Written by Andre Visser, Head of Foodco NZ

“Across the world, own brand products play a critical role for customers, enhancing competition and providing value for money on products that customers want and need, particularly everyday staples such as butter, cheese, flour and milk. Our Countdown range has a long history here in New Zealand, and our products are found in pantries and fridges right across the country.

I’ve recently taken on the role of setting and running the strategic direction for our brands. My previous experience leading the pricing strategy team means I have a great understanding of our business and our customers, particularly what they are buying but also what they want.

With more than 1500 products in the range, Kiwis know that when they buy one of our brands, they get a quality product at a good price.

We’re responsible for the end-to-end supply chain for our brand products, and regularly audit suppliers against our very high standards.  We also have a stringent focus on safe, ethical and responsible sourcing, and increasingly we have independent accreditation, for our 100 percent free farmed pork, free range eggs and organically produced and packaged products.

In my first few months in the role, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the changes we’ve been able to drive across our Countdown brands for the last couple of years. We’ve reformulated over 1000 of our own brand products to have less fat, sugar or sodium, and we have an industry-leading commitment to removing artificial colours and flavours, and MSG. In the past two years, we have removed around 18 tonnes of sugar in our cereals alone, which equates to 4.5 million teaspoons, and removed six tonnes of salt in our potato chips, bread and breakfast cereals.

Just over a year ago, Deb Sue, a registered dietitian, joined the team whose role has included managing Countdown’s health and nutrition targets, assisting the reformulation process for our brands with the Health Star Rating system, and reviewing our dedicated health and wellness sections. As of the end of 2018, 91 percent of our eligible own brand products now display the Health Star Rating on the pack, and nearly half of these had a rating of 3.5 or above due to the intense reformulation work we have undertaken.

A major role for our brands at Countdown is to ensure we’re helping make food trends more mainstream and affordable, not just for the privileged. We are constantly looking globally to ensure we’re incorporating these trends and customers will have seen this recently with products such as Macro tofu, Macro organic pasta sauces, Macro Quinoa, and Quinoa Pasta.

We’re also innovating more. Recently we launched Macro hemp powder, Macro veggie patties, Hot Cross Bun ice cream and our new brioche hot cross buns are flying off the shelves. We've got a range of developments underway through our partnerships with New Zealand producers, which will help to meet our customers’ demand for more convenience, new product ranges and great value.

Reducing plastic packaging and improving recyclability continues to be a focus for our customers too. In June last year, Countdown committed to using 100 percent reusable, recyclable or compostable packaging in our own brands by 2025 or earlier, which includes produce packaging. When packaging is needed, we’re working to find alternative solutions that are right for both the New Zealand environment and our current domestic waste infrastructure.

We’re always looking to establish more collaborative and unique product development, so if you have a new product or are interested in being one of our many Countdown range suppliers, please reach out.”