Recently, I had the privilege of meeting with a group of passionate and impressive food and beverage manufacturers based in the Hutt Valley at an event hosted by the Hutt Valley Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

Patrick McKibbin, Chief Executive of the Chamber, who did a great job facilitating the event, estimates the sector combines to contribute $150m and over 500 jobs to the region, so is a very important part of the local business community. This is likely replicated throughout the country, with many of these emerging businesses initially operating locally, some going on to successfully scale up and make it as bigger manufacturers, some staying in the garages or shared community kitchens they started in.

The group of manufacturers shared their start-up stories and current challenges. The stories of innovation and tenacity were both fascinating and inspiring. On the list of challenges, the tough labour market, endless supply chain issues, engagement with regulators, and confusing sustainability requirements were consistent with what I hear from the larger businesses I speak to daily.  The more practical issues such as access to servicing of bespoke equipment and technical experts when you can’t have them on staff all the time were more particular to small businesses.

The passion in the room was palpable and uplifting. The sharing of knowledge and desire to help each other and have a strong local network was great to see alongside the support from the Chamber.

All these businesses were interested in how to engage with larger retailers and had varying knowledge of the Government’s current reform of the grocery industry. Prohibiting unfair conduct and promoting transparency, certainty, effective competition and a diverse range of suppliers – all stated aims of the Grocery Supply Code that is expected to emerge soon for consultation and are relevant to all food and grocery businesses – were of interest to them.

The Code will be enabled by the Grocery Industry Competition Bill, which is progressing through the parliamentary steps to become law, and the establishment of a Grocery Function at the Commerce Commission and a dedicated Grocery Commissioner. These changes are expected to deliver competition and efficiency in the industry for the long-term benefit of consumers. Given the regular concerns raised in the media by independent retailers and Consumer NZ, these changes can’t come soon enough.

The Food and Grocery Council is looking forward to supporting our members with webinars, training, and the opportunity to hear from the Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs and competition law experts at a series of events over the coming months. A future where consumers, politicians, regulators, suppliers, and retailers – be they the established large retailers or independents working hard to give consumers choice – all have confidence the industry is operating efficiently and fairly would surely be welcomed.

This will benefit all of us who are passionate about this industry, not least of all the thousands of front-line workers who get up every morning to do a great job for New Zealanders and bear the brunt of disgruntled and suspicious consumers who right now may find making the best choices for their families tough and confusing.

(originally published in Supermarket News)