Katherine Rich began raising concerns about supermarket power in the grocery sector over a decade ago, speaking “with very much a whisper”, writes Kate MacNamara.
But, as Kate reports, “over the years her voice has both strengthened and joined a chorus of others. And last year this group’s objections to the country’s powerful duopoly grocers – Foodstuffs and Woolworths – reached a crescendo”.
The article in the NZ Herald tracks the progress from those early days to the latest moves by the Government in leaving the door open to making further, more radical, change – forcing a break-up of the supermarkets, likely through forcing either the separation of banners and or the divestment of stores.
It says consultants are working to provide David Clark, Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, with analysis to illuminate the risks and rewards of forcing a break-up of the supermarkets, likely through forcing either the separation of banners and or the divestment of stores.
“Rich is equivocal about whether this step is warranted. She’s pleased that the Government has promised to review the state of the industry annually (rather than every three years as the ComCom recommended): ‘Now isn’t the time to take your foot off the gas.’
“On the other hand, she’s not willing to actively push for the forced divestiture of private assets. It’s a step that many of her members, private businesses themselves, consider a bridge too far: ‘We’ve now got a lot of regulatory change coming through, and at the end of the day we do need to let it work. The point is to allow another player to step in, or to grow up, and compete,’ she says.
“But despite what many say is the impracticability of break-up (the Government would be open to legal challenges and the outcome might do little to dent high grocery prices) the threat appears to have transformed the supermarkets’ approach to public relations.
“With a wide smile, Rich calls it a damascene conversion, noting that she is simply pleased by the recent enthusiasm figures like Chris Quin, CEO of Foodstuffs North Island, have found for reform: ‘We were asking and asking the supermarkets for a voluntary code of conduct. For years. The last time we broached the subject with Foodstuffs was in 2018 and we were knocked back pretty decisively’.
“It was a defeat which fuelled her determination to pursue mandatory change.”
Katherine Rich steps down on October 7 after 13 event-filled years.
Read or watch more here (paywalled)