Coles and Woolworths chief executives to face senate inquiry into supermarket price hikes

Coles and Woolworths will send their chief executives to face questioning over whether customers are being ripped off as the major supermarkets are ordered to attend a senate inquiry into “price gouging”.

The major supermarkets have attracted criticism in recent months as they record major profits while Australians struggle with soaring inflation, rent increases and interest rate rises.

Select senators will probe Coles and Woolworths executives on their pricing strategies, the increase in price on essential items and the impact of their “duopoly” on food prices.

The inquiry will also look at whether the supermarkets are engaging in opportunistic pricing and mark-ups.

Coles has confirmed it will send chief executive Leah Weckert to front the inquiry, saying that the supermarket has been “working hard to keep prices affordable”.

“We have worked collaboratively with previous inquiries and are ready to work with the Committee and engage in an informed discussion on the factors that influence supermarket pricing,” Ms Weckert said in a statement.

“We continue to invest in providing great value to our customers, supporting our network of more than 8000 suppliers and providing employment to more than 120,000 Australians right across the country.”

Woolworths will also send its chief executive Brad Banducci, who says the supermarket is “very aware” of the cost of living pressures facing many Australians.

“We welcome the opportunity to explain to the senate how we are working to balance the needs of our customers, our team and our suppliers in the context of economy-wide inflationary pressure,” he said.

“As we have done at several inquiries this year, we will openly and constructively assist the parliament with its work on this important topic.

“We are proud to directly employ 180,000 team members in Australia and support the livelihoods of 18,000 suppliers in the communities we serve.”

Coles has claimed its price inflation was just 3.1 per cent for the July to September quarter, considerably lower than Australia’s inflation rate of 7.2 per cent in the same time period according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

The inquiry will likely go ahead in early 2024 after the Greens gained Labor’s support for the probe earlier this week.

Greens economic justice spokesman Senator Nick McKim said it was “time to smash the duopoly”.

“Coles and Woolworths are making billions in profits by price gouging in a cost of living crisis,” Mr McKim said.

“For too long the big supermarkets have had too much market power. This allows them to dictate prices and terms that are hitting people hard.”

A Woolworths spokesman said the supermarket is “committed to offering our customers value while working with our suppliers to manage economy-wide inflationary pressures”.

“We know Australians are feeling the strain of cost of living and we are working to deliver relief in their weekly grocery shop,” he said.

“As we start to see the rate of inflation ease, we will continue to focus on delivering savings to our customers.”

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