Kiwis lash out at Government's new Grocery Commissioner, question what's going to change

Kiwis are questioning the appointment of New Zealand's first Grocery Commissioner, wondering when "real action" will occur as Consumer NZ revealed more "dodgy" supermarket deals.

Pierre van Heerden was unveiled as New Zealand's first Grocery Commissioner earlier on Tuesday. He's held various chief executive roles within the grocery sector.

Van Heerden will officially step into the role on Thursday, a job he describes as a "once-in-a-generation opportunity".

The role was established after the Commerce Commission report last year found Aotearoa's grocery sector isn't "working well for New Zealander consumers", with small retailers unable to effectively compete with the two major players - Woolworths NZ and Foodstuffs.

Pierre van Heerden was unveiled as New Zealand's first Grocery Commissioner on Tuesday.
Pierre van Heerden was unveiled as New Zealand's first Grocery Commissioner on Tuesday. Photo credit: AM

'He'll make no difference' 

But not everyone is impressed with the creation of the role. AM viewers were quick to email in with their thoughts on van Heerden's appointment, saying he won't change anything.

"Where's the real change," one person said.

"He'll make no difference, just a lot of talk, he'll be on a huge salary... the problem isn't getting more supermarkets in the industry, it's fuel costs and labour that affects every other aspect of the supply chain. Cheaper fuel will mean cheaper food, it's simple," another said.

AM fill-in co-host Michael O'Keeffe said on the show on Tuesday he understood the frustration coming through from Kiwis following van Heerden's appointment.

"What's going to happen is they're going to look into things, write a report and I guess by that time, more time has passed and nothing has really happened."

'Important step' - Consumer NZ welcomes van Heerden's appointment 

But not all the reaction was negative, with Consumer NZ saying the appointment was an important step to introduce fairness and improve transparency and competition in the grocery sector.

New Zealand is in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis, with figures from Stats NZ showing the food price index rose 12.1 percent in May compared to the same time last year. Fruit and vegetable prices alone increased by 18.4 percent.

The cost of food has continued to put pressure on New Zealand households and remains a major concern for many, according to Consumer NZ

"Over the past year and a half, we've watched sentiment towards the cost of groceries significantly change, rocketing up the list of household financial concerns. It's imperative we have a grocery sector that is fair and transparent," Consumer NZ CEO Jon Duffy said.

"Now Pierre van Heerden has been appointed as Grocery Commissioner, the Commission can get on with updating its data on supermarket profitability. This should include an analysis of the margins supermarkets have been able to achieve through this period of high inflation and cost of living pressure."

 Consumer NZ CEO Jon Duffy.
Consumer NZ CEO Jon Duffy. Photo credit: AM

Acting Prime Minister Carmel Sepuloni told AM on Tuesday the commissioner will monitor unfair behaviour in the sector, but she wasn't exactly sure how quickly he could effect change.

"That allows us to have this particular person in place who is monitoring, shining a light, highlighting where this is anything that is unfair or unreasonable that is occurring," Sepuloni said.

"That information can then inform regulatory change or legislative change but also the watchdog will have a role in making sure there is the right level of competition in the grocery sector."

Commerce and Consumer Affairs Minister Duncan Webb said van Heerden had a deep knowledge of the industry across Aotearoa, Australia and the United Kingdom.

"Pierre brings more than 25 years' experience in the grocery sector, having held roles such as chair of the Food and Grocery Council of New Zealand and has been recognised as an advocate for consumer value and transparency."

Van Heerden, who appeared on AM on Tuesday following the announcement of his appointment, believed New Zealand had a once-in-a-generation shot at shaking up the grocery sector.

He told AM the sector was already taking positive steps but more needs to be done.

"We must make sure we've got better prices, better ranges, better choices for consumers," he said. "The primary thing is focusing light, measuring and monitoring the industry. Because that's the way that you get change if you measure and you monitor.

"Then, if necessary, you go on to doing further actions."

'Very concerning' -  Around 600 "dodgy" supermarket specials revealed

Consumer NZ has also revealed they've received around 600 pricing complaints of "dodgy" supermarket specials in a campaign to clean up grocery pricing.

It comes as part of Consumer NZ's nine-month campaign where they have been collecting examples of misleading pricing and "dodgy" supermarket specials from eagle-eyed shoppers.

Consumer NZ told Newshub it's received around 600 pricing complaints to date but is still finalising the analysis of these complaints.

"Our initial analysis suggests we've received similar numbers of complaints about New World, Pak'nSave and Countdown," a spokesperson said.

One complaint mentioned going to the supermarket has 'become a memory exercise' as shoppers try to remember the shelf price and match it with what's charged at the till.

"Not only are people increasingly careful about how they're spending money - because they have to be - New Zealanders are actively seeking out specials," they said.

"At a minimum, shoppers deserve to go to the grocery store and trust the prices they're seeing are accurate. It's critical our supermarkets do everything they can to ensure the promotions they offer are accurate and demonstrate meaningful value to shoppers."

Duffy said in June alone, Consumer NZ received well over 100 complaints about misleading pricing at supermarkets across Aotearoa.

"We will be collating this evidence and sharing it with the Commerce Commission's Fair Trading team in the coming weeks. It is very concerning to us that even as New Zealand households struggle with the cost of filling their trolleys, the supermarkets do not appear to have lifted their game and improved their pricing practices.

"We are hopeful the increased scrutiny the Grocery Commissioner will bring to the sector will force the supermarkets to improve their systems and marketing practices, so they at least meet the minimum legal requirements of the Fair Trading Act."

Consumer NZ thanked Kiwis for sending in evidence of "dodgy" supermarket specials and urged them to continue sending them in.

"To keep your eyes peeled, take photos of promotions, cross-reference them with what's being charged at the till - let alone share the evidence with us takes a lot of effort. We think consumers have gone above and beyond to hold the supermarkets to account," the spokesperson said.