Shortly after joining FGC in October 2022, Raewyn Bleakley was asked by Supermarket News about herself and her career. Here are their questions and her answers:

Some details about yourself, where did you grow up, family, education, previous roles etc

I grew up in Blenheim and developed my interest in food at an early age. I got an after-school job at 12 in a cafe and really loved it. I studied human nutrition, food science and food service management at the University of Otago. After graduating I spent time lecturing at the Department of Human Nutrition as well as managing one of the university’s halls of residence kitchens, which was also a teaching kitchen for human nutrition students. During this time, I completed a Post Graduate Diploma of Science part- time, which looked at the effectiveness of food safety training for food service workers. After six years working at the university, I joined the Hospitality Association of NZ (HANZ), which is now Hospitality NZ, as the Southern Regional Manager. This involved travelling the lower half of the South Island representing and assisting hospitality businesses (bars, pubs, night clubs, hotels and restaurants), and this was where I started to develop my advocacy skills. It was in this role I first met Katherine Rich, who was a Dunedin MP at the time. Somewhat ironically looking back, I met her with the local HANZ executive to lobby her on proposed changes to the Sale of Liquor Act. Katherine immediately impressed me. She struck me as well informed, fair minded and prepared to listen.

I transferred to Wellington in 2002, and in 2004 became the first National Operations Manager for HANZ. In 2008, I moved to the Bus and Coach and Rental Vehicle Associations as Chief Executive. This move brought with it a steep learning curve, getting to know and understand the needs of owners and operators of very small through to very large corporate companies. Given it was a dual role responsible for two associations in another relatively highly regulated industry there was a huge amount of interaction with a range of government agencies and ministers that were significant challenges for the members.

From 2012 to 2014, I was Chief Executive of Business Central, which included the former Employers and Manufacturers Association Central and Wellington Chamber of Commerce. This was another fascinating and challenging role involving lots of advocacy to councils, and particularly Wellington City Council after then-PM John Key memorably observed Wellington to be dying.

In 2014, I moved from advocating on behalf of business to Government to working for Government, when I was appointed a Regional Director for Waka Kotahi (the NZ Transport Agency). There, I was part of the agency’s Senior Leadership Team, and this role involved working with local and regional councils, tackling challenging and controversial transport issues. I later moved into a General Manager role responsible for governance, stakeholders and communications. It was fascinating to work through the change of Government from National to the first Labour-led coalition in 2017, with the radically different approach to transport prioritisation and spending. In 2019, I took up a Deputy Chief Executive role at the newly formed Fire and Emergency NZ, where I led the Office of the Chief Executive. This involved responsibility for communications and media, risk and assurance, legal, the Board secretariat function, and several other programmes of work, including coordinating the response to Covid and mandatory vaccination.

I’ve held various Board roles over the years, including most recently a seven-year stint on the Wellington Zoo Trust. The zoo is all about conservation and sustainability and motivating visitors to look after our planet too – something I’m committed to.

What drew you to working in FMCG?

I’d first come across the NZ Food & Grocery Council when I was at HANZ and saw the impressive CEO Brenda Cutress at various meetings. I was interested in the industry and impressed by the way Brenda represented it. When Katherine took over, I continued to keep an eye on what was going on and admired the very effective way she interacted with the media and government on some incredibly gnarly issues.

When approached about whether I would be interested in the role I said yes in a heartbeat. Having really enjoyed my previous roles in industry associations – coupled with my interest in food, nutrition and sustainability, and my deep respect for the role of business contributing to a thriving economy and healthy society and planet – this role was immensely appealing to me.

What aspects of the role excite you?

I can’t wait to meet FGC members and learn about their businesses and the challenges they are facing. Continuing the work of ensuring our members have a balanced and fair market to operate in and so consumers have competitively priced goods and real choice, by making sure that the raft of measures being implemented by government to achieve this are effective, is a key priority. I really enjoy being the conduit between government and business and working to strike the right balance so regulatory settings achieve positive outcomes.

Is there a particular achievement of Katherine’s that you admire during her time with the FGC?

Katherine has been an amazing advocate for the food and grocery industry. Her ability to play the long game by charting the course necessary to achieve change and then relentlessly mounting robust arguments firmly, patiently, and graciously over the long period that real change actually takes is rare, and something I greatly admire.

What goals might you have for yourself in the new role?

The power of an industry association with a united and strong voice can never be underestimated. Achieving this is not always straightforward, given the diversity of members and differing priorities, not to mention they are often competing with each other. An early goal for me will be gaining a deep understanding of the industry and working to consolidate and amplify the voice of FGC to cement its role as an effective agent of change.

What do you see as the major challenge for the FGC in the year ahead? 

The implementation of the various measures resulting from the Market Study and Government’s response will be a big focus. It’s imperative these achieve what they set out to achieve, and translating intent into demonstrable outcomes is sometimes like trying to nail jam to a tree. I expect it will take tenacity and patience to make these changes stick.

What will you do to grow the membership of the FGC, to bring onboard smaller manufacturers /suppliers so that there is a wider representation within the FGC?

Running a business in a competitive industry is challenging for the best operators. I have deep respect for people who are prepared to risk their livelihood to follow their dream of running their own business and in doing so create jobs and contribute positively to our economy and society. I have seen over many years how difficult this can be and how important every spending decision is, so it’s incumbent on FCG to provide tangible value to all members. Wider representation is a strength as an industry organisation, so this is important. I’ll be working hard to understand the reasons we don’t attract some businesses, and how we can improve the value proposition to make it a sound business decision for them to belong.

Anything else you would like to add?

I feel very fortunate to have had a decent break between jobs and enjoyed having a go at learning to fly in a fully electric plane and getting certified as an open water scuba diver in Vanuatu. Challenging myself to learn new skills has been very invigorating and, at times, terrifying (for me and my instructors!). I also did an amazing wine and food tour of Hobart and Melbourne with my oldest friend from my school days who is now an award-winning wine maker and wine judge running her own label in Tasmania. Dining at the highly acclaimed Gimlet in Melbourne was a highlight and I loved pottering around Victoria Markets. Whenever I travel, I make a beeline for supermarkets and food stalls, and am always on the hunt for the best coffee. I’ve enjoyed seeing what’s on offer in supermarkets and local food markets as much as visiting museums, historic sites, and art galleries, so I’m so thrilled to have this opportunity to work in this industry.