Laugh at him or admire him, Dick Smith as as fair dinkum as The Wiggles, Qantas, sausage sizzles at polling booths and Akubra hats. It is with some sadness that our favourite and preferred brand of peanut butter—OzEnuts (crunchy, of course, what else?)—will soon disappear. We read in the news a couple of days ago that Dick will be closing his food products business for reasons best known to him but, as he says, putting the blame on the supermarkets for making it impossible to compete on a level playing field.
When you visit your supermarket, finding Dick's OzEnuts can be a challenge; more often than not, they're placed on the bottom shelves. Coupled with the fact that they're higher priced than their competitors, OzEnuts (and other products from this business) are not turning customers on. Indeed, one commentator suggests that the failure of Dick Smith Foods is a natural consequence of being too pricey.
Dick Smith is many things: an entrepreneur, philanthropist, adventurer, writer, aviator and political activist (among others). I can't think of a single Australian businessperson who has donated as much money to charity as Dick. He's received Australia's highest honours (Australian of the Year, Companion of the Order of Australia). This doesn't necessarily make him an all-round decent bloke; he's got some way-out views that I don't agree with (for example his stance on Australian immigration policy) but he has many admirable qualities.
I have no love for supermarkets to rig the system to price-out certain product lines or fill their shelves with cheaper alternatives and, in the process, cause financial hardship for primary food producers in the supply chain. Milk is one such product that comes to mind. Let's leave the matter of price aside for the time being, however. What about the products themselves?
OzEnuts peanut butter—again, I stress, crunchy, not smooth—tastes better than a lot of the dried, stick-to-the-roof-of-your-mouth glunk that is available on supermarket shelves. It's not just the taste that makes it worth paying an extra dollar a jar for (and besides, that extra dollar goes to charity, anyway). It's not just the fact that the peanuts, themselves, are sourced from Australian peanut farms. It goes further than that.
Were you aware that OzEnuts does not contain palm oil? (So what's the big deal about palm oil?) Palm oil is cheaper than many other vegetable oils. Palm oil is used a lot in cosmetic manufacturing (including personal soap). The issue with palm oil is that people are destroying the natural habitat of orangutans, especially in Malaysia, by chopping down the jungles in order to plant palm trees. The big problem is that, despite the catastrophic environmental effects of deforestation in order to obtain palm oil, there's no regulation requiring manufacturers to label their food products to show if palm oil is used. Chances are, if you pick up a jar of peanut butter, you'll only read that it contains "vegetable oil". Yeah. The question is, what kind of vegetable was used to make the oil? There's no proven, significant benefit to humans relating to the consumption of palm oil in their diet.
OzEnuts are good for the environment? Well, peanut butter may not be good for everyone (especially if you're tempted to have midnight snacks, scooping large teaspoons from the jar, I guess … or if you're allergic to peanuts). We just like it with toast for brekky. It'll be a shame to see OzEnuts disappear from the shelves; it's a shame that the closure of Dick Smith Foods will put additional pressure on the viability of home-grown Aussie primary producers. In much the same way as we've grown up with iconic brands like Vegemite, Redheads, Arnott's bickies, Mortein, Tip Top bread and Western Star butter that are taken over by off-shore interests, the choice for Australian consumers to keep home-grown and home-owned is becoming a thing of the past.