Building a new food system

Building a new food system

The ‘super market’ came on the scene in New Zealand, around 60 years ago promising diversity and an abundance of cheap produce. At that time only 54% of New Zealand households had access to a refrigerator, so most Kiwis were shopping on an ‘as needed basis’. The local butcher, greengrocer and corner dairy were the most visited shops.

Wardells Supermarket in WellingtonTom Ah Chee built the first Foodtown supermarket in 1958 with business partners Norm Kent and John Brown. The 1,400 square metre store was opened on a 1.1-hectare site at Otahuhu and boasted 118 car-parking spaces. It proved such a success that a second Foodtown was opened in nearby Takanini, three years later.

The store offered convenience, by selling meat and produce as well as other grocery items. Tom Ah Chee, had observed retailing trends in the United States and also knew that an increasing number of Kiwis had cars. He figured that if his business offered free car parking, ‘then all those cars would belong to my customers’. The rest, as they say, is history.

More and bigger

Riccarton Mall - ChristchurchIn Christchurch the city’s first supermarket opened in 1963. The site of Riccarton Mall is shown here in the early 1960s, as the foundations were laid. By the 2000s the mall had expanded to fill the entire block.

Throughout the country local authorities began to plan for new shopping centres as suburbs grew and car ownership increased.

In 2007 the Foodstuffs group accounted for around 55% of the nation’s grocery turnover. It had about 850 stores operating under the PAK’nSAVE, New World, Write Price, On the Spot and Four Square brands. Progressive Enterprises, which operated Foodtown, Woolworths, Countdown, Fresh Choice and Super Value supermarkets, was the other major player, with 45% of the grocery market.

Unintended consequences

MonocultureLettuceAs the supermarket dominance has grown, their influence on the food system has followed. Supermarkets have a need for massive volumes, and an inevitable preference to purchase from a smaller number of large scale growers.

Just as the big box stores have reduced the number of local butchers, fruit and vegetable stores, grocers and the like, they have also contributed to the rise of monoculture production.

And this brings up the matter of price again.

While we can buy cheap produce at the supermarket, sourced from the industrial agriculture system, we will pay for it in the long run with our health and the well-being of the ecosystem where it’s grown. Here’s a little video that shows how this works.

What next?

While it’s still early days, entrepreneurs like Farmhouse Market and Näraffär are developing software to reduce the cost of running a grocery store. By minimising labour they are making it possible once again, to operate profitably at small scale. At the same time online grocery sales are expected to increase 9.5 percent annually, according to data from IBISWorld.

This is where Ooooby comes in. 

We are a food distribution business and a social enterprise (majority-owned by the non-profit Ooooby Foundation).

We exist to rebuild local food economies because we believe that changing the way we produce and distribute food is fundamental to solving the world’s most pressing social and ecological problems.

We’ve been running the Auckland hub for five years and now have hubs in the Waikato, Christchurch, Tauranga (and soon Taranaki). There are also hubs in Sydney, California (and soon the UK). More than 125,000 boxes of fresh local food have been delivered to over 7,000 homes across the Ooooby network.

We have created a lean distribution system, that ensures growers are paid fairly while getting produce to customers at a competitive price. We know we are on the right track because we regularly test our pricing against organic retailers. While it can vary from week to week, over the years our prices are ever so slightly less than organic retailers when you add in their delivery costs, which we don’t add on for our subscribers. 

A brighter future

Thames-SFFI suggest we are seeing the beginnings of a move to small-scale, intensive, local food production.

This year Ooooby sponsored the Six Figure Farming NZ Tour, which brought two profitable urban farmers for a three week national tour. People came to hear and see how these farmers are making a good living off small acreage. Some of the 300 people who attended were existing growers and many were exploring growing as a livelihood. 

This is not an overnight change but in time and together, we can pull food production back closer to home, where it’s grown by people you can meet and shake hands with.

This is a positive disruption with a goal of producing an abundance of nutrient-dense food to keep you, your family and your community healthy and strong.