The annual NZFGC conference was held in Sydney at the beginning of November. With the theme of Shared Horizons, it was positive to have the highest number of retailers ever speaking on the programme. This was impacted at the last minute by the unfortunate demise of Supie. We were disappointed at the outcome for this entrepreneurial enterprise and our thoughts went out to all involved. It was heartening to see an anonymous donor covering the lost wages of the 120 employees in these tough economic times.

I’m sure the 200 attendees at the conference found the presentations from Spencer Sonn (and a team of three) of Woolworths NZ, Matthew Lane of Night ‘n Day, Mary Devine of Foodstuffs South Island, Chris Quin of Foodstuffs North, and Patrick Noone of Costco, worthwhile and instructive. We did invite The Warehouse to present but they declined on this occasion.

Keynote speaker Grocery Commissioner Pierre van Heerden noted our sector is a vital one, making up $25 billion of the economy, involving producers and suppliers big and small, and is fundamental to Kiwi consumers. His message was that everyone up and down the supply chain has an important role to play in delivering on the once-in-a-generation opportunity we have in front of us to create more choice, competition, and better outcomes. He also spoke of the tremendous value of working together and the sustainable, enduring benefits that will come from co-operation, collaboration, and innovation.

Of course, our conference had more on the business and social programme than just the highly anticipated retailer and commissioner updates.

It was a highlight for me to introduce Jonathan Love, of ASN Media, to launch Shared Horizons, an NZFGC online video series showcasing the depth, diversity, and ingenuity of the food and grocery sector and addressing the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead for the industry. A 20-minute trailer featured interviews with industry leaders and key stakeholders on the themes of food security and waste, packaging and the circular economy, skills and education, and reformulation and innovation. You can watch the video here.

Another highlight was a panel discussion titled Trans-Tasman Horizons, which saw Tanya Barden, CE of Australian Food and Grocery Council, discuss consumer trends with NZFGC Chair Mike Pretty (Heinz-Wattie’s NZ), Board member Cameron Scott (Kimberly-Clark), and me. Tanya discussed the benefits of having a Code of Conduct, the early teething problems, grocery supply agreements, and what’s happening in Australia around sustainability issues. Cameron outlined the latest on what is happening in New Zealand on sustainability and emissions, and I talked about the opportunities for advocacy on sustainability issues with the new Government.

One of the most valued parts of conference is the opportunity to network, and this conference saw that happening at the welcome drinks, the gala dinner, and around the very popular coffee cart. Many thanks to our sponsors: Synergy Consumer (Premier Partner), Cardinal, Booth’s Logistics, MinterEllisonRuddWatts, Insightful.Mobi, Toitu Envirocare, and Blomfield Recruitment.

Hot on the heels of returning home from the conference came the announcement that the Boards of Foodstuffs North Island and Foodstuffs South Island will be putting a proposal to their members to bring the co-operatives together next year as one national co-operative.

The Commerce Commission has advised the parties that, in their view, the potential transaction is best assessed in a public framework under the commission’s merger clearance regime, and the parties have indicated they will be filing a clearance application in due course. The clearance process would include the opportunity for interested parties – including suppliers – to respond to the proposal.

It will be important for NZFGC, as the voice of suppliers, to carefully canvas members’ views and diligently assess the impacts on suppliers and the industry. While it’s for the Commerce Commission to assess the application robustly, we will actively participate in the consultation process and ensure we are well supported with competition law advice.

We take confidence from the statement from the Commission that preserving the competitiveness of markets in New Zealand is an enduring priority for them, and that they will carefully scrutinise the implications of the deal for suppliers and consumers.

(originally published in Supermarket News)