Countdown apologises with $3k shopping spree

Three trolleys of groceries eases sting of humiliation

RACHEL THOMAS
Last updated 09:53 15/07/2014
Rikki Cooper
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ

MEAT MEDLEY: Rikki Cooper, who was humiliated by Countdown staff over an intercom, stocked up on meat during her free shopping spree, authorised by Countdown head office.

 Rikki Cooper
BRUCE MERCER/Fairfax NZ
SHOPPING SPREE: Titaha Heta-Johnstone, Rikki Cooper and sister Livana Cooper filled three trolleys at Countdown in a complimentary shop.

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''I've got two legs, should I grab a shoulder?'' asks Titaha Heta-Johnstone.

He and partner Rikki Cooper are accustomed to having to choose which parts of a lamb's anatomy comes home with them, but last night, they weren't paying.

As a way of saying sorry, Countdown offered the couple the chance to pluck whatever they liked from the shelves for free, after a staff member wrongfully accused Cooper of shoplifting at Dinsdale Countdown, Hamilton, last week.

Cooper was publicly identified over the store intercom as ''a Maori girl in aisle one''. It wasn't until a humiliated Cooper revealed her six-month baby-bump that staff believed she wasn't smuggling snacks down her jumper.

Last night Cooper and Heta-Johnstone, with the help of Cooper's sister, Livana and three hard-working trolleys, took home $3345.56 worth of groceries at Countdown's central Hamilton store.

That's a student car, or three nights plus return flights to Paris, or three of the latest iPhones.

Cooper's anger and humiliation over the incident switched to joy and gratefulness and she padded through the store, unsure where to begin or end the gratis adventure.

She bypassed the newsstand, where her face graced the Waikato Times front page, telling the tale of her unsavoury experience.

One trolley was soon piled high with chicken drumsticks, pork roast, fishcakes and countless trays of meat, which Cooper would later carve into meals for her household of seven.

''These kids are not fussy so it's just whatever goes,'' Cooper said as she reached for family-size mince. 

Cooper's growing baby, due in November, is her first child but their household was by no means small.

Heta-Johnstone's eyes glazed over as he took a moment to count up how many hungry mouths were usually at their place.

''There's seven of us there permanently, but there's always family in and out.

''She [Cooper] has a big family and there's heaps of brothers and sisters.''

He said their weekly shop normally cost several hundred dollars, and ''it's easily gone in a week.''

Cooper was the main cook for her growing clan, and Livana Cooper said sis could whip up a mean mince and vege stew.

 A second trolley carried fruit, veges, a duvet cover, protein for Heta-Johnstone and multiple packs of Nutri-Grain.

After a stressful week dealing with public humiliation and theft accusations, the couple needed hearty nourishment and solid sleep.

Heta-Johnstone, a shed builder, said when he heard of Thursday's debacle he wisely avoided making a beeline to Countdown to defend his dame.

''I felt so helpless because I didn't know how to approach it. I didn't want to go down to Countdown and let it rip, but I'm happy it's been dealt with the right way.''

Forty minutes in, Livana Cooper skipped through the checkout to fetch a third trolley for baby nappies, wipes and formula that the couple would soon swear by when baby arrives. 

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It took two cars and no small amount of hard labour to get the goods home and the meat into two deep freezers.

Waikato area manager Karl Wareham signed off the bounty.

With each meat pack, cheese block and can of peaches added to the haul, Countdown had paid for its sins.

- Waikato Times

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