Sunday, June 26, 2005

Dick Smith Foods - in the soup

Dick Smith is a well known personality in Australian society and his valiant efforts to make us think about our food supply have been enshrined in his Dick Smith Foods operation. It is unfortunate that Dick Smith himself, had to learn about Australian consumers and that while they were willing to try his alternate foods made by local companies instead of the multi-nationals, quality still had an important part to play.

It is now obvious, that the foods of comparable or superior quality under the Dick Smith Foods brand have proven to be preferred alternatives and his peanut butter, asparagus, biscuits (including Temptins) and his breakfast cereal have stood the test of trial and time.

It so happens that I provide the Australian ingredients for the fruit pieces in the Bushfood breakfast cereal even though I, along with most consumers who have written in about the product, think that the resultant taste should be more intense and definitive. It would even be possible to improve the fruit pieces so that they have a low glycaemic index, or contribute an anti-oxidant or an immune-stimulant activity or simply have more distinctive and interesting flavours.

My ingredients are highly functional but I am still waiting for an Australian company to recognise their true worth as food additives and flavorants. It will probably fall to a foreign company to take advantage from the use of my ingredients as there are much bigger markets than ours. An innovative edge is just what most food manufacturers need outside of the closed offering now being shrunk to a choice of two by Australian supermarkets.

Have you heard this news? One supermarket has decided to reduce the number of brands on its shelves and replace them with in-house brands. However, should a company really want the shelf space, they can offer to pay a fee simply for the right to compete with other companies for the same limited space. The only winner is the supermarket which pockets even more money for their real estate while pushing up prices on all but their own brands. Read more about this disasterous development driven by our grocers here.

Wouldn't it be great if we could move back to more of a village strip retail precinct where you get to know your butcher, baker, gourmet food outlet and perhaps we might even get fruits and vegetables which are not engineered for maximum shelf-life irrespective of how they taste. What if this village strip was virtual and the stores could benefit from bulk buying and effective distribution? Maybe there's an on-line business for someone. I know my own virtual store is growing rapidly as discerning consumers demand supply of quality products wherever they live. And with the security of on-line trading these days, who doesn't shop via the Internet when they want that difficult to find, prestige or special something?

Personally, I'd love to see Walmart come to Australia. Their policy is never to charge shelf or line fees, they don't insist on an advertising and promotional contribution and they change their buyers regularly so that relationships do not extend to extra-curricular activities. Sure, everytime a Walmart opens in a town or suburb, dozens of strip shops find it hard if not impossible to compete but if we have to have supermarkets (and I'm not saying we do), then at least we can support the more ethical amongst them (even if they are foreign-owned). I know quite a few Australian manufacturers which have made the decision not to play with the big guys because the supermarkets dictate such unreasonable terms as to make businesses difficult if not impossible to run, borderline financially and therefore high risk but with no commensurate high return.

Consider the struggles of another Dick Smith Foods product in the supermarkets: There has been a very quiet launch of four new soups onto the shelves. The manufacturer, Windsor Farm Foods and I developed a delicious range including Cream of green pea with Australian mint; Tomato with basil and Wildfire spice; Butternut pumpkin also with Wildfire spice; and Minestrone with Alpine pepper.
The range comes in generous 500ml tins as heat and serve, low fat recipes and would be ideal with a dollop of lite sour cream or some home-made bread flavoured with Alpine pepper or Wattleseed. As a meal or snack in the depths of Winter, my choice is to add a sprinkle of Oz lemon to any of the soups or bake a bread using some as an immune stimulant. And as the weather warms up in Spring, I'll go for these soups chilled for a delicious starter. Give them a go yourself and let us have your feedback on these new products.