Should you shop at the supermarket?

shopping trolley

Oh my. A tricky one… Supermarkets, despite their best efforts, are not exactly sustainable. Here are just some of the issues involved: excessive food miles, imported products, rows and rows of packaged and processed foods, energy use, plastic bags, marketing tactics to encourage you to buy more than you need. The list goes on and on, and I anticipate a few other suggestions in the comments (go on, let rip!).

In Australia, we are in the unique situation of having just two supermarket chains control up to 85 percent of the grocery market. (Other countries have at least four competing for your trolley dollars). The danger of this duopoly is that consumers are at the mercy of  prices fixed by these two giants, local businesses/producers suffer – or completely disappear – and that we are trusting two corporations with our most precious commodity: food.

It should be a no-brainer – if you’re at all concerned about the environment, community and sustainability then you should avoid supermarkets, right?

Well, guess what? I shop in the supermarket. I have tried, honestly, I have tried NOT to shop in the supermarket. I was going great guns until we ran out of loo paper and tissues. I visited a locally-owned store, but guess what? No recycled tissue products in sight. And the price was almost double. I don’t mind paying more to support local enterprise, but paying more and not getting what I want? Well that’s not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.

With a lot of hand-wringing and earlobe rubbing, I continue to shop at the supermarket (I choose Woolworths, for the record, as the greener option), but I try to spread my very meagre budget around to local businesses and markets as well. When I do shop at the supermarket, I choose organic, recycled or otherwise eco products as I believe it sends a powerful message to suppliers.

A world with no corner store

The other day, I went to buy a second-hand sleeping bag for Edith. This took me to a newly developed part of South-east Queensland, where band-new housing developments hug the freeway and stretch for as far as you can see. I needed to change a $20 note to pay for the sleeping bag, but drove past the servos on the freeway, preferring to buy a drink from an independent store and get the change I needed. I drove through development after development, all with names like “Freedom Lakes” and “Hope Springs”, but there was not a single shop or corner store. No takeaway, no newsagent, no florist. Nothing but big houses.

In the end I phoned the lady I was going to visit and asked where I could get change. The nearest shop was eight kilometres away, a Coles Supermarket in a shopping centre.

This kind of thing makes my blood run cold. Is this the future for our society? Completely dependent on cars and at the mercy of two supermarket chains?

So should you shop at the supermarket? Well for some, it is literally the only option, I get that. Wherever possible, I encourage you to buy from butchers, bakeries and markets.  It’s definitely more hassle and can be more expensive (although usually not because you only buy what you need, not what’s on special), but it’s worth it in the long run.

When you do shop at the supermarket, stick to your list, make green choices and stay away from packaged foods.

Do you shop in the supermarket? Is is possible to avoid it? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments x




  1. narelle says

    We have managed to almost cut out the big two supermarkets. However, like you Jo, sometimes we can’t get the products we need at a realistic price. We purchase Vittoria Coffee Beans on special at Woolworths every 6 weeks $30 for 2kg. I have not found the 1kg beans in IGA, sometimes Aldi get hold of some.
    Taking our house from healthy to ethical and organic was a big step. I chose one product a week to investigate. This lead to sourcing it outside the big two and going organic…. Organic is expensive, but a change each week has been within our budget. This week was dessicated coconut. I have been purchasing this from Aldi for $1.79 for 250 grams. I purchased 500grams for $8.00. It’s organic and it’s ethical, We go though this in one month. It’s a lot of research and some don’t have time – but when you know better you should do better : )
    Thanks Jo – I love your posts, they are always thought provoking and make me question what we do and how we do it : )
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    • (dt)em says

      I do the same, Narelle, changing one thing at a time. I can’t always afford to replace it, but I just do the best I can with what I’ve got. When you buy better quality, you tend to use less and think more about it. Four times the price for dessicated coconut is one of the harder decisions to make!
      Aldi is a pretty good alternative to the big two supermarkets, I try to support them and buy whatever green products they have.

      thanks for reading – and for your kind words! x

  2. Nicola says

    I try to shop locally and we are lucky to have lots of great little providores where we live, so I try to support them when I can. One thing I love is that they’ll often say “pay me next time” if you don’t have enough cash on you, or they’ll give my daughter a little treat, like a bread roll or whatever. Supermarkets won’t do that!
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    • (dt)em says

      No, supermarkets certainly won’t do that. Although, to be fair, the new Woolies near me has a tin pig into which you can stick a 50c piece and kids can take a piece of fruit. Alfie always goes for the apples and I quietly freak out about the fact they’re not organic and haven’t been washed. Argh. Baby steps…

  3. Lyatte says

    I am almost supermarket free, but when you have children that are grown and don’t eat with you any more, its a lot easier to cut back. I have made other choices like no more meat and I cant eat wheat any more. When I shop in the supermarket, there is a list that I run through with each product I choose (after much debating with my inner self each fortnight, I know exactly what to go for) I look at one – organic or free range, secondly – Australian products, third – the packaging, and price. I make a choice by weighing up how much of each the product has. What I cant understand, is woolworths putting their organic veggies into plastic with the foam tray, so its a toss up weather to get organic or save on the packaging??? I want to have the choice of putting my organic veggies into my home made veggie bags.
    I have now discovered that the market has a stall with shared farm produce from around Queensland, not too far from the area, they will even tell you whose farm it is and where it is, they are hard working Aussies. The produce doesn’t always look perfect and you cant rely on getting what you want all the time, but I will buy what they have, even in its strange, often misshapen form, I put it into my home made bags and I then become creative with the weeks dinner. My local market has mostly what I need, eggs, cheese and veg (and I dont need my car, I can walk there). I am forced to the supermarket for toilet roll and cleaning products, I also need to get my milk, yoghurt and goats cheese here because I cant get it at the market. I am attempting to grow stuff too, but I am not home too much, my tomatoes are surviving.
    As for coffee beans, I buy mine from the importer and roaster, Neli coffee, another small business that is local, and very affordable.

    Love reading your blog Jo :)

    • (dt)em says

      Good on you Lyatte, I wish I could walk to the market! Yes there are some great local producers at the Redcliffe market – the best eggs and apples around, I reckon. I have the same list of priorities as you when it comes to buying from the supermarket: organic/ethical, then Aussie made, then packaging. Apparently the reason the organics are in plastic is to stop cross-contamination with the non-organic produce. Yes, that’s right, the healthy stuff has to be wrapped in plastic to stop it being contaminated by the toxic stuff. What a crazy state of affairs!

      You really should try Food Connect, I reckon you’d love it. And it arrives on a Wednesday so you’d still need to top up at the market on Sunday.

      thanks for reading x

  4. Bernadette Eden says

    The ol supermarket chestnut. My weekly shop can become so stressful at times. I shop at Foodland (SA type of IGA) but also get frustrated when they don’t have the range of products i’m looking for. On the odd times I do have to head to Coles I end up walking around muttering to myself like a crazy lady along the lines of, “Yes, i bet you want me to buy 3 for the price of 2, don’t you? WELL I DON’T WANT 3!” Like I said, crazy. Great post. Bernie
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    • (dt)em says

      Oh Bernie, you make me laugh. We should go shopping together. I’d be the weirdo saying things like “corn syrup is another word for poison” and scrabbling around the packaged foods for something Australian-made. Methinks we’d get kicked out pretty quickly!

  5. Mandy says

    It is a hard one. I also have tried not to but for me if I am to walk to the local shop, that is actually Westfield! I have started getting my fruit and veg delivered by a local group who get it from local producers but the packaged goods…bit harder. I also can’t find a good butcher to save my life here.
    It is scary the way they now develop the burbs. It is a shame as well.
    Thought provoking post. Love it.
    Mandy recently posted..Kids Eating The Main MealMy Profile


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