Already facing a consumer backlash over its parent's ban
on New Zealand products, Australian-owned supermarket giant
Countdown was yesterday accused of blackmailing New Zealand
suppliers into paying to keep their products on its shelves.
Labour's economic development spokesman Shane Jones made his
claim of a ''Countdown shakedown'' under parliamentary
privilege but appears to have the backing of Food and Grocery
Council chief executive and former National MP Katherine
The claims are ''categorically'' denied by Countdown owner
Mr Jones told Parliament he had been told by a number of New
Zealand suppliers they had been called to meetings with the
supermarket chain's managers.
During those meetings, they were told the supermarkets'
profit margins had not met ''shareholder expectations'' and
more was wanted from them.
''The Aussie managers are saying to our Kiwi employers, our
Kiwi firms, 'we're not here to talk nursery rhymes'.
''They are demanding from Kiwi businesses payments, backdated
cheques and recompense for the losses the supermarkets assert
they suffered last year.
''And if they don't pay these cheques, they are being told no
shelf space into the future.
''In any other sort of country, that's blackmail. That's
extortion,'' Mr Jones said in Parliament.
Mr Jones said the suppliers who brought the issue to his
attention had sworn him not to reveal their identity.
However, they employed thousands of New Zealanders up and
down the country and with their own profit margins slim,
those jobs would be placed at risk if they were forced to
make those payments. He intended making a formal complaint to
the Commerce Commission asking it to look into the matter.
The move was symptomatic of ''a corporate culture that could
only be described as something Tony Soprano would be very
proud of, something of racketeering and something of
extortion imported from Australia that corrupts commercial
practice in New Zealand''. ''I'll go to Pak'n Save because
the Aussies should pack up and go home.''
Mr Jones refused to comment further after he left the House.
Mrs Rich confirmed her organisation was aware of ''a number
of incidents where our member companies have been asked for
''We have raised our general concerns about this practice
with the supermarket chain involved,'' she said. ''This is a
serious issue that is new to the New Zealand grocery sector
and we view it as an unwelcome development.
''We have asked members to report further occurrences.''
Countdown is a subsidiary of the Australian-owned Progressive
Enterprises, whose managing director, Dave Chambers,
''categorically'' denied Mr Jones' claims and said that if
any MP or supplier had questions or concerns about his
company's business, ''they are welcome to contact us directly
to discuss them''.
Mr Chambers said Progressive Enterprises would ''fully
co-operate with any inquiries from the Commerce Commission''.
Progressive Enterprises' parent Woolworths - which is chaired
by New Zealand businessman Ralph Waters - along with main
Australian rival Coles are already under investigation by the
Australian Competition and Consumer Commission over similar
A Commerce Commission spokesman confirmed Mr Jones had been
in contact yesterday but had yet to make a formal complaint.
The spokesman was unaware the commission was dealing with any
complaints alleging similar behaviour at this point.
Countdown is already facing criticism and a fledgling
consumer boycott in New Zealand over Woolworths' policy to
favour local suppliers over New Zealand suppliers in its
A Facebook page set up to highlight the boycott had more than
1700 likes by late yesterday with about 400 of those coming
after Mr Jones' claims in Parliament.