It's so convenient: Hooked on what we know

16:00, Oct 06 2012

When it comes to supermarket shopping - New Zealanders are suckers for the status quo. Michelle Robinson reports on what our shopping habits say about us. 

We're creatures of habit when it comes to shopping.

Weet-Bix, Milo, Wattie's tinned spaghetti, Bluebird chips, milk and Coke always feature in the list of most-purchased grocery items.

And despite more fruit and vegetable shops, most of us still get our bananas, carrots, broccoli and tomatoes at the supermarket.

New Zealand's three major supermarkets - Pak 'n Save, New World and Countdown - told the Sunday Star-Times that despite a trend towards convenience food, we keep going back to the tried and true items.

"The key household basics haven't changed," said Countdown national spokesman Luke Schepen. "Our fresh produce favourites have stayed the same, as have our proteins, butter, milk and bread."


So, what is behind our attitudes to food? We go with what we know, DraftFCB planning director David Thomason said.

Well-established brands such as Wattie's, Sanitarium, Milo and Bluebird did well out of the "golden days" of advertising in the 1980s by making the most of the Seven Cultural Codes of Kiwis - featuring our self-deprecating humour, masculinity and love of the land (see sidebar).

Children who grew up with Milo, the Bluebird penguin and Wattie's spaghetti continue to buy those items as adults.

With today's fragmented media and a wider range of TV channels, it's much harder for brands to get the penetration they used to.

"You can't get to all of New Zealand through one or two TV channels," Thomason said.

Otago University food science lecturer Dr Miranda Mirosa says we don't think too hard about what we're buying.

Add to that the "addictive" nature of some foods and it's easy to see why we're hooked on certain things. "Chips, white bread, butter and fatty foods are engineered to be addictive. It's how the food industry makes money. We become accustomed to these tastes," Mirosa said.

And it shows. New Zealand is second only to the US when it comes to being overweight - 68 per cent of us according to the Ministry of Health.

"Convenience is very much a consumer trend, people are working longer and harder and want convenience," Mirosa said.

Adding a tax to fatty and high calorie foods and lowering prices on healthy options could help change that, said AUT University lecturer and dietitian Caryn Zinn.

"They [supermarkets] would still get the money because people who want unhealthy things will always buy them," Zinn said. "Healthy foods have become a second choice. When Coke's cheaper than milk, it's a concern. Even if there was a tax on sugary drinks. One small change would be significant."

Otago University's sociology of food professor Hugh Campbell said Kiwis did not have as many healthy choices as other nationalities because of our Progressive Enterprises-Foodstuffs "duoply".

"Compared to supermarkets in Japan, Europe and Britain, New Zealand supermarkets are very unadventurous and conservative," Campbell said, whereas "boutique, green, feel-good foods" were the centre of marketing strategies in supermarkets overseas.

Foodstuffs and Countdown disagree . "We battle it out every day - with other supermarket chains, with butchers, bakeries, fruit and vege shops and with gourmet grocers that exist in the majority of suburbs throughout the country," Schepen said. "Every year hundreds of new products are introduced in New Zealand."

Supermarkets are also increasing their organic, free-range and gluten-free options.

"Healthier bread options such as Vogel's and Burgen are experiencing strong growth," said Foodstuffs group communications director Antoinette Shallue.

"Thirteen out of the 20 most popular items are fresh fruits and vegetables, with the rest being comprised of meat and other staples such as dairy, bakery and deli items."


Seven Cultural Codes of Kiwis that advertisers play on: Relationship with the land as our playground, and our fear of losing it. Masculinity (DIY). Freedom and independence. Easy-going nature (ie old man in Mainland cheese advertising). Great outdoors and adventure activities. Under-stated, self-deprecating humour such as Billy T James, Fred Dagg, Flight of the Conchords. Sport "worshipped beyond a religion".

Sunday Star Times