Price gouging, bean-washing, and dressing up your bulldog for Valentine’s Day: the supermarkets and their foodbank drives

by | May 29, 2024 | Opinion

Fans of people asking for donations to solve problems they themselves have caused are in luck this week, as RNZ publishes a piece gently questioning the supermarkets’ instore foodbank collections. Not since Scar started his fund for orphaned lion cubs has hypocrisy found such a happy hook to hang its hat.

New World has been asking customers to buy “foodbank friendly products” or buy a pre-filled $20 bag to be donated to the City Mission or local foodbank through its foodbank drive Family2family. Which is nice and all but let’s not forget that Foodstiuffs (for it is they) are still making a tidy little profit on that can of beans and bag of pasta that you are so kindly donating. Did I say tidy little profit? Sorry I meant to say immoral and excessive.

In their defence, Foodstuffs have parped up and said they would donate $250,000 to the cause. 250,000 tax deductible dollars. Which is roughly 0.0005% of the excess profits (profits over and above what might be considered a reasonable return on investment) that the supermarkets made every year between 2015 and 2019. And it’s not even Christmas, people.

If you were of the benefit-of-the-doubt-giving persuasion you might say, well, it’s their shareholders’ money after all and they can do what they want with it. And, you might rightly point out, that the foodbanks are happy that their grocery collection points are in such central and convenient locations. You soft-hearted, gullible ninnies.

Because if the supermarkets weren’t gouging with all the merry abandon of a Springbok flanker then perhaps we wouldn’t be in this mess. Maybe if they weren’t intent on making profits in excess of $1 million a day then we wouldn’t need the foodbanks. Perhaps if the Commerce Commision wasn’t a lame toothless whippet then we’d either have some meaningful competition for the big two or they would be broken up like a gang of rowdy toddlers.

And while it’s great that RNZ published this piece there seems to be very little else in the way of outrage from the rest of the news media. The price gouging is reported with the merest hint of an ennui-inflected sigh. And the subsequent marketing blitz to make the supermarkets look like they are trying to help is dressed up by the media like a single man’s bulldog on Valentine’s Day.

Here’s a piece from One News about the New World Family2family campaign. Although labelled as content paid for by New World it still looks like other news stories on the website. And what chance is there, in this advertising-starved media climate, that One News will turn around any time soon and write or produce a piece critical of New World or their campaign of (baked) bean-washing? Fairly negligible is my bet. And so at least one of our dwindling number of news outlets are compromised by the duopoly and unlikely to speak up against their sharp, not to say shifty, business practices.

There’s a scene in Janet Frame’s novel The Carpathians in which a whole small-town New Zealand street’s worth of people just disappears overnight. The next day the houses are all up for sale and the American protagonist, in a state of numb horror, is shown around the now empty houses of her erstwhile neighbours by the local estate agent. “Why are the houses being sold” she asks. “What has happened to all the people?”. The estate agent replies easily, “You know, people up and leave for no reason these days: that’s the way things are.”

It’s a truly weird but oddly realistic scene.

What happened to all the people? Where has the health system gone? Why are all the rivers full of cow shit? Why can’t anyone afford a house? Why are there children sleeping in cars? Why can’t working families afford basic groceries? Why are people packing up and leaving for Australia in their droves?

“You know, people up and leave for no reason these days: that’s the way things are.”

About the Author

David Wrigley

David is a writer and musician from Kemureti/ Cambridge. He has been published in Noble Rot, Nourish Magazine, Turbine|Kapohau, New Zealand Poetry Yearbook, and is currently working on his first novel. He has done his time in restaurants in Aotearoa and the UK. Oh, yes. He has done his time.

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