OUR GROCERY HEROES – KATHERINE RICH

“At the halfway point in the Covid-19 lockdown there have been lots of grocery heroes, and I’d like to acknowledge some of them.

It’s a frantic time for the sector right now, with suppliers and supermarkets working overtime to ensure the huge public demand for groceries is met. And with people eating all their meals at home it’s clear this will continue for some time yet. Having pantries filled with food seems to give people an important sense of comfort in such times.

Most shoppers have been abiding by the rules and going on one-person trips to the supermarket. Yes, there have been long queues, but most accept this is part of maintaining safety for everyone during Alert Level 4.

I’m thankful the message is getting through to shoppers that an empty shelf is not cause for alarm and that there is only a short time lag before the shelves are replenished during that day or overnight.

Since the early days of the pandemic, the main partners in the grocery supply chain – the suppliers, the supermarkets, and the logistics companies – have been very busy planning ahead to ensure systems chain remain robust and are meeting consumers’ needs.

The Food & Grocery Council (FGC), Woolworths New Zealand and the Foodstuffs businesses have been in regular contact to discuss gaps in supply and to try to foresee new challenges.

As an example, in the weeks before the lockdown, as the public began pantry-loading (some of it panic-buying), the supermarkets began stepping-up the number of deliveries to their stores. In response, many suppliers assigned top staff to be on call to make instant decisions should there be any supply chain issues.

Not surprisingly, hand sanitiser was one early product that was pounced on, flying off the shelves like never before, and suppliers did have trouble dealing with that surge in demand. Surprisingly, toilet paper was another, and though we were never going to run out of it (it’s manufactured at three sites in New Zealand), the supply chain responded quickly to increase production to keep up.

FGC, due to its position on the National Emergency Management Agency Household Goods Working Group and through regular contact with other government agencies involved in the COVID19 response, has been able to keep manufacturers up to date with latest developments.

We set up groups to answer supply questions and are feeding those into the updates we provide to the Government and the wider industry. We’re also welcoming non-FGC companies into our networks and making our regular updates available to them.

But while suppliers and supermarkets have been frantically busy, many of us have been able to do it from the comfort of our home or our office, safely in bubbles of one sort of another.

We haven’t had to front up every day and every night, working long hours to manufacture or deliver products, unload, fill the shelves, pack click and collect or home delivery orders, and then deliver them, too. Nor have we had to put up with panicky shoppers.

That’s all been left to those spread the length of the supply chain – those in fields, the factory workers, the distribution people, the truckies, the merchandisers, and the supermarket staff.

Those who are doing this at the grocery frontline are our grocery heroes! A big thank-you to all of them.

They’re part of a huge team effort that’s providing New Zealanders with many of the necessaries of life and making it much easier for everyone to get through this.

As FGC Chair Mike Pretty said in a note sent to FGC members, “Our industry is called Fast Moving for a reason. Crises come in different shapes and forms, but we have the skill and the resilience to prevail in all circumstances. We can overcome every challenge.”

And we can. Take a bow – you’re all heroes.”

 

 

By Katherine Rich, Chief Executive, New Zealand Food and Grocery Council.