Are We Being Completely Ripped Off? (On Paracetamol, Kaffir Leaves, Baked Beans, Bike Accessories and Other Items)

A couple of years ago, I was working in Laos and this cafe I used to like to go for breakfast had these interesting chairs. They were these thick cardboard barrels with Azithromycin written on the side, 60kg. I realised I was sitting on an empty container of paracetamol (or panadol). I should explain a bit further - over there you can walk into a pharmacy and buy one pill (which most people do), but I didn't realise the scale of it. For instance one 500mg paracetemol might cost 80 Kip, which is less than a cent.

Curious I started digging around using the package number and was astounded to learn you could buy one of the barrels from India for about $100. That's for 60kg!!! Think about that the next time you pick up 24 tablets of panadol for $5 - the exact same chemical. In fact I found out the home brand sold by supermarkets here is made in the same factory.

If a recipe calls for kaffir lime leaves you can buy about six of them for 4 bucks at the supermarket. Have you ever seen a kaffir lime tree? - there's a reason it's called a tree, at that going rate a kaffir lime tree is worth say $50k !!! Wtf? If you need kaffir lime leaves it's better to go down to the nursery and buy one tree for $10.

And the list goes on and on. $2.50 for a can of baked beans? When I was in England 15 years ago you could buy a tin for a few pence, now they're like a pound each. If you have ever cooked beans yourself a handful of them will make about 4 to 5 tins.

Not to mention that it is incredibly suspicious that these supermarkets are routinely having half price sales. In order to do that, what sort of price gouging are they doing at the normal price? I've never worked it out, except to notice that one week it's Coles, the next week Woolworths, then IGA get their turn. Without fail.

And the final insult - a struggling bicycle shop a minutes walk from my house. I needed an adaptor for a pump to inflate a tire. They pull out this box with hundreds of little steel adaptors and ask for 10 bucks for one adaptor. I mean I want to support local business but not outright thievery. I looked online and you could buy the exact same box for about $3 (250 adaptors). The shop shut down not long after.

Anyhow please share your stories of what you perceive as blatant ripoffs.


  • yes

  • Yes most things in Australia are more expensive than other countries.

    I am in Perth which is the culinary ass end of the world.

    Food here is expensive and sub-standard.

    Even something simple like a Mee Goreng is $10 here and tastes nothing like the original. Mean while an uneducated Malay grandfather can do it for 3 Ringgit (A$1).

    I grow a Kaffir Lime tree, its great. I've never seen it for $10 though.

    • Couldn't agree more, the quality of Singapore/Malaysian food here is disappointing at best with prices through the roof.

    • Grow them from seed. Easy. I have 2 in pots for a few years now.

    • How much does the uneducated Malay grandfather get paid

      How much would you like to be paid to do the same thing

      • I don’t know why you got down voted. I agree! I’d be paid more, in Australia, than the uneducated grandfather who’d make mee goreng 100 times better than I would.

        A meal by the curb side in Penang/Saigon (or HCMC) tastes a heap better than in a cafe/restaurant in Australia.

    • You are paying the wages of people who delivered, stocked the product, served you in the store. You are also contributing to GST and income taxes indirectly on everything you buy. Yes there is a massive “markup” but it’s to pay for living in a developed society. Not you only as an individual but all the people who brought the product to the shelf. Sure, go to India and live if you want cheap Panadol and find paying a few dollars for a 24 generic pack highway robbery. Have you seen how many deaths occur on India’s freeways due to unsafe roads and driving practices by transport workers? The other problem is people often want to pay less for things so choose the cheapest imported version , so manufacturers and importers look to get the cheapest products made in the countries with the lowest wages and favourable taxation laws. Seeking the cheapest isn’t always the most sensible depending on what kind of country and world you want to live in. Personally I’m prepared to pay more if something is manufactured in a country where their laws protect vulnerable people and offer a minimum standard of living. Also where taxation contributes to a government / society which isn’t full of corruption etc. it’s never simple as supply chains become more globalised by the day.

      • tl;dr: If you want cheap products, the trade off is you and everyone around you lives in economic poverty

  • You have identified many points of arbitrage that you can take advantage of. Either go into business and take advantage of the super normal profits that can be had or pay the asking price.

  • A kaffir lime tree from a nursery is going to be more in the realm of $80 and it probably won't have more than 20 leaves. And it needs those leaves for growing so you wouldn't want to pick more than say 5 of them.

      • Hmm, $10 and planning 14 years in advance to make a Thai dish or $5 right now? 🤔

        • No, you either pot the plant, or put it in the ground, and you take the leaves off as required. Not that I'm a huge green thumb, but it also encourages growth if you are careful to fertilise it.

          Seriously, can I ask you - did you really think someone would wait 14 years until you have a mature tree before picking a few leaves off of it? I'd prefer to think you're just being disingenuous, otherwise the alternative is quite disturbing.

          • @WizMuncher: Okay, so now it also costs fertiliser (and probably other financial costs, such as if pests appear), time and permanent space in your backyard? What happens when you want to do other things with that time or space?

            Most common fruit, veggies and herbs are cheaper to just grow yourself, as long as you're committed to looking after it - spending the time and resources. Obviously, things you buy from the supermarket will almost always be more expensive in the long run. They save you that time and space and give you the convenience of having it when you want it. They deal with sourcing those quality ingredients (and maintaining it whilst it is in their care, which includes paying for all the staff involved), whilst the farmers focus on ensuring optimal conditions for their crops, harvesting, etc. Obviously, money has to come from somewhere for that.

            Some herbs I find really easy to grow. Others, like sweet basil for some reason, die every time I try. I've wasted probably $20 on 4 different basil plants that just never last. So would I spend maybe $3 on a bunch that I won't even finish for just one dish? If I'm craving basil, yes definitely. Leftovers go to my rabbits anyway. I might not be ecstatic about it, but I know I could never grow fresh basil. Viet mint on the other hand, I would never buy because I find it so easy to grow and propagate.

            It sounds like kaffir lime plants are like your Viet mint to me. You're happy to grow it. It's easy, convenient and saves you lots of money. But unless that's all you're eating, you will always be, to a degree, "ripped off" by supermarkets for all your other foods. Everyone's being "ripped off", just choose which produce you prefer to be ripped off on, and grow the rest.

  • +27 votes

    A nice rant for a first post.

    • I'm a talented ranter, lol!!!

    • A couple of years ago

      This is the best part… OP has been sitting on this for YEARS. Grumpy old man.

    • +3 votes

      The first post explains why op doesn’t know:
      You should only buy Panamax at 69c per 100 from chemist warehouse on special
      Aldi baked beans are 65c a can everyday.
      You buy lime leaves at the Asian grocery much cheaper than from ColesWorth.
      Buy your cheap bike fittings over the internet or pay the premium for needing them immediately. (For real emergencies - start with your Facebook buy nothing group, someone in your neighbour will lend you one).

      • Too right.
        Seems like the 69c panamax sale is happening less frequently, with more limits per shop per day too :(

  • I'm not sure those are apples to apples comparisons. Laos and it's surrounding regions are low income countries so its a given that the costs of living, and the cost of essential goods (like Paracetamol) are much lower than that of Australia. And consider that 80 percent of Laos's population have jobs as subsistence farmers — that is, they produce their own food to feed themselves without any surplus for trading.

    $2.50 for a can of baked beans? When I was in England 15 years ago you could buy a tin for a few pence, now they're like a pound each

    This is just inflation (a reduction in the purchasing power of one unit of currency), it does not necessarily mean that your baked beans producer is now making 100% more profit just because the price has risen. Inflation affects not just you but also whoever is producing the goods.

    • I agree it could be inflation. But how many goods inflate nearly double every year? Interestingly I looked into this and there are all these excuses made by the very industry - tomatoes have doubled in price they claim (notice how they say nothing about the price of beans, which have only got exceptionally cheaper in the intervening period), and you go down that rabbit hole and it's just not true.

      • Are you only looking at the raw ingredients, or all the other cost components as others have pointed out?

        • No. I'm looking at the price of the product and it's exceptionally clear that inflation doesn't account for it. I'm open to the possibility that these days it takes four or five times the administrative staff then in yesteryear's to make a tin of beans.

          But that is just ridiculous.

          • @WizMuncher: Not necessarily, but staff are paid a lot more than they used to. Insurance covers more than it used to and costs more (as I'm sure discrimination/harassment/slip and falls, are more prominent than they used to be). Rent continually goes up. Marketing goes up (an add in the paper was a lot cheaper than the many ways they have to advertise now to get someone's attention).

            It's not just production costs that may go up over time.

      • Prices of raw materials can fluctuate wildly. Fruit / vegetables not only have seasonality but also affected by natural events like droughts, flooding, diseases, or even geo-political shenanigans like import tariffs.

      • Be aware that at one point they were paying people to take beans away in Britain.

    • $2.50 for a can of baked beans? When I was in England 15 years ago you could buy a tin for a few pence, now they're like a pound each

  • Welcome to capitalism, the best thing about it is if you think you can do better you can have a go!

    In most of those scenarios you are mostly paying for convenience (not to mention rent, wages, insurance, government fees and tax, risk! etc).

    • Some industries are controlled and protected by our Australian government through licensing so not everyone can just have a go and compete against those are already in the industries as this will ruin the demand and supply.

    • As I’ve always thought, lazy humans love conveniences, and so so many businesses are built on conveniences.

  • Hey OP, stop teasing us with these prices, what's the website and the shipping cost?

  • +33 votes

    The extra cost is associated with;
    - infrastructure (renting/ owning the shop/storage)
    - maintenance
    - wages for owner and/or staff
    - quality and safety (particularly when you’re talking medications)
    - investment in stock (they have money tied up in all the products they hold until they are sold)
    - transport
    - interest on any business loans for all of the above

    Yes we pay a lot of things, but people don’t run a business as a charity, they are expecting to make a profit (otherwise why bother) and their staff need to be paid.

    There are ways to save e.g. like you say buy when half price, some people won’t therefore the average price received buy the shop allows them to profit and maintain the business. For large businesses many are publicly listed so profits also go to share holders. For small business that’s the owner’s livelihood.

    • Yes, fair enough, I do accept what you're saying. What I object to is these 'super' profits. I think I've made my point. When you can buy 6kg of paracetemol for $10. That is 12,000 tablets! There is overhead, and then there is just pure greed. And my concern is that this type of price gouging is going rampantly unchecked. The only reason the supermarkets aren't even more incredibly profitable then they are is because there management is so incompetent.

      Ever wonder why that German chain (I vaguely recall, Lidl I think) withdrew from Australia after making multi million dollar investments with a solid business plan? I don't know - but for what ever reason, and it eludes me, they decided it wasn't worth it.

      • you can buy 6kg of paracetemol for $10. That is 12,000 tablets!

        Do you plan on taking a small scoop from the tub each time you have headache?

        The 6kg of paracetemol isn't going to magically turn into 12,000 individual tablets, package themselves and just fall onto the pharmacy/supermarket shelves. The're also that very high cost of complying with the local regulations to make sure they're safe for consumption.

        And if you haven't already noticed, companies exist to make a profit. They're not doing what they do out of the kindness of their hearts.

        • Yes, 60kg of paracetamol is supplied already in tablet form. Most pharmacies simple decanter the container into smaller glass jars and sell them like that.

          Sure putting them in a blister pack with anti tamper prevention would be a significant cost - I agree with you there.

          Since it's sounds like you might know this - what are the costs of complying with local regulations? Is it really that prohibitive?

          • @WizMuncher:

            Since it's sounds like you might know this - what are the costs of complying with local regulations? Is it really that prohibitive?

            I don't actually know how much it is, but it doesn't take a genius to know that there are ton of very strict regulations when it comes to pharmaceuticals.

            • @bobbified: When they are sold by supermarkets? I'm very glad there are regulations - it's a health and safety issue, but once you've ticked all the boxes, then I can't imagine the ongoing cost would be prohibitive. Once you set it all up - then you do exactly what the supermarkets are doing - you sit back and rake in the profit - manipulating the price here and there.

              • @WizMuncher:

                then I can't imagine the ongoing cost would be prohibitive.

                Thank goodness the costs of ensuring the safety of a common medicine (in fact the medicine that causes more calls to poison control centers than any other in the US) is based on your imagination.

                Seriously 100 paracetamol costs $1 at many chemists (cheaper if you wait for a special). How many tablets are you taking that it is too expensive for you? Optimising that cost isn't worth it. Look at expensive things if you want to lower your cost of living (cars, housing, insurance etc etc).

                BTW, as others have stated, Azithromycin isn't paracetamol.

      • For sure, some things are overpriced/expensive. It’s up to the consumer to decide if they are going to pay for the convenience or vote with their $ and shop around. If no one buys the expensive stuff, there won’t be a market for it and the business will stop selling it. If there’s a big market for cheap stuff businesses will cater to it (which many already do, Aldi, Chemist Warehouse, Kmart). Some people don’t mind to pay more for quality or convenience, and that is fine too (but not popular on this site)

        Eg Panamax is currently $2.49 for 100 at CW which is pretty cheap, but you could have got it for 69c on special not long ago. You have a choice to stock up when it’s cheap or just buy when you need it at the supermarket (70c for 20 at Coles). These are all blister packed with tamper evident packaging and would have been manufactured to a quality standard. Luckily in Australia most of us earn a liveable wage so we don’t have to buy Paracetamol one at a time.

      • I think I've made my point.

        You so haven't

        I don't know - but for what ever reason

        Your "point" in a nutshell

      • Your justification is ridiculous, we are consumers and we work to be able to consume….. no work, no money and therefore no consuming products. You probably work and therefore get paid more than almost any worker doing your job in any other country.

        Why stop at baked beans from a handful of beans, a barrel of pain killers etc ……., iron ore is cheap, Coal is cheap, wine by the barrel is cheap, One barrel of oil is cheap too, as is a litre of milk where the manufacturer is buying from the farmer, etc etc.

        You also have compulsory super and “free” medical as well as some protection if you can not work, which many other countries do not have access to, where does this revenue come from?

        Australia is one of the wealthiest countries (2018, number one, Credit Suisse Global Wealth report) in the world, you and I (well I retired so not me anymore) get paid well and so do all the other service workers etc around us….. the high cost of product is down to many things and where the pricing is too high then there will be competition and another player will enter the market to compete on price.

        You pay more because you can pay more, Laos is one of the poorest countries in the world, there is no comparison at all between the pricing of each.

        My suggestion would be that you start importing the $60 paracetamol barrels and go through the TGA, the various government bodies and then to the supermarkets to have your product distributed…. but then you would find that there is competition for low priced pain killers etc etc and it wouldn’t be worth your time to be selling against them.

      • If Chinese government buys medicine in bulk for savings and then distributes it cheaply to their public, why can’t we do it? It just makes so much more sense.

      • Ever wonder why that German chain (I vaguely recall, Lidl I think) withdrew from Australia after making multi million dollar investments with a solid business plan?

        Yep, I do wonder, and its obvious, if there was easy money to be made they would set up shop and compete. But alas, they withdrew probably because they didn't want to throw away good money after bad.

        To put it into perspective, if yiou look at the woolworths annual report you'd notice for every dollar of sales shareholders keep like 5c. That says to me, if every single item they sold was a further 5% cheaper they'd have zero profit. A far cry from the super profit.

  • …. these supermarkets are routinely having half price sales. In order to do that, what sort of price gouging are they doing at the normal price?

    I have no doubt there's a decent markup on all the products and I'm not trying to justify the size of it, but the rent, electricity, staff and everything else it costs to run a supermarket doesn't exactly pay for itself. And of course, they need to pay their shareholders!

    • And let us not forget that the major supermarkets pass on that discount to their suppliers, to some extent.

      • I think the opposite happens, the product suppliers actually pay for those specials…. I am not certain but I believe that the supermarket is not in any way benevolent towards their wholesalers. Wholesalers “pay” for the best space on the shelves and I think they also pay to be a “special”, that is why the premium brands are at the perfect height for you to see first.

        • That is what I meant by supermarkets pass on that discount to their suppliers.

  • $2.50 for a can of baked beans? When I was in England 15 years ago you could buy a tin for a few pence, now they're like a pound each.

    Inflation. Even pound tins is 1.80 AUD. AUD premium is definitely in there and we grow more than we can eat. I am sure there is like $1 beans at the supermarket.

    Not to mention that it is incredibly suspicious that these supermarkets are routinely having half price sales

    Having worked for a big brand with stuff in the supermarket. Half price sales are usually promotions run by the manufacturer. Australia is the only country where Colesworth asks for money for getting space (up front cost for middle, top, bottom self or end of aisles) then they get trade discount (straight off the top) and promotion discount (half price, 20% or 30% off deals)

    And you wonder why small Aussie manufacturers never get big because they don't have the deep pockets to pay up front for eye level shelf space.

  • You do realise that Australian shop owners have to pay rent and pay their staff wages? Buying that bicycle adaptor at $10 is putting money back into our economy and ultimately enriching our country. Buying 5 adaptors at $2 each from Aliexpress does nothing for our local economy and sends all your money to China.

    I can't believe the hypocrisy shown by people complaining that there is no manufacturing left in Australia, and no job opportunities left for our children when they are unwilling to pay a few extra dollars to support local Australian businesses.

    I've also been to Laos and I can tell you that the quality of life for most individuals is well below what we have in Australia. They are also still dealing with all the unexploded bombs the Americans dropped during the Vietnam war. Be grateful that you live in a beautiful lucky country where you can go for a walk in the countryside without fear of getting your leg blown off.

    • Excuse me, I could buy that exact same box for 250 adaptors, not 5. I would have happily paid them $2 for a single adaptor, it was convenient and I wanted it then and there. However, I'm not a charity - $10 is taking the piss, I knew it, and they knew it.

      It's very sad what happened in Laos - they are such lovely people. At least I worked to provide them with valuable jobs, and export dollars. I'm not anti-American, just reasonably intelligent.

      • We're all waiting for this magnificent shop of yours…

      • “it was convenient and I wanted it then and there”

        I think you should spend some time thinking about that statement, and how it influences the basis of your argument.

      • You must be a troll…… because the statement “reasonably intelligent” does not go with the statements you are making at all. A reasonably intelligent person understands at least the basic economics that are at play here.

        You fooled me for a moment because I believed you actually believed the rubbish that you wrote…. I thought I was reasonably intelligent before you fooled me lol

      • $2 doesn't go a long way toward paying the $25-30/hr wage for the employees of that store does it? You don't like then guy buy your own big ass box and resell it for less.

  • I don't think you understand how capitalism works.

    • Most Australian pricing isn't a product of the free market economy. The government puts has severe import and export restrictions, which means that products are sourced from one or a few limited suppliers. You can get around this with grey market imports on things like phones (and risk not having warranty support), but you do get the products for sometimes near on half price. The other extreme end of the spectrum are imported cars. The only legal importers of most cars are Australian subsidiaries set up by the manufacturers themselves, that means companies like Porsche A.G. sets ridiculously inflated import purchase prices for Porsche Australia, and we end up paying double. The Govt. is happy about creating effective monopolies, because they make much more through things like luxury car tax and stamp duties.

      For products that seem to circumvent our import restrictions (things like TVs), we get really reasonable pricing for a westernised country, for the most part.

      • Thank you for hitting the nail on the head. I'm not against capitalism or businesses making a profit. But when they grow so big there is no competition and start leveraging that for so called 'super' profits- can that really be called capitalism? I'm not so sure about that.

        Sometimes you have to step outside in order to look in, which is why I bring up Laos.

        • A good example of this must be Bunnings.

          Not really a great choice of competition in the DIY market and have even dropped the slogan 'lowest prices are just the beginning' - presumably because they have the vast majority of the one stop shop market virtually all to themselves.

          • @harveyworld: Although I disagree with most of OP's arguments here, I wholeheartedly agree that Bunnings is a massive ripoff with a lot of the products it sells. However, the Australian consumers have only got themselves to blame as they are too lazy to seek alternatives and will just sit back and watch Bunnings grow into unstoppable behemoth. Here in Perth we have barely any competition at all as there is no Mitre 10, just a few small tool shops. Next in line are the plant nurseries which are slowly closing their doors even though the indoor plant market is booming.

      • The Porsche thing is pretty crazy isnt it. I recently bourght one myself. For the money I spent on my used 8 year old base manual Cayman here in Australia. I could have bourght a brand new one in equivilent spec overseas.