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Koos Kombuis

My 3 hours as an undercover housewife

2011-08-23 13:07
Welcome to yet another column about women! As you know by now, this entire month is supposed to be National Women’s Month, and I’m just doing my bit!

In a heroic attempt to connect with the woman psyche, I vowed to live one day as a housewife. The attempt only lasted for about three hours, though, after which I was so traumatized that I gave up! Being a housewife is really much tougher than I imagined!

On the fateful day of my aborted attempt at housewifehood, I foolishly accepted a challenge from my wife to accompany her on her monthly grocery-shopping excursion in our local branches of Pick ‘n Pay and Woolworths. Yes! You heard me! Like Dante following Beatrice into the Netherworld, I risked my life and sanity just to prove my love to her, and my solidarity to all housewives everywhere!

I will not frighten you with all the grisly details. I won’t describe the frantic, frenzied noise of squeaky trolley wheels down narrow passageways, jostling with the trolleys of other housewives. Words cannot describe the fear, the anger, the queues, the endless rows and rows of scary dead animals wrapped in plastic, the clanging of cash registers! The horror! The horror!


There was one positive spin-off from this nightmarish ordeal, though. My journalistic nose actually picked up a story. Singlehandedly (with a little help from the calculator in my Blackberry), I unraveled a scandal. I discovered evidence of large-scale corruption in the grocery store business!

DID YOU KNOW that some of our most well-known supermarkets are trying to confuse women? Indeed! They are deliberately insulting the intelligence of the female gender, and, what’s more, they are making a secret profit on the side!

It was while we were standing in Pick ‘n Pay in front of a rack full of breakfast cereals that I happened to notice something odd. According to the price tags, a 750 gram box of Wholewheat Original ProNutro cost R26,99, whereas a box of 1,5 kilograms, only double the size, cost a whopping R59,99. Some faceless person somewhere in the food chain was making a profit of R6,01 on the bigger size! A profit on WHAT? Empty space?

A little while later, when I noticed that a 1,5 liter bottle of Lemon Fresh Jik cost a whole R27,99 compared to R10,99 for a 750 milliliter bottle of exactly the same stuff – an inexplicable increase of more than 27% per unit for the larger size, according to my Blackberry - I realised I was onto something.

Torturous hours

In various supermarkets across the mall, during the course of three tortuous hours, I found a total of eight similar discrepancies!

Don’t ever buy the following items in bulk: Fatti’s and Moni’s long spaghetti. Pick ‘n Pay No Name Brand long spaghetti. Woolworths Everyday Sunflower oil (with the sticker that says "Best Value"). First Choice packaged milk! Borges Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Wheat-free ProNutro. The list is probably longer, but, as I said, I had to give up after three hours because of a fit of nausea.  

So, what’s the moral of this story? Yes, housewives live dangerously! And malls are dangerous places! They are dangerous, not only for sensitive souls like myself who’d much rather stay at home and watch rugby on TV than wander in a zombie-like trance through the temples of capitalism, but they are also dangerous for the millions of innocent, downtrodden females who are desperately trying to balance their monthly budgets and buying stuff in bulk trying to save their pennies and do the best for their families!

Hell and back

Can’t the Bosses of Big Business do their sums properly? Or do they simply have no empathy with the fact that the average housewife simply doesn’t have the time to use the calculator in her Blackberry?

Exposing this racket is probably my final contribution to National Women's Month, 2011. I don’t have the stomach for doing any housewife-related research in the foreseeable future. It’s been three days since my journey to hell and back, and I am still in shock! I have been able to do nothing else but sit barefoot in my own kitchen, quietly sipping triple gin & tonics, and hoping the flashbacks of frozen poultry and shrill voices asking "Do you have a Smart Shopper’s card?" would go away…
PS: Both my wife and I confirmed on at least two occasions with the staff of Pick 'n Pay and Woolworths that these prices were, indeed, not due to faulty price tags, but correct. They were unable to provide any explanation for the anomalies, and did not offer to call the management.


After reading Koos' column, Channel24 too did some digging and asked the companies mentioned for their comments.

This is what they've got to say:

"Hey Koos

I’m really sorry that I got my sums wrong. Initially I thought it may have been my reading glasses but then I pulled out my very own Blackberry, did a quick calculation and found out that you were quite right.

The 4 L Sunflower oil was incorrectly priced in our Western Cape stores. We have now corrected the error. I sincerely regret the mistake."

Zyda (MD for Food at Woolworths)

Pick n Pay’s Acting Merchandise Director Peter Arnold also responded saying:

"It’ a shame that Koos Kombuis didn’t pop us (or any other retailer) a call before writing his story on the differentials that can be found from time to time on differently sized products. If he had, we would have been able to provide a simple explanation for how things are priced from suppliers – and this applies to all retailers, all over the world – not just us or Woolworths as the case may be.

With goods being sold from our suppliers, it’s not always the case that a bulk product is cheaper per litre or per kilogram. It’s also not quite as simple as taking a product with double to contents and doubling the price – or taking a product with half the quantity and halving the price. There are a number of things that can affect price of particular goods which we get from suppliers. These can range from the amount of packaging required, to which product sizes happen to be on promotion from our suppliers (where we can secure a special promotional price for a period). As a general rule, the less quantity in a product, the more likely it is to be more expensive on a per litre or per kilogram basis.

Importantly though, Pick n Pay was the first, and for a long time the only retailer in South Africa, to put prices on the shelves which transparently showed the actual price per kilogram or per litre that our customers were buying. It’s on the same price tag as the goods concerned. That in turn means that whatever the price on the price tag, our customers would always know exactly the value they were getting. If they then still wished to buy a certain size, they knew the price they were paying.

Pricing is a bit more complicated than it seems, but in terms of our very robust negotiations with suppliers and our sourcing policies, we always make sure that we bring the very best to our customers – and that we’re 100% transparent on exactly what they are paying."

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