Palate Pleasures – Our strong dollar certainly isn’t helping matters

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Wandering down a supermarket aisle and contemplating an enormous selection of air fresheners the other day, I was struck by the sheer volume of selection available to me, the consumer. How is it possible to make the best choice…

Weighing up the intricate details regarding quality, making mathematical calculations on quantity, not to mention such ethical considerations as buying local, or buying Australian?

Feeling like I needed to arm myself with a stack of Choice magazines and spend hours online reading millions of reviews in order to make a truly informed decision, I started to think about how inundated our retail market is with all manner of products – and how these products differ markedly in terms of quality and of course, price. And then, of course, how confusing and exhausting the process of sifting through such a huge selection of choice is for the consumer. If I have to spend 5 whole minutes contemplating the world of air fresheners, there’s got to be something amiss …

Well, firstly, that big and strong Aussie dollar has some explaining to do when it comes to answering my questions. Of course, our large Pacific island is nice, fair game for those cheap as chips Asian imports. Now, more than ever before – our local products are no match for that cheap and cheerful stuff. There’s massive factories out there somewhere, churning out billions of goods, using dirt cheap labour, hammering out not just worthless rubbish, but indeed passable imitations of local product – at a fraction of the price of the Aussie equivalent. It’s a worrying trend – and one that we simply seem not able to compete with. Regardless of our ‘Buy Australian’ conscience, the bottom line is that we cannot resist a bargain, and the ‘Made in China’ sticker is something we only notice after purchase, so dazzled are we by the saving of dollars and the clever packaging which so mimics the local prototype.

And it doesn’t stop at the supermarket either. This trend travels all the way up the market to white goods and to luxury purchases. When the imitation looks as good as the real thing at first sight, why stay onshore when you can go offshore at a fraction of the price? Indeed, even in the restaurant game, Chinese Truffles are the new deal and much cheaper than their French, Italian or Australian counterparts.

But, at the end of the day, can the quality of something made in a massive factory, by unskilled labour in a far flung province in a different country rival what is made with tender loving care by a proud local business?  Well, apparently those Chinese truffles play their part, not one that I like to take part in, however they certainly do …

Australia is an expensive place these days. Our strong dollar certainly isn’t helping matters, but our geographical isolation, sparse population and our relatively high standard of living leads to pretty much everything costing more than it does elsewhere. The cost of labour is sky-high here, as are all the overheads involved in running a business – rent, utilities, insurance – you name it, and all of this is undoubtedly factored in to every good and every service. Ironically, even if you buy that cheap TV, which will of course need repairing just after the warranty expires – you will most likely keel over in shock at the local repairman’s quote. And of course you will perpetuate the vicious cycle of choosing the cheap by leaving the bargain TV out for Council pick up and then simply buying another. It’s scarily more cost effective to buy another ‘bargain’, than to employ local resources and fix the one you have …

We may still be the ‘lucky country’ but we are most certainly not the ‘cheap country’…But the silver lining is, we often get what we pay for when we buy Australian. Most of what’s local lasts longer, tastes better and best of all, makes us feel better when we choose it over that sneaky import.

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