Former Victorian premier Jeff Kennett’s criticism of Coles and an Irish bakery range has been branded an “over-reaction” by the president of the Irish Australian Chamber of Commerce (IACC).
Mr Kennett appeared on Neil Mitchell’s 3AW radio programme on July 5 and demanded that the consumer watchdog launch an investigation into the supermarket’s labelling of a bakery range from Cuisine Royale.
He told listeners that the bread is advertised as ‘baked today’ in-store, but the print on the back of the products states that it is made in Ireland.
“I say they are deceptive and misleading in the advertising because it creates the impression that it’s fresh, but it is not,” Mr Kennett told the programme.
“They will say we’ve disclosed that it’s an imported product made in Ireland. You can’t read it but it’s there.”
IACC president Brian Shanahan has criticised Mr Kennett for “his lack of understanding on the nature of trade”.
“I’m surprised that a man of his knowledge would make this argument in the first place,” Mr Shanahan told the Irish Echo.
Coles and Cuisine Royale reject Mr Kennett claims.
Coles managing director Ian McLeod issued a statement to 3AW on July 6, describing Mr Kennett’s comments as “ridiculous”.
“It is making mountains out of molehills. It is simply a trial of one new branded bread line, and customers will decide if it stays on our shelves.”
“Contrary to claims, Cuisine Royale is not being used to pressure local bread makers, and it has not pushed any locally-made bread off our shelves. Over 99 per cent of the 3.8 million loaves of bread we sell each week in Coles’ stores is made in Australia with local ingredients. That will not be changing.”
The Irish company only recently started exporting to the Australian market.
The company successfully launched their range of six Secret Centre Muffins in Coles, before launching another eleven products on June 13 into 91 supermarkets across Melbourne and Sydney, including Irish made wheaten loaf and fruit soda loaf.
The company was given six weeks to make an impact with Coles customers.
Should the range be a success, the company will launch the full range of 17 products nationwide and creating many new jobs in rural Ireland.
A statement from Cuisine Royale said the introduction of their range will not impact the Australian range in-store.
“Our products are made in Ireland using the finest ingredients sourced from all over the world. Our products are not replacing any of the current Coles range. They are an additional, premium range giving the Coles shopper more choice.”
Mr Kennett told the Irish Echo that Coles actions are ‘an abuse of a monopoly’.
“The fact is Coles is looking to import 6,000 containers from Ireland, a move that is designed to put pressure on Australian farmers and manufacturers to reduce prices.”
Mr Kennett sits on the board of directors of PFD Food Services, which provides products and ingredients to food businesses and cafes.
He argues that a forced price reduction would put some Australian suppliers and manufacturers out of business, resulting in unemployment.
Mr Shanahan believes the former premier should be encouraging trade and new ventures in Australia.
“The Chamber for almost 25 years has actively encouraged and assisted Australian companies to set up in Ireland, and we regularly welcome Irish trade missions here. In return we have taken Australian trade missions to Ireland, including one when Mr Kennett was premier. Indeed his government assisted with some of the costs of staging a trade mission,” he said.
Mr Kennett said that importing Cuisine Royale does not constitute “normal trade”, as Australia has a capacity to produce bread.
He believes that importing these products could force Australian companies out of business and have serious long-term effects.
“If we have no capacity to produce primary products, we will be at the whim of large companies.
“My first priority is for Australia to have Australian farms and manufacturers supply their own community.”
The IACC disagree.
“It’s a boutique bread range – in terms of dollars, it will not be affecting the balance of trade,” said Mr Shanahan.
The trial of the Cuisine Royale range runs until Saturday, July 14.