that there hasn't been anything quite so stunningly stupid here (of course that means I will encounter it later when I go to the grocery).

  2. Campbell

    How very bizarre.

    I live in a country in the Middle East where 90% of our food is imported for economic reasons – and we pay a premium for the privilege. It has it's pluses – particularly of being able to buy staples from home in Australia. (yay for Vegemite!)

    One of the few things produced locally is the bread – and happily there is a wide variety of extremely good quality bread available.

    Importing bread (no matter how "Artisan") to me is indicative of a lack of imagination and/or laziness at being able to provide the most basic of foodstuffs for your (my) own country.

  3. arista

    Surely the bread can't be imported from the USA – it has to be a misprint or mistake? If it's true, the world really has gone ga-ga.

  4. nzm

    I would guess that there is more preservatives in those loaves than bread.

    Wouldn't even feed them to the birds. The last thing we need is mutant sparrows and seagulls!

  5. nzm

    There "are" more preservatives…..

    I must learn to properly proofread my posts before pressing that Submit button!

  6. Y

    Surely not! What a half baked idea! Reminds me about something I read, about Poilane bread being freighted to Tokyo. Apparently it takes three days to get from the bakery in France to the shop shelf in Tokyo, so you're effectively paying extra for stale bread.

    From the Gazette :
    "Each Poilane loaf takes six hours to make from shaping to baking. Once cooled, the loaves are sold in France or shipped worldwide to cities like New York, Los Angeles, London, Boston, Tokyo and Toronto. The Montreal bread is Fed-Exed straight to the Mountain St. restaurant three times a week direct from Paris. It's also sold here by the loaf for $40, or $10 for a quarter loaf. The price is high, but the bread has been selling briskly for the past three years at Holt's Cafe Toronto, where sales top 40 loaves a week."

  7. T.W. Barritt at Culinary Types

    Wow – we are hearing so much about "food miles" in the United States. Who knew we were shipping our bread out of the country? Must have a ton of preservatives, no?

  8. Johanna

    it is shameful because so unneccessary – I also get annoyed at fruit and veg like red onions and oranges which seem to come from USA at one place and oz in the next – and I hate when there is a sign saying mix of imported and local – huh!

  9. Ran

    Oh my god

    maybe they buy the dough pre-cooked? or bread mix pre mixed? surely they dont flash freeze? has anyone done an energy audit on that?

    we have been making our own sourdoughs and apart from a little planning it is really not that hard. dont the supermarkets have a 'bakery' section?

    armageddon must be surely nigh

  10. eatnik

    I am SO glad someone else noticed this. It's stupid! Do you think they import the flour? I thought it was a mistake at first, but I noticed it in Brisbane a few weeks back too. Insane!

  11. nzm

    It's all to do with the "globilisation" of the world's trade, and decisions made by uninformed, ignorant, uneducated and greedy politicians and bureaucrats.

    If you want to learn more about how horrifying all this back-room bargaining and trade is, read the late Anita Roddick's (Founder of The Body Shop) book called: "Taking it Personally – How to make conscious choices to change the world".

    http://www.anitaroddick.com/books.php

    Australia's John Pilger has also written articles on globalisation, as well as his disturbing book: "The New Rulers of the World".

    http://www.amazon.co.uk/New-Rulers-World-John-Pilger/dp/185984412X

    Reading articles and books such as the ones listed above will make you quickly realise that there is no logical thought involved in acts such as importing bread from the US, as well as little regard for the total impact on the environment or on individual local economies. (Think of the people in Australia who could be employed to make this bread locally, as well as the local products such as flour that could be used to make it.)

    It's all part of the "scratch my back and I'll scratch yours" trading environment largely performed within entities such as the WTO.

    If you've ever wondered why the protesters take to the streets whenever there is a meeting of the WTO anywhere in the world, this bread story is a good example of what they are against.

    This is why countries like Australia and NZ send their best produce overseas (meat, dairy, fruit) and imports lower quality replacements. This is why people pay more for food because of the increased costs of transportation and handling.

    This is why, as Duncan points out, you'll get US cherries out of the downunder cherry season.

    It's very wrong.

    Gordon Ramsay, (last year, I think) proposed an idea that restaurants should design their menus around what produce was in season in their countries/local communities. In this way, they can control costs by not buying expensive imported goods, not having to buy in bulk and the restaurants support the local economy by "buying local".

    This needs to extend further to individual shoppers. Don't buy out of season! Enjoy the local fruit as it comes into shops at the times of the year when it should be appearing. Try to buy only local products if possible. Support your local markets – especially in Melbourne where Vic Market and South Melbourne have such excellent quality food.

    End of rant!

  12. nzm

    Sorry, Duncan – I disregarded your plea to ignore out of season produce.

    However, my main message is BUY LOCAL to support your local suppliers!

  13. barbara

    I recently requested and received a copy of the Ausbuy booklet. Bought Sanitarium peanut butter 'cos the company is Australia owned…but reading the smallprint when I got home the peanuts are from China.

  14. Steve

    I wonder if the bread is bought in as a frozen, par cooked product to be then thawed & finished off in supermarket ovens & garnished with the cute sticker?

  15. The Pseudo Epicurean

    OH HORROR. I can almost understand for things like biscuits and chocolates. But BREAD? I shudder to think how old that bread is. Should check if it's air or sea-freighted. ;)

    And Australia (at least Melbourne – I can't speak for the other states) has such wonderful artisan bread, some of the best I've eaten in fact. I can't believe we're importing American junk. That's just sacrilegious.

  16. Julia @ Mélanger

    Interesting post. I have seen this around but most of the time it made some sort of sense to me – e.g. having fruit available that would otherwise not be in season. But I have never seen bread imported?…

    But I believe that sourdough actually keeps well. I attended a sourdough class run by one of the most successful artisan bread bakers up here in Brisbane. He actually said that one of the benefits of sourdough is its shelf life, and that once baked, it can simply be refreshed by warmly being heated in the oven. I guess that's why Poilâne can ship their bread around the world?

    And if this bread you saw comes from San Francisco, I could understand why it's imported. That city apparently produces beautiful bread because of the unique bacteria that make the bread quite distinctive.

    On the flip side, I have lived in other countries (UK & US) where they also import considerable amounts of food. In the US, they cannot grow bananas anywhere and they are all imported. As a girl growing up with banana trees in her own garden, that spun me out. The UK is even more challenged in the F&V department.

    Don't get me wrong. I am not supporting what the big grocery chains are doing. But I guess what I'm saying is, that it is not all one sided. I mean, Australia exports rice to Asia. Go figure that one!?!

    Duncan, I think this a great post as it is a reminder to buy locally where you can. I actually try to limit my shopping at the big supermarkets – I can't remember the last time I ever bought F&V from there. And I ALWAYS by locally where possible. I am a big fan of farmers markets, independent greengrocers, bakers and butchers etc. Weekly shopping takes me about 2x to 3x as long visiting so many shops, but it's worth it.

  17. eatnik

    Natascha Mirosch at the Courier Mail followed up the story with Woolworths : http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,25457683-3102,00.html

  18. nzm

    It's more likely that someone at Woolworths read your piece and decided to come out in defense. So they delivered a written PR to some reporter who then adapted it into a storyline.

    "National Baking Industry Association spokesman James Dillon said it was common for bakeries to use frozen products to cut labour costs and increase the variety of product available."

    Is that all he said? Did he not support that bakeries who start from fresh, local products are better for the industry and for the Australian economy?

    The one thing that does redeem the article is the list of breads made in Australia at the bottom.

    Looking at that list and the choices, is it really necessary to import bread given that there are so many other options?

    If Woolworths wanted to be totally honest about it, they would admit that they are losing business to boutique bakeries who offer specialty breads, and importing the US product is their cheapest way of fighting back.

  19. Kristen

    nothing like taking the meaning of *artisan* bread and fabricating a new meaning, all for the all mighty dollar. what a shame.

    BTW, I am from the states and that bread looks exactly like what they sell at Safeway. It is only 1/2 baked on site, many people think they make it in the store, duh!

  20. Joe De lede

    Must admit I also did a double-take on the 'Product of USA' label for a loaf of bread at Woolies … however after buying & scoffing a loaf, I'm hooked. Even though they're around five bucks a unit, I'll pay-up cos it's the best.

    Quite a sad reflection on local bakers really.

    Ciao, JDL

  21. Fitzroyalty

    Safeway plain label butter has sometimes been from NZ.

  22. Maria

    Hi there!

    As stupid as it does seem to import bread – I have to admit I like a lot of Woolworth's 'Artisan' range. I know it's not beyond us Aussie's to bake beautiful bread! I normally don't like focaccia and won't buy it from a supermarket or as a prepared lunch item in a cafe… reason being, the focaccia's I try (local made) are just too stodgey, or feel like bricks in your tum and for me, are just plain inferior. The Woolworths Artisan focaccia for $3.95 (looks like a little pizza) is excellent in my opinion and tastes 'authentic'. I don't buy from the Artisan range weekly (it's more like a 'treat').. but the reason I do buy it is because it's convenient.. and there are no local bakers nearby who could produce the same quality/variety/value.

  23. pegasus01

    IT'S BOUGHT IN FROZEN—LIKE MOST OF THOSE ITEMS IN THE CABINET!!! I know for sure cos I worked in a supermarket bakery.

    MOST of the other product is baked fresh,

    Most of the stuff in the cabinet is brought in frozen. why it is done that way? no idea!

  24. Sandy the Podiatrist (Brisbane)

    Hmm. That is ridiculous. They can't be flown – too expensive so must come by boat? Perhaps they arrive here as blobs of dough and are baked in house? Not cheap either – can't know the scale of the photo but that's just like a hot dog bun yes? For $2 more you can get a big loaf of sourdough from the baker outside.

  25. Maria

    I can say, the photo's aren't "hotdog bun size" (see the weight..over half a kilo).. They are full loaves of bread and weigh more than a standard loaf, that's for sure. Would feed quite a few people for lunch or dinner & nobody in my area makes loaves as tasty as these.. which is sad.

  26. Steven

    For those still interested in this topic. As a Woolies baker I can confirm that the Artisan range is par-baked (as in partially baked) overseas, then frozen before transport. The baking process is completed in-store before display.

    The in-store bake-off range is only a very small part of our daily production. The majority of bread and rolls produced in store is made from dough mixed in the bakery.

    The baking of par-baked product saves time on these otherwise time-consuming specialty products. It allows us to easily display more variety to customers.

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