Australian supermarket giant Woolworths is open to stocking more Kiwi-made products on its shelves across the Tasman - despite its policy of buying products locally whenever possible, says the company's soon-to-be boss.
Deputy chief executive and CEO designate Grant O'Brien told members of the New Zealand Food & Grocery Council in Auckland that the ASX-listed company had an opportunity to take advantage of this country's food innovation.
Woolworths was proudly Australian but not to the point of excluding New Zealand-made goods, he said.
O'Brien said there were opportunities in Woolworths' stores for Kiwi food manufacturers whose products were viewed as healthy by consumers, such as muesli bars.
"It's a market that's just exploding in terms of popularity ... food that's good for you," he said. "We're on the hunt for new products ... and the thing about New Zealand is that it has a very green and pure reputation for those sorts of products.
"There are many opportunities [for Kiwi firms] and as long as [a] product is good enough and fits with where we want to go, then of course we'll look at it."
New Zealand exported $877 million worth of processed food products to Australia in 2009, excluding wine, according to the Ministry for Economic Development.
A report commissioned by the ministry last year said there were "major opportunities" for local food manufacturers across the Tasman, and that Australia could be used as a "stepping stone" to markets further afield.
"It is our closest market, culturally similar but with 22.5 million people, and of course low [trade] barriers," said former Minister for Economic Development, Gerry Brownlee, at the time of the report's release.
Katherine Rich, chief executive of the Food & Grocery Council, which represents manufacturers, said O'Brien's comments were encouraging. "Australia is the most important market for most food companies," she said.
"If [a company] can get on the shelves in Australia it dramatically affects the development of a small New Zealand business."
But Rich said it was not easy to break into the Aussie market, and firms needed an innovative point of difference and a product offering that made commercial sense for an Australian retailer. Supermarket chains received many product pitches from prospective suppliers, so it was important firms made a slick presentation when they got the chance, she said.