25 Mar 2020

Covid-19 lockdown: Countdown staff face abuse as they try refill shelves

From Checkpoint, 5:20 pm on 25 March 2020

As New Zealand prepared for the lockdown to stop the spread of Covid-19, supermarkets around the country faced the chaos of panic buying, and complaints about price rises. 

One of the most popular examples of increased prices that has caused outrage on social media has been a photo of a $13 cauliflower. 

The truth is that cauliflowers are nearly always this expensive around this time of year in New Zealand, depending on the season’s outcome. 

Google results showing stories about cauliflower prices over the years.

Google results showing stories about cauliflower prices over the years. Photo: Google

If you search “cauliflower price nz” in Google, results show news stories from many years in March or April, about expensive cauliflowers. 

Supermarkets deny they have increased prices, and say they are working around the clock to keep up with skyrocketing demand from unnecessary panic buying. 

About 1000 extra workers have been hired by supermarket chains to help restock the shelves. 

Another reason food prices may not appear as good at the moment is that supermarkets cannot advertise specials, Countdown’s Kiri Hannifin told Checkpoint

“We have decided to not run any new specials or promotions because we simply can’t honour them, because of the way people are shopping.

“If we put a mailer out and it has a number of specials, we cannot guarantee they will be on the shelves. We didn’t want to be disingenuous.

“We certainly haven’t put prices up, our prices remain across the board still. Produce and meat fluctuates, as it always does, it all depends on supply and seasonality. 

“We can’t change that, it is the way of the market. At the moment we are doing everything we can to keep the prices as they are.”

She said accusations of boosted prices are “not true and it’s disappointing.” 

Supermarket staff have also been facing abuse from customers, Hannifin said. 

“Very distressing abuse towards our team and bad behaviour in our stores.”

She said there has been general abuse towards staff members for the state of shelves. 

“They are doing everything they can to fill those shelves… People are just taking out their fear and anxiety on us.”

On Wednesday, stores brought in new rules in a bid to keep everyone a little bit safer.

Countdown now has essentially a one customer in, one customer out rule to keep people far enough apart.

Every second self service check-out is closed for the same reasons.

Customers need to pack their own groceries, and are now separated from checkout operators by a perspex screen.