Angry Australian vegetable farmers will be forking out an extra 40c a crate to fund Jamie Oliver’s new Woolworths campaign – Jamie’s Garden – on top of an existing market levy.
One large supplier is expecting to pay a sum of $300,000 over the six-week campaign, the industry’s peak group AUSVEG said.
Extra pressure was also being placed on smaller operators working on “wafer-thin” profit margins, according to reports in Fairfax.
In a letter to the celebrity chef, AUSVEG urged Oliver to use his influence and compel Woolworths to remove the fee, and to “implore the retailer to refund growers’ contributions”.
“I doubt Jamie is the kind of person who would want to adversely affect farmers. If he sees this is being levied unfairly on growers, he could ask serious questions, and possibly compel them to give the money back to growers,” AUSVEG spokesman William Churchill said.
“He seems like a reasonable man.”
This news comes after in a promotional video posted on YouTube by Woolworths, the chef says his partnership with the supermarket involved “looking at standards and ethics of where our food comes from”.
Jamie’s Ministry of Food Australia spokeswoman Camilla Speirs said the chef supported “those people who provide Australians with fresh food and vegetables”.
However, she would not comment on the farmers’ complaints, adding, “he’s a man of the people, and wants to be able to work with everyone.”
AUSVEG has lodged a formal complaint with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC).
A spokesman said the commission would “carefully consider any concerns raised”.
Woolworths defended the extra levy, saying half its suppliers had opted to pay the voluntary fee. It refused to say what percentage of the advertising costs would be covered by the farmers’ contribution, according to reports in Fairfax.
But Mr Churchill said apart from asking them to pay for the ads, Woolworths did not provide information on how farmers would benefit from them, the expected return on investment, or the breakdown on how the money would be spent.
He also said many farmers felt they had no choice but to take part, in fear of jeopardising their contract with Woolworths, according to reports on Fairfax.
Independent senator Nick Xenophon threw his support behind the farmers, saying he will send a separate letter to Mr Oliver urging him to meet farmers and industry groups.
“I’ve put up a bill in the Senate that basically says if a company has abused its market power, in any sector, then there ought to be the power for the court to break up that company as part of the penalty involved,” he said.
“Now that power exists in the US, it exists in Europe, it exists in other developed countries around the world, but it doesn’t exist here in Australia.”
It comes after the ACCC took court action against Coles, claiming it engaged in unconscionable conduct to boost profits.