These things we know:
- Supermarkets price match their house brand goods. When Woolworths is selling 500g of spaghetti for 90 cents, so are Coles and ALDI. (Actually, right now ALDI is 1 cent cheaper, but the pattern still holds.)
- Supermarkets don’t manufacture these products themselves. They pay others to do it. But they don’t want you to know where that happens. The packaging always just names the supermarket.
Given these two facts, it seems likely that many house brands actually come from the same supplier. And that supplier might even be the same one making the pricier brand-name alternative. But if you don’t work for one of these chains, how would you ever know?
One key source of clues: food safety recalls. I’ve analysed 4 years of announcements from Food Standards Australia, which manages all recalls in Australia.
When a product type is recalled across multiple supermarkets, that strongly suggests a common source. Ditto if a big brand does a recall, and a house brand also recalls the same product type for the same reason at the same time.
That’s the ALDI/Smith’s connection. On 1 October 2022, Smith’s recalled its salt and vinegar chips because of “the potential presence of foreign matter (plastic pieces)”. Just one day earlier, ALDI had recalled its Sprinters multi-pack chips, which include salt and vinegar, for exactly the same reason. That suggests both came from the same factory.
Is it possible both Smith’s and Sprinters came from entirely different factories, each supplied with potatoes laced with plastic? Yes, it’s possible. But it’s not likely, frankly.
The same happened with pesto back in 2020. On 6 February, Leggo’s recalled its basil pesto because of “the potential presence of an undeclared allergen (peanuts)”. On the same date, Woolworths-branded basil pesto was recalled for exactly the same reason. And that month, ALDI recalled its Remano brand pesto because of (you guessed it) potential peanut risk. Clearly, Leggo’s was responsible for all these pestos.
It’s a pattern we also see with store-brand-only products. Take almond, brazil and cashew spread. (Confession: I only learned that was a thing researching this piece.)
Coles’ Wellness Road version and Woolworths’ Macro version were both recalled on 18 December 2020 because of the potential presence of peanuts. It seems unlikely anyone with a peanut allergy would have ventured near a nut spread anyway, but you can’t be too careful.
Almonds can be risky, it seems. ALDI recalled its Inner Goodness UHT Almond Milk on 28 August 2020, due to “potential microbial contamination”. Three days later, Freedom Foods pulled its Blue Diamond and MILKLAB almond milk brands because of the same issue. So it’s pretty certain that Freedom Foods was manufacturing that product for ALDI.
Those are all the examples I found in the current Food Standards online database, which doesn’t go back past 2019. But I know from earlier research that back in 2017, there was also a mass recall of garlic bread by George Weston Foods, which included versions for ALDI, Woolworths and other stores:
- Aldi Me’n’u Garlic Bread Twin Pack 450g
- Woolworths Homebrand Garlic Bread 450g
- FoodWorks Best Buy Twin Pack Garlic Bread 450g
- Foodland Garlic Bread Twin Pack 450g
- IGA Bakers Oven Garlic Bread Minis 4 Pack
- IGA Bakers Oven Twin Pack Garlic Bread
The lesson is clear: Australian supermarkets often use the same manufacturers for their store brands. I’ll update this list if further examples come to hand.