3 Apr 2020

Supermarket issues: pricing, queues, online deliveries

From Nine To Noon, 10:07 am on 3 April 2020

Supermarkets across the country are working hard towards keeping shelves stocked, as people focus on keeping their pantries fuller than usual.

Queues at Mt Wellington supermarkets after it was announced the country is moving into alert level 3 and then 4 in the next few days.

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The demand for flour has shot up, leaving supermarkets out of stock for days. Similarly, fresh items are also being sought after taking up the average trolley cost by $1 or $2.

FoodStuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quinn talked to Nine to Noon about pricing, queues, online delivery issues and a relief package for small and medium suppliers, since the lockdown kicked in.

He said the flour was scarce because of a breakdown of machinery in Auckland.

Prices of fresh veggies were affected by foreign exchange rates or the growing conditions, Quinn said.

"In our New World, we generally offer somewhere between 4205 specials; this week we had 4800 specials. We have had products we can't special because we've not been able to get stock. But we've tried to find alternatives and make sure that we've got a good price in place."

At Pak'nSave, he said the company had tried to maintain New Zealand's lowest wheat prices.

"In general, we are not yet seeing limitation on supply, in fact, we're seeing more volume than ever come into the market ... it's just the level of demand that people are shopping at as we continue to, you know, focus on keeping our pantries fuller than maybe they need to be," he said.

He said there was a lot more shopping going on their Four Squares as people stayed closer to home.

"At the moment the focus is on value because this is economically a crisis as much as it as medically a crisis. And we know our role has to be to keep great value in our stores because people will be worried about everything else that's going on in life. We've got to try and take that worry away from them."

As for a dedicated shopping hour for the elderly, he said it was not the best safety approach to get a lot of elderly people together at the same time into a store in addition to their driver's licence conditions.

He said they were working with the Student Volunteer Army in the South Island to shop on behalf of the elderly and vulnerable.

"We've had four weeks of huge in-store demand. With the alert 4 we're only doing click and collect."

He suggested customers shop with having to do fewer trips in mind.

"Please shop normally and simply and at least often as you can. Please be kind to the people in line and be kind to the people in the store because we're all facing the same thing and everyone wants it to be better."

It was unfortunate, he said, that at such a time, those who weren't over 65 or in the vulnerable cohort, were still shopping online.

They were working on a prioritisation system of customers for online which would be announced soon.

Their customer services centre was handling 300 percent more volume.

For small and medium businesses in cash flow is critical, he said.

"We work as hard as we can to get the bulk of them paid within 10 days.

"And that means hopefully the cash flow keeps moving through the economy. You know, it's going through stores, it's getting out to suppliers through our organisation and getting into the hands of employees, businesses so that we help manage the impact of this as much as possible and keep a healthy food industry for post-Covid-19.

"We've got heaps of suppliers who have done amazing jobs trying to keep a supply chain full and moving."