Operators could face a 'perfect storm'

University of Otago politics lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards reflects on recent public concerns. Photo...
University of Otago politics lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards reflects on recent public concerns. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Recent claims about the activities of some Australian-owned supermarkets on both sides of the Tasman have struck a nationalist nerve in New Zealand.

That is the view of University of Otago politics lecturer Dr Bryce Edwards.

On Wednesday, Labour MP Shane Jones used parliamentary privilege to accuse Progressive Enterprises, which owns Countdown, of pressure tactics, including seeking retrospective cash payments from suppliers.

Countdown management have categorically rejected the allegations, including of taking retrospective payments, but have said that discussions with suppliers could be robust as ''a great price'' was sought for Kiwi customers.

The matter has been referred to the Commerce Commission.

Dr Edwards said the factual position over the allegations remained to be clarified, but some New Zealand consumers had already felt ''outraged'' about suggestions of pressure tactics.

And there were also concerns that some Australian supermarkets were said to be taking some New Zealand goods off the shelves to show support for a ''Buy Australia'' campaign. Nationalism was expressed in a more low-key way in New Zealand than in Australia - fewer flags were displayed - but it remained below the surface, and there was a strong instinct to support the underdog.

Although there were limited options for consumers, some supermarket operators could face a ''perfect storm'' of public reaction, including concern about economics and rising prices, as well as concerns about ''sovereignty and the underdog''.

If consumers felt supermarkets were behaving unfairly, outlets were in a potentially ''very vulnerable'' position, he said.

He also believed the supermarket issues could become an election issue, and that Labour could later propose more policy action aimed at countering claimed unfair tactics in the supermarket sector.

- john.gibb@odt.co.nz

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