The opening of a new pātaka (supermarket) in the Far North next month can't come soon enough, as people struggle to make ends meet due to inflation, lack of grocery competition and the rising cost of living.
The new Social Supermarket Te Hiku Pātaka will open in Kaitaia in late May and is backed by a partnership between Foodstuffs and Te Kahu Oranga Whānau- a collective of Te Hiku iwi and Māori organisations including Waitomo Papakāinga Development Trust, Te Whare Ruruhau O Meri, Te Rūnanga o te Rarawa and Tuhiata Mahi Ora.
The initiative- which aims to create new choices and increase access to food for struggling whānau- comes off the back of a similar Social Supermarket in Wellington.
The Wellington store is a partnership between Foodstuffs and the Wellington City Mission and has helped a total of 3268 Wellingtonians in its first year of operation.
The Te Hiku collective chose the name "Pātaka", which refers to a food storehouse or community pantry - a place that replenishes local whānau and is contributed to by all.
"Dignified choice" is at the heart of the pātaka, making it different from other food relief in that it recognises people might just be having a tough week or month and are therefore struggling to feed themselves and their families.
Mana whakahaere (manager) of Te Whare Ruruhau o Meri and general manager at Te Kahu Oranga Whānau, Phillip Murray aka "Hoddy", said the Te Hiku Pātaka kaupapa was all about nourishing whānau and communities and affirming the Māori tikanga (customary practice) of sharing, growing, harvesting and gathering kai (food).
He said the pātaka, to be located at 138 Commerce St, would be like any normal shopping experience, except with bilingual signage and an uplifting ambience and environment.
"This will be a place where our people can experience manaaki (care) and be served and supported with dignity, respect and aroha (love)," Murray said.
"A place where people will feel comfortable to come and get access to the food they need."
The initiative will not be limited to enabling food security for whānau and communities - it will act as a conduit for other wraparound services.
Murray said the opening of the pātaka had been a journey over many years and the group was looking forward to being able to serve the people of Te Hiku.
"This has been on our radar for some time, so when the opportunity came to check out the Wellington project, we jumped on it," Murray said.
"We're very fortunate to be working in true partnership with Foodstuffs and to leverage off that for the benefit of our people.
"It's sometimes hard to fathom in a country like this that we have kai (food) poverty and unthinkable we need a service like this, but here we are."
Whānau will be referred to the pātaka via community providers, with only around two to three whānau allocated to shop at one time.
On the first visit, whānau will be asked to provide a koha of around $15 or whatever they can afford.
The pātaka will operate off a low-cost model point system, where one can of baked beans costs one point, for example.
Fifty-five points will be allocated to a single person, 60 points to a small family, 65 points for a medium family and 70 points for a larger family.
These points will be provided with each shopping trip and can accumulate and be used later.
Murray added the pātaka would also not be stocking unhealthy kai, opting instead for healthy, nourishing options for whānau.
Foodstuffs North Island Head of Membership Experience Willa Hand said this initiative was an important part of the co-operative's promise to be Here for NZ- a commitment to ensure everyone in Aotearoa had access to healthy food.
"When people have an emergency and need food, they come to a traditional foodbank and more often than not just get given what they get given," Hand said.
"That's really helpful, but it doesn't take into consideration cultural needs, allergies, food likes and dislikes.
"The idea behind social supermarkets is that when individuals or families have an emergency need for whatever reason. we can do more than just give them what we have in a pre-packed food parcel.
"The intention is to have a range of products on the shelves in our social supermarket that enables them to come in, have the dignity of choosing the products they need themselves, so they can make the kind of meals they want to cook, shopping in an environment that looks and feels like a normal supermarket."
Foodstuffs confirmed it planned to roll out its social supermarket initiative to more communities in the year ahead.
Discussions are already under way with community partners in six different regions, including Tauranga and Whangārei, to set up similar social supermarkets.
Every social supermarket will be different, tapping into the local knowledge of community partners to tailor the offering for the needs of each community.
The Foodstuffs team will provide training to the community team who will be running the supermarkets.
Foodstuffs is the owner of the sole large supermarket store in Kaitaia, Pak'nSave, as well as all of the Four Square stores around the Far North.
The grocery retail giant, along with competitor Countdown, have recently come under fire regarding their duopoly on the grocery sector, which was contributing to the steep rise of grocery items.
Last week the Government announced food prices were 7.6 per cent higher in March than the year before - the biggest annual increase in more than a decade.
"Today's figures confirm the findings in the Commerce Commission's grocery market study that the supermarket duopoly is making profits at the expense of everyday New Zealanders," Minister of Commerce and Consumer Affairs David Clark said.
Released in March, the commission's report into the $22 billion supermarket sector said competition in the industry was not working well for New Zealanders.
"Even at their conservative estimate, the market study found the major grocery retailers were earning excess profits of around $1m a day, well above what would be expected in a workably competitive market," Clark said.
"The average return of the major grocery retailers at over 12 per cent was more than double the rate of normal return for grocery retailing in New Zealand of 5.5 per cent.
"No matter how you cut it, it's clear that New Zealanders are paying too much for their food and groceries."
To learn more about the social supermarket initiative, click here.