News emerged this week of the failure of online supermarket Supie. The virtual retailer went into adminstration after a major investor refused to finance the company any further in light of slower than expected growth. The business is carrying about $3 million in debts. RNZ has a pretty good round-up of the nuts and bolts of the collapse here .
Staff were said to be devastated by the failure of the company. The Herald ran a piece (paywalled) with reactions from various staff members. The company said it was unlikely to be able to pay staff their previous two weeks worth of wages, nor would they pay out holiday pay owed, or any form of severence. RNZ quoted one employee saying:
“[I’m] devastated for my friends, Christmas is coming, there’s rent to pay, everybody’s devastated. There was a lot of tears, a lot of hugging, a lot of crying. We’ve got bills to pay, I know these guys, my friends behind me here, are going to struggle, it’s not easy to just find a job in a day,”
Later it emerged that an anonymous donor had stepped in to pay the wages (but not the holiday pay or severence). So… yay?
As is so often the case wih these things it’s the workers who get shafted, which rather limits the sympathy one can muster for Supie founder and Director Sarah Balle who, as Stuff reports here is “devastated” by the closure. There’s no doubt that Balle worked tirelessly to help prise open the closed shop of New Zealand’s supermarket industry and wanted to be a force for good. However as Morgan Godfery points out in The Post: “Supie isn’t wholly innocent, turning to corporate structure to separate the entity that employed its workers from the entity that held the cash and assets.” Meaning when the crunch came, the workers were left high and dry. More from Morgan later on…
Back in April Balle made it clear what Supie was up against in this interveiw with RNZ (again). Suppliers put pressure on the retailer to raise their prices after they introduced a more competitive price structure in January. Which is downright weird and puts us in mind of very similar rumblings coming from the Warehouse Weet-Bix saga of just under a month ago. What business is it of suppliers what the retailer sells their product for? They get paid what they get paid and then it’s none of their beeswax. Right? Balle said in the interview:
“We can’t confirm that the duopoly are putting pressure on our suppliers, but for them [suppliers] to request us to increase our retail prices means that there is some pressure coming from somewhere.”
If this wasn’t New Zealand where there is definitely no corruption and definitely no sheep on our farms then we would suggest that something very rotten is going on indeed.
Newsroom reports that Balle has given them and the Grocery Commisioner a list of suppliers she says “have refused to take part in the new government-backed regime requiring supermarkets to give smaller retailers access to their wholesale chain at competitive prices.” These include Fonterra, Tatua, JC Johnson, and Mars.
Our old friend Commisioner Pierre van Heerden says that if those naughty suppliers don’t stop screwing consumers then he’ll introduce a code of conduct. That’ll learn em Pierre. Oh, and it turns out that until very recently Pierre was executive general manager of… *scrambles through mountains of scribbled notes*… Sanitarium! Can’t see any problem with that. No sheep. None at all.
The Herald has run a piece from former 2degrees boss Tex Edwards who argues that the government needs to break up the duopoly, a thing that everyone knows but nobody will do. Will the new National governemt do anything about it? Nicola Willis is making some noises already. But is National really going to take on their buddies in big business? The short answer, dear reader, is no.
Which brings us back to Morgan Godfery’s piece in The Post. Godfery takes us back to the root of the problem: a failed neoliberal experiment that refuses to die. Since the governments of the 80s and 90s deregulated everything to serve the whims of the markets, the country has belonged to the likes of Foodstuffs and Woolworths and we just get to live in it. If we can afford the rent.