Today, consumer and supplier groups unite to ask Parliament to break up the supermarkets duopoly. Homegrown business owner Miranda Ffowcs Williams had many sleepless nights as New World and Pak’nSave threatened to delete her berries from their freezer shelves, but now she has found new ways to reach her customers.
Opinion: First up – we don’t want to whinge and moan. We want to celebrate the fact that our family food business has survived. We have made it to 40 years.
We have had our moments and have had to pick our fights carefully. We’ve battled the big guys, jumped through hoops and had our crushing disappointments – but we are still here.
Let me take you back. My family came to New Zealand when I was 10 – my Kiwi Mum returned with my Welsh Dad who was a Master Mariner, and three children. He left us for six weeks to figure out what he was going to do.
We used to think the Kiwi-owned supermarket chain had the backs of smaller Kiwi businesses like ours. Let me just say – it doesn’t feel like that now. We really feel abandoned by them. We’ve done everything asked of us by them, jumped through those hoops I mentioned earlier, and then still we’ve been cut loose.
– Miranda Ffowcs Williams, Orchard Gold
Somehow he ended up in Wellington, purchased a tonne of frozen broccoli which he proceeded to sell and Ffowcs Williams had its genesis right there.
We have had many firsts to market over the years, notably frozen blueberries many, many years ago. Hey Pesto (developed in my friend’s kitchen), a range of nectars, jams, jellies, preservative-free condiments, (developed by Mum with my younger, hyperactive brother in mind).
We even did a battered fish way back when (my friends and I loved having this in the freezer after a night out) and frozen ratatouille.
Fast forward to 1995. By then Dad had spent 13 years building the business, completed an MBA and now succession planning was on his mind.
Long story short, this meant him calling Mum one Friday to say he wasn’t coming back and to put me, Miranda, in charge.
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I was 27 with no formal training, having left school after sixth form with UE but no desire for further education.
Thrown in at the deep end is really the only way to describe that experience, and for a while Mum and I would huddle together in the office to try to figure out how we could possibly get everyone paid on time – and unbelievably, somehow we managed not to let anyone down.
But we’ve been let down. In July, the Commerce Commission’s draft report into competition in the retail grocery sector found competition is not working well for consumers and suppliers. While we obviously agree, we need to be careful what we say – and that in itself speaks volumes.
We are watching various wrangles between Foodstuffs and local food suppliers play out in the media and feel huge sympathy for the suppliers. We’ve been there, done that, but no good comes from speaking out.
There may be praise for standing up to the big guy, but at the end of the day the company speaking out is the only damaged party in the mix.
Much has been made of the supermarket duopoly here – we used to think the Kiwi-owned supermarket chain had the backs of smaller Kiwi businesses like ours. Let me just say – it doesn’t feel like that now.
“Who created the situation Foodstuffs finds itself in, with too many suppliers, too many products? The process suppliers have to go through in order to get through the door in the first instance is tough enough, after a listing it’s up to the supplier to sell into every individual store. Then there is a hurdle rate to meet, if not met you are deleted after 12 weeks…. Foodstuffs created this mess and the suppliers are left suffering the consequences.”
– Miranda Ffowcs Williams, on LinkedIn
We really feel abandoned by them. We’ve done everything asked of us by them, jumped through those hoops I mentioned earlier, and then still we’ve been cut loose.
But that’s history. We’ve rebuilt our customer base and we are thriving.
We have been privileged to work with many wonderful people in our 40 year journey including our amazing staff.
Being a business owner is a privilege but it is tough, every day brings many challenges, different personalities, failures, machinery breakdowns, logistical nightmares, increased costs, covid but we have learnt to celebrate our successes.
That’s why, even though it sometimes felt like we were battling against the odds, we are proud to be here and proud to mark our 40th anniversary.