Cheap, cheerful and booming: the Australian stores selling food at huge discounts

<span>Grant Miles at the Cheaper Buy Miles store in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. The discount concept has become so popular he has recently opened a fourth shop.</span><span>Photograph: Ellen Smith/The Guardian</span>
Grant Miles at the Cheaper Buy Miles store in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick. The discount concept has become so popular he has recently opened a fourth shop.Photograph: Ellen Smith/The Guardian

Grant Miles has rarely seen so much demand for discounted food in the 30 years since he opened his first Cheaper Buy Miles store in the Melbourne suburb of Footscray.

“There are days we can’t fit any more people through the door,” Miles says.

Miles started CBM in 1995 to combat food waste by buying products nearing their best-before date or that were being offloaded by suppliers. He has recently opened a fourth Melbourne store, in Fitzroy, to keep up with the demand driven by the cost-of-living crisis.

A similar venture in Sydney, Beyond Best Before, opened in Newtown 11 months ago, and has now started trialling home delivery across the country.

Cheaper Buy Miles has made a name for itself selling cheap wheels of cheese, like the kilo of ash brie which normally retails for about $42 but goes for $15 in CBM (comparison prices were sourced from Coles and Woolworths websites).

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A box of Cadbury Roses chocolates sells for $6, compared with $18 in the big supermarkets, while Dr Oetker mozzarella pizzas were priced at three for $10 last week, as opposed to about $9 each in other stores.

“People can’t afford to shop in the regular grocery stores any more,” Miles says.

Other shops practising different forms of discounting have sprung up around the country. In Brisbane, Golden Circle operates two stores selling its namesake brand as well as other products. It runs a pensioner Tuesday once a month, when cardholders receive 10% off.

The supermarket chain NQR (previously known as Not Quite Right), which operates stores in South Australia and Victoria, is expanding, with its 28th store opening in Angle Vale in Adelaide in May.

Miles says shoppers cannot do “100% of their shop” in the stores, as they have a limited range and it changes regularly.

“We always recommend people come and shop in our stores first and then whatever they can’t find there, they can get from their normal supermarket,” he says.

The store does not often sell fresh produce – but for snacks, frozen goods and pantry items, shoppers can get up to 85% off.

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“I would say 90% of our stock is less than half price or even cheaper,” he says.

“[The major supermarkets] could do this. They could do it if they wanted to. From a food waste perspective, I think the way they do business contributes greatly to the problem.”

So is it OK to eat?

Katie Quach, who co-founded Beyond Best Before, says there are two types of dates consumers should look for.

“The best-before and use-by dates are actually quite different,” Quach says.

“People have been conditioned to thinking ‘best before’ means you can’t eat it the day after … but it’s still safe to consume after that date, as long as it’s stored appropriately.”

Quach and her sister also started their store to help combat food waste. They both worked in the supermarket sector and thought the amount of consumable food going to landfill was alarming.

“We are, one, helping fight against food waste, but two, we’re able to sell it at a much cheaper price than [consumers] would ordinarily get,” she says.

In Australia, 7.6m tonnes of food is wasted each year, with almost 30% of that coming from the supply chain, according to End Food Waste.

Quach says customers from regional NSW often visit the shop when they are in Sydney, and others come from distant suburbs. To keep up with demand, the shop has launched delivery to other states.

“[The website] does say we’re only doing eastern seaboard, but we’ve been getting inquiries from people all around Australia, so we’ve shipped orders to Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania. The demand is there.”

Danny Martin from market research firm IBISWorld says Coles and Woolworths account for almost 70% of the market in Australia, which comprises about 7,000 supermarkets and grocery stores.

He says the cost of living is undoubtedly driving a shift in consumer behaviour, with real household discretionary income plunging 12% between 2020 and 2023.

But Martin says while the discount stores offer huge price reductions in some cases, they cannot compete on convenience.

“Shoppers are becoming increasingly time-poor,” he says. “And the abundance of major supermarket locations, and the more efficient online service offerings, can help retain consumer loyalty despite cheaper product offerings at clearance stores.”

How much could you save?

Reporter Cait Kelly spent three days eating mainly food bought from Cheaper Buy Miles. It wasn’t the cheapest possible shopping list, but chosen for variety to make a fairer test. Some purchases (such as salt and oil) were bought in bulk, so would last much longer than a single meal.

Here’s what she found – comparison prices in brackets are based on the same items mainly on the Coles and Woolworths websites.


Cheese and bacon roll: $4 ($4.80)
Don Ham, sliced: $3 ($6.40)
Goat’s cheese: $2 ($5.50)
Westmont pickles: $2 ($6.85)
Serves: At least four – but with heaps of pickles left over

Fake mince 1kg: $5 ($16)
Corn and veg penne pasta penne: $2 ($6.45)
Lurpak garlic butter: Three for $5 ($3.85 each)
Aurelio organic fennel and lemon black olives: $2 ($7.99)
Melrose walnut oil: $2 ($35.77)
Australian lake salt: $2 ($7)
Serves: Look, this probably gets a one-star health rating but it was delicious, and made five serves. I’ll use the leftover protein for dumpling filling. The olives, butter, salt and walnut oil will keep on giving.

Tony’s raspberry popping candy: $4.50 ($8.60)
Serves: Depends on how much you like it. It was a no from me.

Tuesday total: $33.50 ($116.91)


Red Tractor oats with almonds and flaxseed: $3 ($6.80)
Serves: Six to seven (more with fruit and yoghurt)

Organic instant noodles, kimchi $2 ($4.95)
Serves: One

Heinz plant protein seven-veg soup: $2 ($4.50)
Serves: One

Ruffie chickpea rendang with red lentils: $2.50 ($8)

Wednesday total: $9.50 ($24.25)


Sunbrite muesli slice: $2 ($5.95)
The Yoghurt Factory vanilla yoghurt: $2 ($3.70)

I was on a job, so, broke my CBM streak.

Ruffie plant-powered meatball pasta: $2.50 ($8)

Thursday total: $6.50 ($17.65)
Three-day total: $49.50 ($151.11)

How it went

I am so late to the Cheaper Buy Miles party in Melbourne. I used to be a loyalist to convenience, only going to my closest major, but this experience has changed me and my habits. I saved so much money.

You obviously can’t do a whole shop there (though I did try to cook that meal on the first night). A lover of vegetables, I was craving a big fresh broccoli by the end of the three days.

The big hits were the goat’s cheese ($2 – are you kidding me!) and the staples – fancy salt, nice oil, cheap but bougie oats – that’s what the store is really good for. Be warned though – things go fast. I went to pick up more fake meat later in the week for a shepherd’s pie and it had run out.