Cheaper food doesn’t seem a remote hope

Monday, June 1, 2015

Disadvantaged residents in remote parts of the Northern Territory are facing even steeper mark-ups on
food than previously thought, according to a study by the Menzies School of Health Research.

While existing NT Government figures have found that remote areas face 50 per cent higher prices than
Darwin, the latest research, published in the Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health, indicates
price differences of 60 per cent.

Even when customers in remote areas chose the cheapest, generic brand goods, the cost of their weekly
shop was still more expensive than branded goods in Darwin.

The research also found availability of a variety of food to be an issue. “On average, a product (available in
Darwin) was present in 10 of the 20 (remote) stores,” the study found.

Among the products with big price differences are fresh fruit, soft drink, and canned, dried and frozen

One of the only exceptions was bottled water, which was cheaper in remote communities.
The research also suggests the situation is getting worse.

“Evidence suggests that food affordability is worsening in remote communities, with an increasing gap in
prices between remote community stores and the Darwin supermarket over the past four years,” the study

NT Council of Social Services policy officer Jonathan Pilbrow said the study highlighted an area of inequality
which was of increasing interest to the Territory.

“There’s always going to be a price difference,” he said.

“But it reaffirms our call for a food summit, just like we had for fuel.” In recent days the National Rural Health
Conference, held in Darwin, also heard arguments for greater oversight of food prices in rural and remote
areas, with policy experts concerned about nutritional impacts on young people.

Mr Pilbrow cited recent developments in Tennant Creek, where pressure from town residents resulted in a
new manager being appointed at the local Food Barn supermarket.

“It’s an issue that’s right at the front of people’s minds,” he said. “It’s great to see a groundswell of people
wanting to make a difference rather than just pressure from a policy front.”


■ People in remote areas pay 60 per cent more for food than Darwin; 68 per cent more
than Adelaide.
■ Remote stores cannot access same market power as urban supermarkets to lower prices.
■ The cost of food contributes substantially to remote community poverty.
■ The two-store association in the study aims to support healthy food buying by minimising prices on
freshfruit and vegetables.

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