There is no doubt the main reason the food and grocery sector was able to ensure New Zealanders were able to get through the COVID-19 lockdowns of the past 12 months or so with very little disruption to vital supplies was due to teamwork.

That is, teamwork both inside our food and grocery manufacturing and importing companies and our supermarkets, and teamwork between those companies and the supermarkets.

It was teamwork that ensured all parts of the supply chain – from farmers, packers, manufacturers, suppliers, logistics workers, merchandisers and supermarket staff at all levels – were working efficiently and with enough staff willing and able to work through the lockdowns, often at personal and family cost and risk.

The Food & Grocery Council, Woolworths NZ, Foodstuffs South Island and Foodstuffs South Island and various government organisations formed another team overseeing it all and looking for problems before they arose. It was due to all this that the few issues shoppers seemed to have was with toilet paper and hand sanitiser, and that was due to a rush on those items rather than shortages.

Working in teams is what FGC is good at. What many people don’t realise is a large part of our success is due to eight working groups made up of members who do a lot of the heavy lifting behind the scenes. These groups form a big part of our engine room.

They are: Industry Relations – works with supermarkets on industry issues and supply chain; Health & Regulatory – comprise technical experts from the membership and oversees legislation and issues of food safety, nutrition, marketing etc; Talent & Diversity – promotes the industry as a great place to work and builds diversity; Health & Safety – a joint group with retailers, focused on workplace safety; Membership Services – organises education, mentoring and networking events; Sales & Merchandising – represents outsourcing organisations; Export – highlights issues, promotes ideas; Sustainability – focuses on recycling and waste issues across the industry.

They all report to and advise the FGC Executive and the Board as and where required, but most of the time they have their heads down solving issues and coming up with initiatives to make the industry go faster. The newest of them is the Sustainability Committee. It was formed in 2019 to tackle the many issues across the sector and took an immediate focus on driving packaging sustainability.

Its six sub-committees and their aims are:

  • Plastics: Maximising positive changes away from the use of the most damaging plastic types. Its focus is on identifying how much plastic is used, increasing reuse and recycling, and reducing the amount of virgin plastic by increasing use of recycled content. It’s designing an extended producer responsibility scheme for plastic packaging as part of work towards a priority product scheme, and provides guidance to members on plastic consumption.
  • Compostable: Has assessed the feasibility of introducing compostable products for commercial composting or home composting, and identified the roadblocks and what needs to happen before compostable products are introduced into households, and recommended this is “Not for Now”. It is working to educate FGC members, collaborating with the supermarket companies, and advocating for government investment.
  • Beverage Container (Container Recovery Scheme): Provided input to the Government-led group tasked with designing a deposit scheme to minimise the cost while maximising the recovery and recycling of containers, though it wasn’t part of the group.
  • Paper: Working with paper recyclers and processors to identify the grades of paper being used and to reduce the gap between imported fibre and the use of recovered fibre. Is providing guidance to members about use of paper. Supported the Government’s infrastructure gap analysis work.
  • Metal Recycling: Aiming to maximise kerbside collection of consumer metal packaging and components. Members include supermarkets, the metal recycling industry, and the Sustainable Business Network.
  • Labelling: Focusing on the implementation of the Australasian Recycling Label in New Zealand.

This work is being driven at speed by its high-powered leadership, which includes Nestle CEO Christian Abboud, as Chair, and sustainability expert Lyn Mayes, of Mad World, as a special adviser.

It’s a great example of how FGC members are working together to do their bit for the environment.

(originally published in Supermarket News)