Buying Australian Made

It’s not as easy as you may hope or think!

We had an amusing incident a couple of years ago that highlighted the plight of Australian manufacturing. I had on my desk a Celco stapler that was handed down to me by my Grandfather. It’s a sturdy piece of gear that works as well today as when it was made back in the sixties. A teenage staff member thought it was a ‘novelty item’ (or ‘prank’ item as she called it) because in bold raised print across the bottom it said ‘MADE IN AUSTRALIA’ and as she said ‘It’s not real, cause everyone knows everything is made in China’.

The dependency on China… pros and cons

One of the many lessons the pandemic has revealed is how dependent we have become on imported goods and looking a little deeper is the realization of how many industries and their accompanying jobs this country has lost.

It’s been a dream run for consumers as our local market has been flooded with everything we could ask for at prices previous generations would have thought impossible. The pandemic shone a light on how dependent we have become on foreign suppliers as things like PPE (especially face masks and sanitizer) and medical equipment such as ventilators suddenly ran into critical supply issues. The lockdown in early 2020 saw people suddenly try to adapt to changing circumstances and the closure of all gyms saw immediate shortages of exercise equipment and bike shops selling out with no option but to wait for new stock to arrive from struggling overseas manufacturers and a hugely disrupted supply chain. Conversely the embarrassing ‘saga’ around toilet paper demonstrated how important having local manufacturing was as the few Australian manufacturing facilities we have ramped up and eventually matched demand.

Choices – not always as easy as we want

As consumers we all get to choose whether to support Australian industry and Australian jobs with every purchase we make. Sometimes the price difference between local and imported is too much to justify. Sometimes (in fact often) there simply isn’t a choice, it’s imported or nothing. As a business we are faced with the same choices with all our purchases. Fortunately most of our spend is on fresh ingredients which we always specify must be Australian produce and as much as possible is purchased from local suppliers. With our packaging however we are faced with the same ‘local or imported’ decision.

When examining packaging options the first box it has to tick is being an environmentally responsible option, not just in the composition of the article but also that the material used to manufacture it was sourced responsibly. (i.e Felling an ancient rain forest to make a bio-degradable ‘anything’ goes beyond hypocritical). The second most important criteria is Australian made and as much as possible from Australian sourced materials.

With every box we tick the price goes up but with every purchasing decision we make we know somewhere in our psyche that we are either going to be part of the problem or part of the solution and deep down we know there’s no middle ground. In the past we have not always had the luxury of making that choice, decisions were made around ‘surviving’ as a business or dealing with some very limited enviro-options. Today however, in our fifteenth year, the business has matured enough to be able maintain our focus on sustainability yet forgo some profitability to include more Australian content.

Our Choices wherever possible, are for Australia and the Environment

On top of a number of previous decisions our most recent switch was the brown paper bags that we use so many of. Always sourced from Asia we paid 1.6 cents per bag, now we are using a printed Australian made bag that we pay 4 cents for. In isolation it’s a minute sum but like all packaging costs we need to multiply the cost increase by thousands or in the case of the paper bags, hundreds of thousands a year. We are in the process of switching from the fully imported milk board boxes that we use for our family pies to an Australian made brown cardboard box, again at a 100% cost increase, and in the coming months after using up the last of our printed cups we will be serving our coffee in an Australian made, fully ‘home compostable’ plastic free cup. We have used an Australian made cup for over a decade but recent innovations have enabled us to now include the most environmentally responsible option available as well.

While there is a cost with all these decisions, the cost of losing our industrial capacity and letting our ability to produce what we need slip away will almost inevitably be greater.