Impeccable data capture informs top co-operative

Foodstuffs South Island chief executive Steve Anderson. Photo supplied.
Foodstuffs South Island chief executive Steve Anderson. Photo supplied.
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 has an evolving role that embraces feeding the South Island but also lobbying on behalf of the co-operative's interests at a national level.

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 issue.

''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 listened to.''

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 activity.

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 research.

As part of his role, Mr Anderson looked at megatrends of shopping and customer behaviour and that was why CRM was so important.

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 a business.

''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 trends.

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 badly damaged.

Half the food consumed in the South Island comes from Foodstuffs.

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 years.

Part of it was being Kiwi-owned and operated with the retailers having a commitment to living and working in their own communities.

If a grocery store operator wanted to live on the Gold Coast of Australia, they could not operate a Foodstuffs store in New Zealand.

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 Invercargill.

''We have to keep making sure we have the best possible offering to consumers. That's what international travel can bring.''


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