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OPEN LETTER: Horticulture | Recognise Independent Fruit & Vegetable Retailers As Essential Services

12 August 2020

Dear Prime Minister

We are writing to you on behalf of the New Zealand horticulture industry to collectively address our growers’ concerns that independent fruit and vegetable retailers are not classified as essential services under Covid-19 Alert Level 3 and 4.

In New Zealand there are multiple ways fresh fruit and vegetables are available for sale to the general public. The majority of these sales are made through large supermarket chains and independent fresh fruit and vegetable retailers, at a market share of approximately 80 and 20 percent respectively. However, in Auckland independent retailers represent 60% of sales of fresh fruit and vegetables.

Unlike supermarkets, fresh fruit and vegetables sold through independent retailers are different grades than sold in supermarkets and in some outlets at more affordable prices and in high end outlets at higher prices. Independent retailers also sell culturally significant fresh fruit and vegetables in their communities (that aren’t readily available in supermarkets) that form the staple diets of different ethnic groups in New Zealand.

When New Zealand was in Alert Level 4 and 3 earlier this year, households were significantly impacted by not having access to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from independent retailers, especially lower income households. In addition, rural communities often rely on independent retailers for supplies of fresh fruit and vegetables that are produced locally, where large supermarket chains are not readily present. This is in alignment with the government’s messaging to support local businesses.

In Auckland a large number of households in the poorer outer suburbs have lost the ability to purchase fresh fruit and vegetables from their local independent retailers at affordable prices. Supermarkets tend to operate a structure whereby the consumer drives to the store. In lower socioeconomic areas this is not always practical and a portion of the population needs walking access to retailers selling fruit and vegetables. This issue is exacerbated by many households facing financial hardship since lockdown due to loss of employment and other pressures. The result of this

situation is a significant increase in demand at foodbanks across New Zealand to provide food parcels to families in need. The horticulture sector has programmes in place supporting foodbanks, but this only addresses a small portion of the lack of supply.

While the government did confirm that independent retailers are able to operate in a contactless manner at Alert Level 3 and 4, this method of business operation is not suitable for many lower income households who don’t have the ability to order or pay for food purchases online.

The closure of independent retailers does not only impact consumers, it also impacts the horticulture industry who work tirelessly to provide all retailers, large or small, with seasonal fresh fruit and vegetables. The closure of independent retailers during lockdown resulted in an excess of fruit and vegetables that could not enter the supply chain. This loss of access resulted in direct financial loss to growers from failure to sell their products, causing some to exit the industry and delay or reduce replanting. Ultimately, this impacts on consumers due to lower supply levels and increased pricing. These impacts will be further exacerbated by the current Alert Level 3 restrictions in place in Auckland.

When New Zealand was in lockdown earlier this year the horticulture industry, together with independent retailers, developed a protocol for the safe operation of retailers. This protocol used the principles of essential service operation, the same as other primary industry businesses and dairies had been using to operate. We know that the New Zealand government recognised protocols for independent retailers during Alert Level 3, as the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment approved the operation of some retailers. Independent stores are much smaller than supermarkets and have indicated their ability and commitment to operating safely.

To maintain adequate supply of affordable fresh fruit and vegetables to all New Zealanders, it is critical that both supermarkets and independent retailers are able to operate if they are able to demonstrate they can do so using Covid-19 safe practices. The horticulture industry sincerely requests that the government re-considers their decision not to recognise independent retailers as essential services. We ask that a decision is made to consistently apply to all independent retailers to ensure New Zealanders have access to affordable fresh fruit and vegetables across the country.

We are available to discuss this request with you and your officials to find a solution that is in the safety and wellbeing interests of our team of five million.

Yours sincerely

Mike Chapman

On behalf of the New Zealand horticulture industry

This letter has been sent by New Zealand Asparagus Council, New Zealand Avocado, Boysenberries New Zealand, Citrus New Zealand, NZ Feijoa Growers Association, Horticulture New Zealand, New Zealand Apples & Pears, New Zealand Buttercup Squash Council, New Zealand Kiwifruit Growers, Onions New Zealand, NZ Persimmon Industry Council, Potatoes New Zealand, Strawberry Growers New Zealand, Summerfruit New Zealand, NZ Tamarillo Growers Association, Tomatoes New Zealand, Vegetables New Zealand Incorporated.

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