Supermarket soon to introduce sensory hours

Dunedin autism advocate Josh Sime (left) and Fresh Choice Roslyn co-owner Craig Chirnside browse...
Dunedin autism advocate Josh Sime (left) and Fresh Choice Roslyn co-owner Craig Chirnside browse the aisles at the supermarket which plans to introduce scheduled sensory hours in a couple of weeks. Photo: Peter McIntosh
Fresh Choice Roslyn is believed to be the first supermarket in the franchise to introduce sensory hours after a push by a Dunedin man to make grocery shopping a more pleasant experience.

His efforts have sparked talks among management that could result in the changes being made nationwide.

In a few weeks, Fresh Choice Roslyn will switch off half its lights, turn off the music and turn down the beeping at checkouts between 2.30pm and 3.30pm every Wednesday.

Countdown, now rebranded Woolworths, rolled out sensory hours across its stores nationwide in 2019, the only supermarket chain in the country to do so.

Dunedin resident and autism advocate Josh Sime said he met Fresh Choice Roslyn representatives last week and they were "all for it".

Mr Sime was previously involved in a petition to the government to get sensory hours in supermarkets across the country passed into law, and in 2022 campaigned to get "sensory screenings" introduced at Dunedin’s Rialto Cinema.

Sensory hours were a method of reducing the amount of stimulation the human brain received to create a more friendly and calming environment, he said.

This benefited those with autism and intellectual disabilities, but could also help the elderly and babies to feel more relaxed.

Mr Sime, who has autism, said his experiences with supermarkets had not been great and people with autism "got the worst of it".

Lights felt brighter than they actually were, noises were louder and crowds could be more distressing for them than for others.

He knew of some people who got all their groceries delivered to their doorstep because going in-person to a supermarket was too overwhelming, Mr Sime said.

"Everything’s quite overwhelming.

"It makes going into a supermarket really like an unpleasant experience and painful, it’s really painful.

"The sensory hours are really awesome and it shows a more inclusive society as well."

If more supermarkets adopted sensory hours it would not only boost business but help "thousands" of people to get out of their house and engage with the world, he said.

"If Fresh Choice does it across New Zealand, I would say their business is going to skyrocket."

Fresh Choice Roslyn co-owner Craig Chirnside said there was no downside to introducing sensory hours at their store, and to his knowledge they would be the first in the franchise to do it.

The sensory hours would come into effect in a couple of weeks, once signage to inform customers was completed.

While sensory hours were a choice on an individual owner-operator basis, Mr Chirnside said he had contacted their marketing team who would begin talks about doing it across the franchise.

The changes were not hard to do and acknowledged a section of the community who had asked for some help to make their life easier, he said.

"We’re not doing it to get an extra 50 customers come through or anything like that. It’s just making our existing customers feel more welcome.

"Josh is one of them."