Respect leads the consumer battle

2012-09-08 09:40

Like most people, I dislike grocery shopping. For me, it’s a weekly chore that is dealt with as quickly and painlessly as possible.

The actual shopping is not so bad when armed with a detailed shopping list. It not only minimises the ordeal, but also eliminates any impulse buying: a dangerous pastime considering the rising cost of living.

The most stressful part of the weekly shop is inevitably at the till.

I can bite my tongue at the surly cashier who refuses to acknowledge me as a paying customer, but I can’t abide a packer who throws my weekly shop into the bags (which I dutifully bring to the supermarket week after week), as if she were stuffing a chicken.

I might sound pedantic and anal retentive, but there have been too many occasions when I have arrived home only to find broken eggs, punctured salad packs and bread that’s been crushed and mangled. At that stage it’s just too much effort to even think about taking the damaged goods back to complain.

This particular supermarket chain has a reputation for surly, couldn’t-care-less staff. So you end up thinking: “Why bother?”

So I grit my teeth and let my blood pressure rise dangerously every Saturday morning.

Over the last year, however, my “quaint” obsession with good grocery packing has spread.

I feel a resistance movement forming. Everyone has witnessed their grocery bills rise and rise – interestingly, along with consumer demand for better value and better service – so my weekly rants don’t seem as pernickety any longer. Not only is the cost of living rising exponentially, but it’s the middle class that is bearing the brunt.

The South African Consumer Debt Report estimates that about nine million households are trapped in a permanent spiral of debt, and in the past 10 years the average debt-to-disposable-income ratio has moved from 40% to a staggering 80%. Layer onto that the fact that while the rich spend between 10% to 15% of their income on food, the poor have to spend as much as 40%.

Put all of these factors together and it’s plain to see why so many South Africans have started going through their monthly bills with a fine-tooth comb. Buying a box of eggs, only to have them smashed by a careless packer is no longer something you can overlook.

Fed up with my usual supermarket chain, I decided to try out its competition whose advertising slogan promises that, “Changing your supermarket won’t change the world . . . but it can change the way you live in it”.

They were right. I’m a changed man: a lower blood pressure being one of the benefits. Not only are their staff friendlier, but on one occasion I discovered it was the training manager who was on the floor, packing my groceries with the utmost care. I liked that.

That fact alone made me decide to switch my loyalty.

What the other supermarket chain don’t seem to realise is that while I might just be one customer who switched allegiance, it is my cumulative weekly grocery bill – probably for the rest of my life – that they have lost out on.

In a protracted economic downturn, I am not the only fickle shopper who demands a higher level of service and respect: not only for my custom but also for the products and produce I buy.

Like everyone, I work damn hard to put food on my table and with prices rising every day, if you don’t respect my groceries, you don’t deserve my hard-earned cash either.

The perfect storm
» This week, the petrol price increased by 93 cents, which means transport costs – from daily commuting to delivering products – will rise again.

» Last year, we received two electricity hikes of 25%. This year, we got another hike of 16%, which means electricity costs have increased by 66% in the past 18 months. Just like petrol, the ripple effect on business overheads needs to be factored in, as will the storage and refrigeration of perishables into our monthly grocery bills.

» Drought in the US has destroyed 45% of maize and 35% of soya bean crops, resulting in the worst harvest since 1988. The US produces 40% of the world’s wheat, which means that the price of maize meal in South Africa is also affected.

At the beginning of last month, the price of maize went up by 50%. Maize meal is not only the staple diet of the majority of South Africans but is used to feed livestock, which means the price of meat will also rise.

» At the end of last year, there was a sharp rise in red-meat prices, resulting in consumer resistance. The Red Meat Producers’ Organisation lowered their prices by 25% in the first quarter of this year – none of this price reduction was passed onto consumers.

» Chang is the founder of Flux Trends:

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