Supermarket shopping may become patriotic

01:11, Feb 16 2014
shopping at supermarket
ECONOMY OF CHOICE: Shoppers can help swing the balance of power by frequenting - or avoiding - certain supermarkets.

I abhor supermarket shopping. Were it not for the unavoidable fact that I like all of you need to eat, feed my dog, wipe my bottom and occasionally clean my house, I would never go to the supermarket.

When I do, I try to make it fast and efficient, 15 to 20 minutes maximum.

I don't have Fly Buys or a Onecard and I don't use coupon booklets or try to buy on special. That stuff takes time and time is the one thing I like spending less than money in the neon-soaked aisles full of dithering consumers.

But supermarkets are good in one regard. They reduce the total time I need to spend shopping, which is another activity I abhor. Because the supermarket has lined up on shelves all the stuff I need to sustain me in one place, and provided carts to put it all in before funnelling me through one of numerous checkouts, it is actually doing me a favour.

Until this week that was pretty much all I thought about supermarkets, big garish places with parking spaces and lots of stuff I need all in one place.

Many of you (I suspect men in particular) probably feel the same way but I know others (and this is borne out by industry research) are fastidious when it comes to knowing who has what items cheapest and where is the best place to get this or that with the biggest petrol discount and all the other promotional stuff. New Zealanders are in fact the most discount-oriented, price-sensitive supermarket shoppers on the planet.

But this week Shane Jones and his "Sopranos" speech in Parliament might just have elevated supermarket shopping beyond the most soul-destroying, mind-numbingly boring activity on earth to the most visceral and direct act of patriotism any of us can engage in. His as yet unsubstantiated claim made under parliamentary privilege that one of our two big supermarket chains is extorting money from suppliers by asking for retrospective payments and threatening banishment from its shelves for those who don't pay up was always going to grab headlines.

Throw in the fact that the company (which vigorously denies the claims) is Australian-owned and you have a populist political scandal made in a Winston Peters wet dream. Never mind that the specifics of Mr Jones's allegations which have been tabled in Parliament are being kept secret because some bureaucrat is afraid of being sued, "Aislegate" is going off like a punnet of old yoghurt in the dairy section. Because it is easy to click a button on your computer, thousands of people have joined a Facebook page to boycott the Australian chain, and TV reporters have found dozens if not scores of housewives who say it might make them think twice about which aisles they push their trolley down. Because pretty well everyone shops at the supermarket, everyone can feel outraged, have an opinion or take direct action.

And it isn't like this protest against an unjust, unfair system is going to put you at any risk. You don't have to jump into Wellington Harbour and wave a banner next to a seismic research ship or camp out in a town square and bleat about the 1 per cent. All you have to do is either keep shopping where you have been and feel virtuous or swap supermarkets and become part of the movement.

I'll probably need to see a bit more hard proof before I become a checkout revolutionary and given that Mr Jones's formal complaint is now before the Commerce Commission, the process could become rather slow and boring during the next few weeks.

To be honest there's another reason I'm likely to swim against the tide. If thousands do abandon the Australian chain, its stores will be much less crowded, they will probably have more parks closer to the doors and it will probably make the stuff on its shelves cheaper. I'll be able to spend less money and less time buying dog food, toilet paper, washing powder and food than I have before and, as you know, I abhor supermarket shopping.


The Dominion Post