It was only a matter of time. The Commerce Commission has announced it will investigate claims by Labour MP Shane Jones under the protection of Parliament that Countdown and its parent company, Woolworths, are engaging in extortionate behaviour with their New Zealand suppliers.
Jones hasn't held back over the past two weeks, accusing the Australian-owned business of Mafioso tactics, extortion and blackmail. The execs at Countdown have emphatically denied any such carry on but it's interesting that when a supplier to the supermarket chain rang me on talkback, he sought an undertaking that we wouldn't pass his mobile number to anyone, that he wouldn't have to reveal what he supplied and he used an alias.
John Campbell said much the same when he interviewed Countdown CEO David Chambers on Campbell Live last week. He said, and he reiterated this a number of times, that he and his team of reporters had spent all day trying to get just one supplier to come on air to discuss Jones' allegations but all had refused for fear of losing their contracts. Hardly the climate of mutual respect and openness the Countdown CEO claimed existed.
As Jones basked in the attention his parliamentary proclamations garnered, his claims got even more outrageous. The chairman of Woolworths, Ralph Waters, was, according to Jones, ringing Kiwi suppliers, telling them to back off from any investigations into the company's procuring practices.
Waters completely rejected the allegations and said he found Jones' insinuations highly offensive. So yes. Jones has got what he wanted: a) a formal investigation into Countdown's methods and b) lots of lovely column inches in the newspapers, all to himself. I bet there are a few lowly Labour list MPs, fearful of another three years on the opposition benches, wishing Jones had been the chosen one when the Labour leadership was up for grabs.
As far as I'm concerned, supermarkets are much of a muchness. I would shop at New World if I had one closer to home because I like that they're New Zealand-owned and operated, and I love that a trolley boy in Kawerau can become a multimillionaire supermarket owner, thanks to Foodstuffs' holistic training and management schemes.
But it seems silly to drive past two Countdown supermarkets just to battle the beautiful people in the New World aisles at Victoria Park. And I do like the Onecard bonuses I get. I was amazed at the number of people who phoned me to say they would never shop at Countdown because of the Onecard. At least 10 told me via phone and text that they would never let a supermarket know the details of what they had bought. They seemed to think a database was being kept on them, recording the size of their Weet-Bix packets.
I couldn't give a rat's bum who knows what's in my shopping trolley. With the investigation under way, we'll know soon enough whether Shane Jones is all bluster and bullshit or whether there is substance to his accusations.
Whatever, Jones has had a win in positive publicity. Pak'nSave and New World's proudly New Zealand-owned ads are milking the situation and the Aussie owners of Countdown have taken a hit.