Supermarket showdown: Ex Nat MP backs new Labour law

By Will Trafford

Many families, particularly Māori, regularly run out of food so government moves to end the supermarket-chain duopoly are a good "first step", according to Matthew Tukaki of the National Māori Authority. Photo / NZME

A former National MP has taken the unusual step of praising the Labour government’s planned overhauls to Aotearoa’s supermarket duopoly.

In a surprise announcement during today’s budget, Finance Minister Grant Robertson said the government would introduce urgent new legislation to stop supermarket chains buying up land to prevent competitors from opening stores.

The government would also develop a code of conduct to prevent supermarkets from behaving badly with regard to the pricing of goods, and negotiations with suppliers Robertson said.

A Commerce Commission report in March revealed many suppliers felt bullied by Countdown owner Woolworths and Pak’nSave and New World owner Foodstuffs.

"I’m surprised and delighted by the government’s move," former National MP and Food and Grocery council chair Katherine Rich told teaomaori.news.

"This stuff has been a dirty secret of the industry for years now. It might not make the industry perfect but it will make a difference."

Finance minister and deputy prime minister Grant Robertson announced an overhaul of supermarket regulation during his budget speech in Pōneke today. Photo/ Will Trafford

Finance Minister Grant Robertson announced an overhaul of supermarket regulation during his budget speech in Pōneke today. Photo/ Will Trafford

Earlier this year, Māori suppliers who contributed to the Commerce Commission study told Whakaata Māori they had been told not to sell their products in competing chains, while some were told they had to slash prices or risk having their products stripped from store shelves.

After an accidental leak of their submissions by the Commerce Commission, some alleged their products were dropped by Foodstuffs stores, due to their criticisms being aired publicaly.

200 instances of Woolworths and Foodstuffs buying up land to prevent other supermarket chains opening in the same area, were revealed in the Commerce Commission report according to Rich.

"They buy the land, add a covenant saying ‘you cannot have another supermarket here' and then on-sell it" Rich says.

"It was clearly designed to prevent anybody else from coming into the market."

Another vocal proponent of the plan is Matthew Tukaki of the National Māori Authority. Tukaki is part of a group working to launch an iwi-owned supermarket chain to Aotearoa.

"Many families, particularly Māori, regularly run out of food and end up at food banks, because of these duopolies," Tukaki says.

"These supermarkets act like intimidating oligarchs. The code of conduct will mean there is an ombudsman to monitor their practices.

Tikanga for code of conduct

"An ombudsman can impose and put restrictions on that are sufficiently large to hit the big chains in the pocket, the same way they’re hitting consumers."

Māori kai suppliers could be able to escape predatory contracts once the code comes into force Tukaki says, he also believes they will be able to sell their products more widely.

Many families, particularly Māori, regularly run out of food and Government moves to end the supermarket-chain duopoly are a good thing according to Matthew Tukaki of the National Māori Authority

Many families regularly run out of food and Government moves to end the supermarket-chain duopoly are a good thing according to Matthew Tukaki of the National Māori Authority.

Rich says she's optimistic the code of conduct will also integrate tikanga and a Te Ao Māori worldview into the sector.

‘Increasingly the future of New Zealand’s food industry will be Māori Food and drink companies, like Sealord, like Moana. Incorporating tikanga and a Te Ao Māori world view, this is a good thing," she says.