Unanimous vote of confidence for FGC Board, Chief Executive at conference

7 November 2014

The Board and Chief Executive of the NZ Food & Grocery Council have received a unanimous vote of confidence from a record number of delegates at their annual conference in Queenstown.

The conference was probably the council’s most successful of recent times, with 360 delegates from FGC’s 230-strong company membership attending.

By the end of the three days it was clear the industry is in good heart despite a rough economic ride in recent times and signs that trading conditions are likely to remain challenging for some time. The vote of confidence came unprompted from the floor of the conference.

Clearly, as far as the manufacturers and suppliers representing the full spectrum of goods behind New Zealand’s food, beverage and grocery brands (worth $34 billion in domestic retail sales and $28 billion in exports each year) were concerned, the sector is headed in the right direction, and the confidence vote showed that.

The record 360 delegates from FGC’s 230 company membership were treated to a top line-up of industry speakers, but were reminded by Chairman Pierre van Heerden of those tough marketplace conditions and of the need to strive to be the best. Chief Executive Katherine Rich assured them that FGC’s focus remained firmly fixed on achieving the best outcome for them – irrespective of the issue.

The conference

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The speaker line-up looked impressive, and so it proved – one of the best ever – with most directing their attention to those marketplace challenges.

Geoff Smith of Nielsen NZ set the scene with his NZ Grocery Landscape 2014 Barometer, and pointed to the tough, low-growth environment where suppliers are struggling to maintain profit margins (though, encouragingly, he believes there is light at the end of the tunnel).

Kevin Malloy, who runs Coca-Cola’s global advertising from Auckland, talked about marketing to the “millennials” generation, and guessing where they will go. “Show and tell” marketing, he concluded, is no longer good enough – business must “invite and involve”.

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Silvestro Morabito, a veteran of Australian retail, warned that the trans-Tasman food and grocery industry is at a crossroads and suppliers need to be nimble, more strategic, and offer products with a point of difference if they are to open new markets. “Retailers 
will listen if you bring something different and if you can show you are socially responsible.” He said Australian’s supermarket code of conduct is building better relationships, and it’s important it remains voluntary. “Culture will beat strategy any day”.

Ian McLeod, of Wesfarmers, gave an inspiring account of how he turned Coles from a supermarket that wasn’t listening to its customers to one that puts customers “always first” regaining valuable market share from the competition.

US professor Michelle Greenwald gave an insight into how US manufacturers are innovating to cater to the fact that people are lazy and want nearly everything done for them: from pre-packaged peeled garlic and peeled boiled eggs, to “cloud meals”, where wholesome meals are ordered on a smartphone app and delivered ready to eat, or fresh ingredients and recipes couriered to the door ready for prep.

Tom Potter told of leaving school at 15 to build Australasia’s biggest privately owned pizza company (Eagle Boys), and scotressed that for businesses to expand they need to get “comfortable with being uncomfortable” and be the ones that make change rather than waiting for others.

Gordon MacDonald, of WorkSafe NZ, gave an insight into the direction he was going to take the organisation: focusing on areas of greatest risk, such as manufacturing and occupational health; and offering incentives – not just punishing bad performance but recognising good behaviour, possibly with lower ACC levies.

Vaughn Davis, of The Goat Farm, spoke about how social media has changed advertising and how the shift to digital in almost everything is upon us, while Mike Wilson, of Vodafone, talked about how to tailor messages that make best use of social media.

Murray Jordan and Steve Anderson gave Foodstuffs’ annual update, and then attended the over-subscribed ‘speed-dating’ one-on-one sessions, where members got 10 minutes to talk over issues with Murray and Steve. Steve Bayliss, Antoinette Shallue, Baden Ngan Kee and that now regular delegate, Stickman were welcome guests too!

But if there was one topic that stood out as far as the future shape of the industry is concerned, it was that of the looming lure of Asia. Regan Leggett, the Regional Director of South East Asia and Pacific for Nieslen, gave some figures which told the story of where our industry must look in a more serious way: the population of Asia is projected to rise from 3.2 billion now to 3.5 billion by 2025 – an increase of 300 million. That’s the fastest-growing affluent population in the world and it’s on our back door step. Much food for thought!