Foodstuffs South Island chief executive Steve Anderson
has spent 14 years in his current position but shows no signs
of tiring of life in the grocery trade. Business editor Dene
Mackenzie caught up with Mr Anderson to talk about the changes
he is making in the grocery co-operative.
Foodstuffs South Island chief executive Steve Anderson.
Foodstuffs South Island chief executive Steve Anderson has an
evolving role that embraces feeding the South Island but also
lobbying on behalf of the co-operative's interests at a
He is also the chief executive of Foodstuffs (NZ) which
embraces both Foodstuffs (SI) and Foodstuffs North Island -
both of which run as separate entities but combine at a
national level to protect the interests of the co-operative.
Foodstuffs likes being a low-key organisation, with its head
down concentrating on its business.
But sometimes Mr Anderson finds himself talking to MPs and
bureaucrats on things like the reporting regime, liquor
reforms and food safety - which has become a major industry
''It is interesting work. If something comes out which is not
appropriate for a co-op, we challenge it.
"If we put our point of view forward in a mature way, we get
The latest Foodstuffs (SI) report showed the group with
consistent revenue growth, from $2.26 billion in 2013 to
$2.61 billion in 2014.
It did not seem so long ago former Foodstuffs chief executive
Tony Carter was celebrating clicking over $1 billion in
turnover for the grocery group.
Mr Anderson he was happy with the co-op's share of growth in
the market but it had been helped by diversification into
Henry's Wines and Spirits and buying Raeward Fresh.
''We want to go into areas where we can add value, apart from
our core activities, such as supply chains and IT systems.
"We bring our expertise to other businesses and add value.''
The highlight of his career so far was the introduction of
SAP (systems application protocols) for Foodstuffs which was
phased in during 2009.
SAP enabled more accurate analysis of data from which
Foodstuffs could make better decisions.
The quality of data needed to be impeccable otherwise nothing
would work, he said.
When he did one of his early analyses of the database, there
were 16 ways of spelling Christchurch.
The next step was CRM (customer relationship management) and
the introduction of the New World club card was an example,
Mr Anderson said.
Data from customer purchases would enable New World to tailor
offers for its customers rather than deluging them with
offers of no interest.
Although New World is behind its main competition with a
loyalty card, Mr Anderson said Foodstuffs had taken time to
ensure it got it right.
''We haven't rushed because the key is getting the balance
right and promoting things people like.''
Asked if his role had changed, Mr Anderson recalled taking
his daughter to work several years ago.
At the end of the day, she told him all he did was talk.
And he agreed. His day is made up of 15-minute bursts of
The general manager of IT could be up first with a problem,
and they did not bring the easy problems.
That could be followed by a retail manager with a problem at
a specific store.
The key was turning off from the previous issue to
concentrate on the new problem.
''If I am sitting there thinking of the IT issue, the retail
person can see that.
"Switching off is a skill chief executives need to have.
Hopefully, I am good at it.
''I can't get on a forklift or into the IT suite to cut code.
My job is assembling the best team possible to work towards
making the right decisions.
''At a concert, my role would be in percussion or the bass
section - setting the direction.
"The fancy stuff is the vocalist or lead guitar but they get
out of time without the beat of the bass.''
Other times, he uses spare times in the day to read and do
As part of his role, Mr Anderson looked at megatrends of
shopping and customer behaviour and that was why CRM was so
He realised early on in his career he could not have all the
skills and there were many things he did not know.
Finance was not his strength but it was essential in running
''I need to know about it so I make sure I have good people
to rely on so I can understand.''
As chief executive, he regularly travels overseas to look at
If he visits the United States or Germany, he quickly points
out Foodstuffs (NZ) is not a threat.
Foodstuffs was not investing in the German market, which
allowed grocery chains there to share information.
The introduction of self-service checkouts at Pak'n Save
followed a trip to Germany, Mr Anderson said.
During his tenure, Mr Anderson has been through big tests,
not the least dealing with the aftermath of the Canterbury
earthquakes in which the Foodstuffs distribution centre was
Half the food consumed in the South Island comes from
After the earthquakes, staff were up on forklifts fixing
damaged shelving even though their own houses were broken.
They understood the co-operative's mission was to feed the
South Island and reacted accordingly.
There was a great team culture and ethos within the
co-operative which kept staff turnover low.
In particular, turnover of the senior staff is low. The
average number of years on the job of the top 30 staff was 18
Part of it was being Kiwi-owned and operated with the
retailers having a commitment to living and working in their
If a grocery store operator wanted to live on the Gold Coast
of Australia, they could not operate a Foodstuffs store in
They had to have a presence in their local community.
''If you take 100 people from Whangarei and 100 from
Invercargill, each community has different needs The same
goes for Invercargill and Nelson, Christchurch and the West
Coast. Owners need to understand local needs."
New Zealand's grocery store capacity had yet to be reached
and Foodstuffs tended to go where the people were living.
A new New World was being built in Wigram, which had had a
population explosion after the earthquakes, and a new Pak'n
Save was being built in the south of Rangiora.
In other cases, refurbishment was undertaken, as could be
seen by Pak'n Save, in Dunedin, and the Windsor New World, in
''We have to keep making sure we have the best possible
offering to consumers. That's what international travel can