What’s in your supermarket says a lot about your suburb
WE ARE what we eat, so the old saying goes. And increasingly, what we choose to buy from big name supermarkets - and what those supermarkets choose to serve us - is revealing huge amounts about who we are and the fellow shoppers in our suburb.
Far from the shelves in Coles and Woolies stores being identical from Darwin to Devonport, the chains are now skewing their ranges to better reflect their local communities.
In exclusive data shared with news.com.au, Coles has revealed that customers in the inner west of Sydney can't get enough cured meats and fancy cheeses, Adelaideans have an insatiable appetite for a unique chocolate, while shoppers in outback Western Australia crave kangaroo tails.
"At Coles we are part of the communities we serve and so in some stores we tailor our range to meet our customers' needs," a spokeswoman told news.com.au.
In some cases, an enthusiasm for a particular product might be down to regional tastes, such as how moreish Adelaide shoppers find Menz FruChocs lollies.
Like a long lost relative of the Jaffa, FruChocs are chocolate covered sweets containing a peach and apricot centre. Barely known outside South Australia, they're so popular in their home state, a huge FruChocs mascot can regularly be seen spruiking the treats. In fiercely loyal SA, it's no surprise - Menz is a local company.
In Leichhardt, NSW, it's all about the deli counter. Coles has taken to stocking more cured meats and European cheeses to satisfy the tastebuds of shoppers in an area known for its history of Italian immigration.
At stores in Bondi Junction, in Sydney's eastern suburbs, and Elsternwick and Balaclava in Melbourne you'll see something you won't see elsewhere.
Situated in suburbs with large Jewish communities, these Coles' are the only in the network to feature entire aisles dedicated to kosher food.
In years gone by, about the only significant change in stocking was between states. For instance, more sunscreen was on shelves in tropical Queensland than in chilly Tasmania.
But drilling down on sales data and talking to customers has led stores to start tweaking their products on a suburb by suburb basis.
In May, rival Woolworths announced it has been moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach to stocking the shelves.
Woolworths general manager of supermarkets Claire Peters said the firm was increasing the number of products available to each store so they could better reflect the unique tastes of customers.
Previously, Woolies revealed, it had been running out of a branded staple in its Plumpton store in western Sydney far quicker than in stores further east.
"We did significantly run out of Doritos because we gave it the same amount of space on shelves as Marrickville would have had, and our customers in Plumpton love Doritos," she told Fairfax. That store had a refit and there is now double the shelf space for the cheesy triangular chips.
Meanwhile in Marrickville, Woolies has given more space in its adjoining liquor store for craft beers - such as Young Henry's which is brewed up the road in the hipster hotspot of Newtown.
Coles said that one of the more unique local favourites is kangaroo tails. These are sold in just a handful of stores in Western Australia including Broome, Karratha and Tom Price but are a particularly big seller in Kalgoorlie.
A local delicacy, the tails are wrapped in foil, buried in burning coals and often served with vegetables. They can also be used in dishes such a bourguignon or curry.
Still in WA, in Kununurra, locals have taken to pumpkins, melons, mangoes and bananas, chiefly because they are grown in the surrounding areas.
Coles has a program in place whereby this fruit and veg is sent straight to stores, rather than being shipped to a warehouse in Perth and back again, keeping them fresher. Customers approve.
Back in Sydney, step into Woolies in Auburn and it won't be rows of shiny apples and blemish-free bananas you see first - rather it's boxes and boxes of sweet dates. Locals, many of who have a Middle Eastern or Turkish background, munch their way through masses of the dried fruit.
There has been criticism in the past that supermarkets were missing out on customers from ethnic backgrounds. Not only because they didn't stock the right foods but also because they misunderstood how people shopped.
Lou Petrolo, who runs Sydney multicultural marketing agency Etcom, said he had once worked with a big chain which had assumed the reason it was losing ethnic customers was simply because of price.
"So they tried to price match but [price] wasn't the problem," he told attendees at the AdNews Live conference in November.
"They didn't consider bigger families like to buy in bulk so rather than picking two or three items off a shelf in a box, they wanted [large] bins. They wanted to be able to get in there and feel the produce and experience the product and feel like they are getting good value.
"Just by making small changes to the layout and understanding that at Ramadan instead of selling one box of dates, you have 10."
Suburbs such as Lakemba in Sydney and Broadmeadow in Melbourne have some of Australia's largest Muslim populations. Coles said it has a swath of stores in those cities that stock products specifically for Ramadan, the month-long daytime fast observed by Muslims that ends with the celebration of Eid.
Some stores might celebrate other festivals such as Diwali, observed by Hindus, or Chinese New Year alongside Easter and Christmas which features in all stores.
However, some marketers have said supermarkets' tendency to focus on one-off religious or multicultural festivals is to their detriment.
"That needs to change because grocery buyers are there all of the time," Masheila Pillay, multicultural director of branding agency Dentsu X told the AdNews conference.
"What is needed for these supermarket chains is that sometimes it's just a matter of putting a little bit more investment [in] to reach a completely new market. Using similar creative, but having [a] more tailored approach to certain audiences."
Coles said it now stocked, for instance, halal food in some stores all year round to meet this demand.
Box Hill in Melbourne and Hurstville and Eastwood in Sydney are areas with large Chinese-Australian populations. Not surprisingly, in the supermarkets in these areas, customers can't get enough of Asian vegetables like wombok and bok choy.
"We want our customers to have access to products that reflect their cultural tastes and also support local growers and producers to stock their products locally, reducing food miles," a spokeswoman said.
"Whether it's kangaroo tail in Western Australia, kosher food in areas with large Jewish communities or baked in-store flatbreads for Middle Eastern and Asian communities, Coles is always looking for ways to deliver choice to our customers."