Australia Post delivers nasty blow

20th April 2021 | Alison Turner
Australia Post delivers nasty blow

Australia Post has announced that it will stop delivering perishable goods from June 30 this year. The decision has dealt a devastating blow to small food businesses. This is particularly so for those in regional and rural areas, who were already struggling from the ongoing effects of last year’s bushfires, years of drought and COVID.

In a statement provided to NCA NewsWire, Australia Post claimed “the complex food safety and regulatory requirements differing across states and territories” were behind the decision. Australia Post contacted some food producers – including businesses that sell goods like cheese, butter, truffles and native bush foods – in late March to inform them that they’ll no longer be delivering their products. But for many, this wasn’t enough notice.

Pepe Saya's Pierre Issa says his business wasn't given enough notice by Australia Post, and should have been consulted first
Pepe Saya’s Pierre Issa says his business wasn’t given enough notice, and should have been consulted first.

Wait a minute, Mr Postman

“They sent us a letter and called; we can’t fault them for that,” says Pierre Issa, co-owner of Sydney-based artisan butter producer Pepe Saya. “But we don’t have enough notice.

“What are we going to do? We pivoted for COVID, now we have to pivot again. And here’s the irony: we started our online delivery five years ago with Farmhouse Direct [Australia Post’s online store]. They sold our product on their website, and we would use their service to deliver our goods. And now they’re saying, ‘You can’t send perishables anymore’.”

Pepe Saya will now no longer be able to supply many interstate customers with next-day delivery. They will only be able to deliver to metropolitan areas.

Helen and Sam Penny of Cheese Therapy plan to help producers fight the Australia Post ban on perishable goods
Helen and Sam Penny of Cheese Therapy plan to help producers fight the ban.

Plans to fight decision

Australian gourmet cheese company Cheese Therapy was not notified by Australia Post of the decision, even though the business is Australia’s largest artisan cheese retailer.

“We found out through the media, as have other small producers,” says Sam Penny, co-founder of Cheese Therapy, which is now taking a leadership role by supporting regional small producers in the fight against Australia Post’s ban.

“We fought to save cheesemakers. Now we’ll fight to save all small producers against this draconian ban. It will have a devastating impact on the businesses run by mums and dads and their families around the country.”

In remote and regional areas, food producers are now scrambling to figure out how to deliver perishable goods to their customers.

“Small businesses are the backbone of rural and regional areas,” Penny says. “This blanket ban is irresponsible and will have a devastating effect on producers. It also will cut off, for people outside metropolitan areas, a source of simple pleasures.

“It flies in the face of Australia Post’s public pledges to not touch the parcel service.”

Some producers, Like Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory, are unsure if their product will be affected
Some producers, Like Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory, are unsure if their product will be affected.

What counts as “perishable”?

Rhiannon Druce, General Manager of Junee Licorice & Chocolate Factory, says she has been trying to find out from Australia Post if chocolate is included in the ban, “to no avail”.

“Online sales have skyrocketed since COVID,” she says. “We’re based in an isolated regional town; we rely heavily on Australia Post to deliver our online sales to our customers.”

“Regional businesses will suffer the most from this decision. There is often no alternative to Australia Post, as it will pick up and deliver from anywhere in the country.

“We understand the change in guidelines for products that cause health risks if delayed in transit. However, chocolate isn’t one of those. There is no clarity around the definition of perishable goods and there needs to be as soon as possible.”

Junee Licorice and Chocolate Factory just had its biggest Easter on record as Australians, including many corporate businesses, “shopped local” in a bid to help boost local business. The company sent thousands of parcels and packages across Australia.

“This could ruin online sales for us,” Druce says. “Chocolate has a longer shelf life than some perishables. We need more clarification on the ban and an alternative for postage.”

Pepe Saya is just one of many producers that will be impacted by Australia Post's ban on perishable goods
“Not how you do business.” Pepe Saya is just one of many producers that will be impacted.

Seeking another solution

Issa says that rather than a blanket ban, Australia Post should be innovating by putting refrigerated trucks on the road. He also believes that the way the taxpayer-owned company has gone about this decision is “not how you do business”.

“The way you do business is you make sure that you’re doing it right,” he says. “You make sure that you consult with the people involved. And you make sure you give adequate time to be able to let them get their books in order. Give us time to explore other alternatives.”

Cheese Therapy's Australia-wide deliveries helped to save local cheesemakers in 2020
Cheese Therapy’s Australia-wide deliveries helped to save local cheesemakers in 2020.

It’s not the answer

Cheese Therapy has its own refrigerated home delivery service, but has also relied on Australia Post for more than five years to deliver to rural and regional areas, including remote cattle stations and Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory. In the past 12 months, 55,000 hampers have been safely sent around Australia.

“We spent hundreds of thousands of dollars designing and developing a special insulation pack to ensure our cheeses remained cool for up to a week and were shipped with best practices through Australia Post,” Penny says.

In 2020, Cheese Therapy injected an incredible $2 million into rural communities by supporting local cheese manufacturers adversely affected by the bushfires and COVID-19. The company has also recently expanded to support Australian coffee farmers in the Byron Bay and Mareeba regions, as well as boutique winemakers.

“Stopping deliveries of perishable goods and hurting our farmers is not the answer,” Penny says. “We invite Australia Post to work with us to find a solution.”