Melbourne coffee roaster panned for offering free rapid antigen tests to ‘VIP’ customers

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Daniel Pockett/Getty Images

St Ali apologised for ‘inappropriate’ offer of two RATs with orders of coffee and merchandise of $159.99 after online backlash

Melbourne coffee roaster, St Ali, has been criticised online for offering two free rapid antigen tests with purchase orders over $159.99.

In a text message sent out to “special VIP customers,” St Ali offered two free rapid antigen tests if customers bought $159.99 worth of coffee or merchandise from their online store.

“We’ve been fortunate to secure a limited number of Rapid Antigen Tests for our staff, families and friends. As a special VIP customer, we’d like to extend these to you too,” they said in the text.

The coffee roasters were also offering pulse oximeters, hand sanitiser, and contactless thermometers for sale via their website, alongside bags of coffee, filters and Champagne.

But the products seem to have been taken down after an online backlash on both Twitter and Reddit following the release of the initial text messages.

Related: ‘Code red’: Melbourne businesses say Omicron wave more damaging than lockdown

St Ali has been contacted for comment.

The roasters faced a fierce backlash to the text message, amid national shortages of rapid antigen tests and reports of price gouging and exploitation by some businesses, and have since retracted the offer.

In a follow-up text message, the company apologised, saying the offer was “inappropriate” in hindsight.

“We recently procured some Rapid Antigen Tests for our staff and their family, we had some surplus supply, so we sent a text message to some of our subscribers offering two free Rapid Antigen Tests with a minimum order value,” it read.

“We believed this was a way of supporting our customers who purchased from us regularly, but the message has been lost. We can see in hindsight it was inappropriate.

“We are very sorry.”

The company has promised to donate any further tests it receives to South Melbourne charity the Father Bob Maguire Foundation.

“Our commitment is that once we receive further tests the equivalent amount will be donated to Father Bob (South Melbourne Charity) to distribute them as he sees fit,” St Ali said.

“Again please accept our apology.”

The offer comes only a day after the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) said it had “significant concerns” about the prices and availability of rapid antigen tests.

Related: ‘Extreme stress’: Australian businesses risk going under due to impact of Omicron

In a statement released on Monday, the ACCC said it had received more than 1,800 reports of price gouging from the public, saying it has seen some tests offered at nearly $50 above retail prices.

ACCC Chair Rod Sims said prices had increased in recent weeks, and that businesses had been asked to explain their prices.

“In the middle of a significant outbreak of Covid-19 in a pandemic, the excessive pricing of rapid antigen tests required to diagnose the illness and protect other members of the public, is of significant concern to the ACCC,” he said.

“Only a few weeks ago tests were readily available at most chemists and supermarkets for around $10 for a single test.”

“Any test costing more than $30, even with supply constraints, is almost certainly too expensive and would seem to be taking advantage of the current circumstances,” he added.

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