Newsroom’s Nikki Mandow came up with an experiment: for a week, she’d only eat food made by women or women-run companies. She tells The Detail it was a lot harder than she expected. 

Who would have thought it would be so difficult to buy a loaf of bread? 

The quest took Newsroom‘s business editor Nikki Mandow up and down Auckland’s Dominion Road. 

But it wasn’t just any loaf of bread she was after – it was a loaf made by a company run by a woman. 

And it was all in the name of a week-long experiment to only eat food made by women or companies run by women

Mandow had been given two lists: one from a friend who runs a dairy-free food business and the other from the Food and Grocery Council. She’d intended to buy her week’s worth of “women-only” groceries at the supermarket. 

She soon realised, though, that that would be too difficult. Mandow discovered very few large, mainstream food companies are owned or run by women. She had to cheat – just a little bit – to include products made by the multinational company Nestle, whose New Zealand boss is a woman. 

The experiment left her surprised about the make-up of the food industry, as well as a little hungry and out of pocket. 

“I knew about the CEOs not being women and I’d written about that,” Mandow says. 

“I knew about the glass ceiling, but I’d never really thought about it from a SME [small and medium enterprises] perspective. I’d never thought about it from a food business perspective and I never realised it was going to be so hard, not just for me, but for these businesses.” 

Without any real data, Mandow was left with the impression that “maybe less than 5 percent” of products on supermarket shelves are produced by women-run companies. She found it much easier to scour the shelves of small specialty food shops and buy online from producers directly. 

“The women companies, most of them are really small and it seems that as they get bigger they’re bought by men. It’s such a niche market.” 

Mandow tells The Detail she did the experiment to find out more about the shape of the market, whether there’s a problem with gender imbalance when it comes to owning and running food businesses, and whether it matters. 

She talked to angel investors and women founders of food companies about the difficulties of raising finance. She also tapped into a recent study by the University of Auckland, titled ‘Raising Capital in Aotearoa New Zealand: Insights from Women Entrepreneurs‘. 

“One of the things they talked about is that women very often have values behind their company,” says Mandow.  

They start their company to solve a problem, such as a food allergy, or to provide a product that is more environmentally sound. They want an investor to share those values, but many angel investors’ priorities are simply to make money. 

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Sharon Brettkelly is co-host of The Detail podcast.

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