What are Foodbank prices really like?

I’d like to acknowledge that in having a car, the time and physical ability to shop around I am in a very priveledge position to even be able to venture to one or more foodbanks, along with having Coles, ALDI and Woolies in my town. I scour the catalogues like your granny would, and stretch my DSP far. I can walk away from a price I don’t find fair, many can’t and either have to pay the price offered or go without that item or another to compensate. 

People on welfare are the savviest shoppers around. They know when their preferred items are on special and where. You’ll remember your grandparents scripting and saving, carting their little granny trolley from shop to shop to gather their food for the fortnight on pension day. That’s what we all do now, but the pensions and certainly other payments like Youth Allowance and JobSeeker don’t go as far, so more and more people are using foodbanks for their regular grocery shops, if they have access to one, the car to get there or somehow luck out on one that delivers (Southlakes in my area does a $10 home delivered box of essentials each week, a rare gem) or is in walking or public transport distance.

Hours at the foodbanks are limited – for example the Salvos here is 10-1 Tuesday and Thursday, the community church 9-12 Thursday. And there’s often a line out the front, meaning people get there early (the oldies at the church I’ve seen at 8am for the $2 fresh fruit and veg boxes on offer at nine) or be prepared to hang around til it’s your turn. Which is fine again for those of us with time to kill, not if you’re wrangling toddlers or have mutual obligations with Centrelink, or medical appointments. Tensions can get high in the lines, everyone’s already on edge from *waves hands* life and all that, having to queue for a free bag of fruit and veges, or to get in to buy discounted items that you don’t have the usual choice over – no you can’t get the cereal the kids prefer or not get lavendar cos you hate it because if that’s what’s on offer and you need to fill that gap in your pantry or cleaning products, you get what’s on offer and at the price on offer. They say choice and control a lot on NDIS talk, people on welfare don’t have choice and control. Beggars can’t be choosers, but when someone cuts in line because they didn’t know the system or the supervisor makes you say please when you were being polite already…. that gets to you even when you’re usually easy-going.

Photo in a hall. There are fold out tables with boxes on them people are sorting groceries into the boxesA box o assorted groceries

Macquarie church at Cardiff does a $5 box weekly if you can get there between 1pm and 2.30pm

So, when you’re trying to stretch your budget and the foodbank is charging more than Woolies or Coles is you might question it. You might get told it’s the same as the supermarket, but it’s short dated so you think that’s not exactly fair. Or, it’s more expensive than the regular specials at the majors, or it’s a name brand but because your budget extends to home brand pricing, you can’t see how it’s fair to charge more than you’d pay for the home label or Aldi equivalent even though it has the shiny label.

Then you remember these items were donated by the supermarkets – written off for their own purposes to be seen as generous, or other shoppers have donated it at the checkout, paying full price for it with their own shopping…

Foodbank and Ozharvest collect donations, the most obvious ones those ones they ask for at the checkout. Presumably this goes to their transport costs, which would be substantial. But there’s also grants for these from all levels of government, and private donations. All these appeals for money and people wonder why they’re left paying $3 for a box of donated, short-dated weetbix.

On a white bench - a recycling bin, breadrolls, fruit buns, fingerbuns, sourdough
Free breads from the Friday foodbank

On Fridays I line up for my Ozharvest bag and breads (above) and then usually buy a bagful of groceries from certain shelves for $12. It’s $14 the first time, and $12 after that if you bring the bag bag to reuse. There’s always noodles and cereals, sauces I may or may not like, tins of chick peas and tomatoes. Other snacks and such vary. Again, you get a lot compared to full price, but it’s all short dated or past best before dates (they can sell it up to six months past a best before date). I just dislike that there’s no catering for special diets, wheat and carbs are king. And no preferences, just get what’s on offer.

Groceries on a bench: Granola, crackers, milk , tins, noodles, cake mixes, sauces

That foodbank has a bunch of other shelves of individually priced goods they’ve purchased from Foodbank the charity. Please forgive the quality of the photos, I wasn’t supposed to be taking photos at all for privacy reasons but there’s noone in them….

Cans on a foodbank shelf. The photo is a little blurry

How much would you expect to pay for a can of beans at the foodbank? $1? Free? How about “2 for $4”? (Yes you can just buy one can, yes it’s bloody annoying that it’s ticketed that way casting more confusing into already meh situations) $2? Well, the beans are $2.20 at Coles, so that’s a fair price, according to this place. They figure since it’s less than full price of the supermarket it’s fair. And of course you don’t HAVE to buy it there, but as a poor person you expect that you’ll be getting a good price, right? Especially since you wouldn’t be buying Edgell if you were at coles, it’d be the $1.10 home brand option. screen cap from coles website Tins of beans for $2.20 a can

The little church foodbank I go to on Thursdays sells tins of beans for $1. I might get them if I need the ingredient for something but usually I’ll pick up a tin of something at ALDI.

Cans and other products ona foodbank shelf

How about cleaning products? Pine o Clean full price is $8 for 1.25L at the majors, but you can get a homebrand bottle for $2.50. At the first foodbank, they have them “2 for $12” or $6 a bottle. SO less than the brand, but more than homebrand. Plus you don’t get choice over scent. And I never would buy brand cleaners full price. A small Morning Fresh is $5.50 full price, but the various sizes are half price most weeks at either Coles or Woolies. There’s many cheaper dishwashing liquid options out there as you know – Choice ranks a bunch of them on their website. I usually just get and am happy with the ALDI one. Oh and the foodbank price? $3.

Pine o clean and toilet blech on a shelf morning fresh

How about milk? HOW ABOUT MILK? You ask. We know the pice of milk at the supermarket is a hot topic. It’s $4.50 for three litres at ALDI,  $4.80 at Coles. Remember when it was $1 a liter? lol Longlife milk is another option – Aldi 1L $1.59, 2L $3.09. Homebrand about the same $1.60,

long life full cream milk and vegemite on a foodbank shelfgroceries on a foodbank shelf

SO, what’s the foodbank asking for 2L of longlife Aldi full cream milk? $3 at one, $2.50 at the other. Or $2.50 for two 1L skim at the little church foodbank.

the $1.50 and 2 for $1.50 items at my local foodbank

Want non-dairy milk? $3 for a litre.

teabags, condenced milk, ling life nut milks

Now, TREATS is some we’re told we shouldn’t have, we shouldn’t buy a pack of biscuits and stick to noodles. But YOU DO DESERVE NICE THINGS. But you should be able to get them for a reasonable price. I look at the catalogues every Wednesday to see what’s half price at woolies, you can usually get a half price block of Cadbury or Nestle at one of Coles or Woolies. Never pay full price for brands.

BUT, let’s treat ourselves, we’re at the foodbank, depressed about the cost of groceries and food and life. SO, how about a chockie? Well you could pay $2 for a three pack of these Nutella biscuits, best before 28/09/2023. Or you could have gotten four packs for $1 at the little church the day before. Big W has them for $2.50, presumably with a longer best before date.

A dissplay of nutella bisuitsA dispplay of nutella bisuits

screenshot of nutelle biscuits from Big W website.

So yes, they’re cheaper than the full priced ones. But you don’t have the choice you do at the supermarket, and they have very short best before dates, which certainly works into how much you should pay, which is why Woolies donated this stuff in the first place. Choice matters. Being able to keep it more than a week matters.

Groceries on my nech
$18 at the little church foodbank


Other foodbank services might charge a membership fee. Or have a certain purchase amount before you can get the free bread. Rules vary, and this is just my little selection in my area. And I’m not doing this just to complain. But foodbanks aren’t free. And people need to know this, either so they know where their donations at the checkout are going or what if means when Coles and Woollies write off their products to charity. But also so you don’t go to a foodbank hungry, broke and tired and expect something for free. Because yes places do emergency free hampers, but again that usually means going through a social worker and there’s even less choice then.Good luck out there. You deserve to have nice things.