'No evidence' of supermarket price-gouging, Jacinda Ardern says, but new complaint method set up

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says officials have found no evidence of price-gouging by supermarkets, but an email address has been set up so the public can report unfair pricing if they discover it.

The Prime Minister said officials looked into reports of price-gouging by supermarkets since the lockdown started, and while no evidence has been found, complaints can now be directed to pricewatch@mbie.govt.nz

"I'm aware that there have been instances of fresh produce price increases," Ardern said at her Monday post-Cabinet press conference. 

"We do need to be aware that these could simply reflect seasonal fluctuations, however during a period in which there is less competition in the food retail s sector, and increasing demand, it is more important than ever that prices are fair and reasonable."

Newshub was sent multiple allegations of price-gouging, including claims of a New World store  selling a fresh whole chicken for $30, around double the normal price.

New World's owner Foodstuffs told Newshub that the price of the chicken was due to a "ticketing error", with someone accidentally charging per kilo rather than per chicken.

Ardern said she's seen allegations of price-gouging and she's now asking the public to make those complaints official by going through the new email system, with evidence such as a receipt copy. 

The complaints will be handled by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment (MBIE). 

"No one wants to see anyone take unfair advantage of this extraordinary period," Ardern said. "To be clear, it is not illegal for businesses to increase their prices, but the Fair Trading Act prohibits misleading and deceptive conduct and false representation."

She said that means if a business gives a reason for a price increase, it must be true, otherwise the business risks breaching the Fair Trading Act, and that will be enforced. 

“If retailers are taking advantage of their duopoly in the market, then we will act on that. That is illegal.”

The Prime Minister said talks are underway about potentially having supermarkets open on Good Friday and Easter Sunday - public holidays - with supermarkets and dairies the only way for the public to access food during the lockdown.

The Prime Minister also said the Government has not given any further consideration of allowing butcheries, bakeries and greengroceries to stay open, despite the Opposition calling for it. 

The new method for complaining about price-gouging comes as police set up a new online complaint platform for people to report breaches of the lockdown rules.