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Food firms 'squeezed' between manufacturing costs, retailers

25 June, 2014

The most detailed financial health check of Australia's $111 billion food and grocery sector has found suppliers being squeezed between high manufacturing costs and dominant retailers.

The Competitiveness and Sustainable Growth Report conducted by KPMG for the Australian Food and Grocery Council (AFGC) provides detailed analysis of real financial data from food and grocery suppliers, covering the last four years 2010-13.

AFGC CEO Gary Dawson said the report found Australia now has the highest manufacturing costs in the world, and that retailers are extracting even greater payments from suppliers to fund discounts and promotions.

"This report demonstrates how tough the market conditions have become for food and grocery suppliers, squeezed between the unstoppable force of dominant retailers and the immovable object of high labour, utility and regulatory costs," he said.

"A key finding is that one dollar in every four earned by suppliers is being returned to retailers to fund discounts, rebates and promotions.

"The rapid growth in payments extracted by retailers represents a direct profit shift from suppliers to retailers and reflects the dominant position of the two major supermarket chains.

"The two major retailers extract an additional 5 per cent more from suppliers than other retailers, reflecting their market power. This 'trade spend' has been growing at four percent per annum, while volume has been flat and profitability declining sharply.

"This level of funding flowing back to the major retailers is simply unsustainable, with a direct impact already on marketing, R&D and innovation spending."

Other key findings include:

  • Australia has the highest manufacturing costs in the world, with labour, utilities and regulatory costs all among the highest globally;
  • A strong focus on cost containment by suppliers has brought some reductions in supply chain costs through initiatives such as automation to boost efficiency and productivity;
  • Capital investment is growing, which is a positive sign for the future, although much of this investment has been focused on 'staying in business';
  • Profitability of Australian suppliers is now well below international peers, and falling further behind, raising questions about the willingness of major companies to make major investments to upgrade Australian facilities;
  • Despite growing demand for premium food in Australia's key export markets, we are losing market share in China, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia and Japan.

'Levelling the playing field'

"Looking forward, the key challenge for Australia's food and grocery sector is to improve its competitiveness in order to secure growth opportunities domestically and in export markets," Dawson said.

"This report underlines the importance of levelling up the playing field between retailers and suppliers. It is important that the draft Food and Grocery Industry Code of Conduct move through the current regulatory review process to get it in place as soon as possible.

"The Code will provide greater contractual certainty and transparency. In addition, the 'root and branch' review of Competition Policy provides a welcome opportunity to examine and address the current market imbalances.

"Without a viable domestic food processing sector Australia will not fully capitalise on the opportunities of the Asian 'dining boom'."

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