While the debate on sugar tax seems to have temporarily disappeared from radar, Freshchoice Richmond's owner-operators Gary and Lisa Watson have decided to take action by removing all chocolate bars, lollies and sugary drinks from their checkouts, replacing them with flu remedies during winter and sunscreen during summer.
“My wife and I just weren’t morally happy with the layout of our store. We were comfortable with the focus that we gave to the high sugar lines,” Watson told us, adding that the response has thus far been ‘generally fantastic’.
He seemed surprised by the attention his decision has received throughout the country.
“A few people have commented on social media around parenting, however that wasn’t even the focus of the decision. It was to offer a more balanced range for everyone.”
FreshChoice Richmond could be a just a drop in the ocean, but other supermarkets might follow suit. Education is key, Watson pointed out. “I would like to see compulsory education throughout all schools to educate kids on food, from growing their own, to food miles, nutrition and the economic benefits of eating locally.”
As part of their efforts to deliver healthier options in their supermarket, Lisa and Gary have a gluten-free specialist, Noelle, working in-store twice a week to help customers with allergies and intolerances. “She is also training up for a general nutrition role, again to offer our customers advice and guidance.”
The Watson family has been in the grocery business for more than sixty years. It all started with Gary’s grandparents, Ivan and Lyalla, who opened their first store in Annesbrook, Nelson, before moving to Richmond in 1957. Gary's parents Ian and Betty opened a IGA supermarket in Queen Street in 1975 and, ten years later, launched a SuperValue store at the Richmond Mall (then Village Mall), which is where the current Freshchoice store is located. Gary started working his way around the family’s supermarket in 1992, after a bakery apprenticeship. “My brother Matt and I brought the store off from our parents, and finally my wife Lisa and I purchased the whole company in 2009.”
Looking back, Watson is well aware of how much the industry has changed over the years.
“Technology has made our lives so much easier,” he said. “The change from distributors to central warehousing has also made the logistics easier; however, it has taken the fun away from ‘doing deals’ with reps.”
Back to the present, Freshchoice Richmond has some interesting innovations in place and in the pipeline. Last year, they installed a coffee roaster in-house, which Watson believes to be a NZ-first, as well as an extensive cookbook section. “We plan to incorporate cookbooks with products a lot more in the future,” Watson said.