For the food and grocery sector to be operating efficiently and in the best interests of everyone, including shoppers, it’s essential that suppliers and retailers have a good relationship where issues can be discussed directly and openly.

This hasn’t always been the case, but I believe I can say that at the end of another very busy year for the sector, things are improving.

There have always been proactive and willing relationships between Woolworths NZ and Foodstuffs and suppliers on issues such as health and safety and supply chain, and that’s been to the benefit of all.

But there have been times and areas where not everything has helped the sort of relationship we need to ensure the sector is functioning well. That is, perhaps not until now.

If the sector is to move forward then it must look forward, and I can honestly say that following the Food & Grocery Council’s annual conference last month in Brisbane, I’m more confident than ever that the relationships are as healthy as ever.

Not only was there the usual high interest by FGC member companies in what the retailers at the conference had to say but, for the first time in four years, we actually had both of the main retailers present.  This year, to the absolute delight of delegates, Woolworths NZ joined us and clearly intend to continue to do so into the future.

Their General Manager of Merchandise at Woolworths NZ, Scott Davidson, firstly gave us a fantastic update on their latest food and grocery campaigns and how they are focussing on delivering fresh, healthy food, sustainability, and good service.

Then, most significantly, he talked about relationships with suppliers by saying this: “We must be working together. There’s a long way to go, but things are changing. I encourage you to continue to talk to myself and my leadership team about any issues you have in your categories with absolute protection. He went on to say, “I know a lot of people sitting here are going to say ‘yeah right’, but we are serious about improving this relationship and having a fair relationship with suppliers.”

He also took questions from the floor, and all in all his presentation was warmly received, as much about him being there as what he said. It was great to have Woolworths back in the room.

We also had a question-and-answer session with Foodstuffs, with me asking questions of CEOs Steve Anderson and Chris Quin. They gave an update on their businesses and talked about relationships with suppliers, latest innovations in food and packaging, sustainability, supply chain, and shopper trends and demands. They took questions from the floor on as well.

Earlier, Rob Clark of Nielsen set the retailer segment of the conference by giving members the annual exclusive update on how suppliers rated retailers, and it’s fair to say there was a general improvement across the board.

Here’s to more of that on all levels in 2019.

In other conference presentations, speakers from Australia encouraged New Zealand suppliers to consider a grocery code of conduct.  

Professor Graeme Samuel, who has just reviewed the Australian Food & Grocery Code of Conduct that introduced minimum standards of transparency, business practice, and dispute resolution rules in supplier-retailer dealings, said New Zealand should consider a similar code, saying “it has helped drive cultural change within these organisations …”

And the CEO of the Australian Food & Grocery Council, Tanya Barden, said “… it’s absolutely something I think your sector should be having a look closely to see whether this is something that you could put in place. In a nutshell – get one.”

By Katherine Rich, Chief Executive, NZ Food & Grocery Council