New Zealand has not seen anything quite like Cyclone Gabrielle. It came hot and hard on the heels of the Auckland Anniversary weekend floods and Cyclone Hale, and as such wreaked utter devastation on many parts of the North Island. Tragically, lives have been lost, while the impact on homes, businesses, infrastructure and the very fabric of many communities is still being counted.

Since Gabrielle struck, the Food and Grocery Council has attended daily response meetings called for by the Government and along with many organisations representing primary producers, transport providers, and officials from across government. We expect these key emergency response meetings will be part of our usual activities for some time to come.

Being closely involved has enabled FGC to ask questions on behalf of members. Issues covered have ranged from restrictions on access to cordoned areas to emergency services and critical workers, restricted movements on fragile transport networks, food safety issues, substitution of ingredients and food labelling implications, and waivers for interest and penalties on tax payments, to valuable updates on power, mobile and transport networks, animal welfare issues, emergency funding availability, and RSE workers.

Our connection with government agencies at times such as these is vital for many of our members as they grapple with operating their businesses in severely compromised circumstances and need support and accurate information on which to base both day-to-day and longer-term business decisions. This is a role similar to those FGC played in the aftermath of the Christchurch quakes and throughout Covid. Then, our industry demonstrated its ability to be resilient and innovative in continuing to get product out the door to keep the supermarket shelves stocked, and we are doing this again.

To ensure that happens it’s vital we also take care of our people during these tough times. The ongoing mental wellbeing of all affected by these disastrous events is of concern, so we turned our minds to practical support that could be organised quickly and made available widely.

To that end, FGC has partnered with New Zealand Food Safety Haumaru Kai Aotearoa to offer support not just to our company leaders, but also those in the wider food and grocery sector.

We have engaged the services of Jacqui Maguire, a clinical psychologist who is highly skilled in presenting easy-to-understand and helpful concepts and providing strategies to optimise personal wellbeing, particularly in times of overwhelm and uncertainty. She will share practical tools to help leaders look after themselves, their whānau, their workplace teams, and their communities. She will do this via two webinars: the first will focus on how leaders can look after themselves, and the second on how they can support their people. Everyone is welcome, not just FGC members. Look out for information on these on our website.

As we look to the future and what will be a very long road to recovery, we have to challenge ourselves and our political leaders to see these events as an opportunity to build back better. Independent economist Cameron Bagrie describes this catastrophe as “a wake-up call. The old model has just not worked”. He continues, “We need to learn to manage living with climate change and managing the risks around it. What we’re seeing globally is there is a big push now in security – security in things like food, energy, technology.”

To make sure our sector is well represented in decisions for the future and that we do build back better, we need to look after our people and make sure that as an industry representative body, FGC continues to be a strong advocate for our members.

(originally published in FMCG Business magazine)