Countdown has axed its weekly specials for the first week of the country's lockdown, stating it doesn't have enough product available to keep up with the unprecedented demand.

The supermarket giant routinely offers a large number of grocery items at discounted prices each week but today told the Herald it was getting less amounts of some products while the demand from shoppers was tripling.

Instead, items displayed at the end of aisles and elsewhere were dubbed "great prices" in store.

"We made the decision last week not to go ahead with planned promotions right now because we simply don't have the stock in store for customers and we don't want to exacerbate demand," the spokeswoman said.

Advertisement

However, one shopper has dubbed the lack of specials as "non Kiwi".

"Please get some answers as to why Countdown are not having sales or specials this week," the reader wrote.

"They have made millions the last few weeks while other industries are dying and still they want to leverage off the significant demand? This is non Kiwi!"

READ MORE:
Covid-19 coronavirus: Perspex screens and pack-your-own, Countdown's lockdown safety measures
Covid-19 coronavirus: Countdown Grey Lynn supermarket turned into online store
Coronavirus: Countdown puts limits on all products - except for deli and produce
Coronavirus: Countdown introduces limits to stop panic buying

The move has led Consumer NZ to warn the supermarket to ensure that its wording of prices of products did not mislead consumers who were accustomed to finding items on special in certain areas of the store.

Consumer NZ spokeswoman Jessica Wilson said supermarkets had to be careful they didn't mislead consumers into thinking products were on special when they weren't.

"Supermarkets have to be careful that their pricing strategies don't fall foul of the Fair Trading Act, so they can't mislead consumers about the usual price of goods."


Wilson said they had to be careful about marketing language, such as labelling products at the ends of aisles as a "great price".

Advertisement
Shoppers were snaked around the car park at Countdown Dinsdale, Hamilton, about midday today with about 30 people in the queue. Photo / Supplied
Shoppers were snaked around the car park at Countdown Dinsdale, Hamilton, about midday today with about 30 people in the queue. Photo / Supplied

"That's a specific play, but if you're also using language like 'great price' and it's been rolled out for a certain stock of product it would be easy for a consumer to think 'oh okay, does that mean I'm getting a saving here?' and then assuming they may be.

"Those kinds of promotions may get into risky territory if the promotion and language you're using around that creates the impression that there is a saving to be made."

She accepted that supermarkets were in a "difficult operating environment" at the moment with high demand, and she had sympathy for them, "but it is really important that they, in terms of the prices that they are presenting to consumers, that consumers can still make informed decisions about purchasing, particularly on price."

When asked if it came close to breaching the Fair Trading Act, Wilson said Consumer NZ would have to look at "how the display was being presented".

"But certainly language like that could lead a consumer to think there was a special being offered to them. What would a normal consumer think of the term 'great price'. They may assume that there maybe a saving on that.

"Supermarkets are under stress, consumers are under stress but it's really important given the financial pressures that consumers are facing that the presentation of goods doesn't give them a false impression about whether there are savings to be made."

Whether a sign in store advising customers of their position would help, Wilson said they would need to look at what impression they were creating.

"One aspect would be looking at those end-of-aisle promotions. If there is no special available the supermarket may need to look at how it's using these promotions and see whether they are creating the impression that the consumer is getting the discount when that is not the case."

Perspex screens have been installed at the New World supermarket in Te Puke as it gets ready for the coronavirus lockdown tonight. Photo / Supplied
Perspex screens have been installed at the New World supermarket in Te Puke as it gets ready for the coronavirus lockdown tonight. Photo / Supplied

Wilson said given the alert level 4 and national state of emergency, supermarkets had to ensure that their price information was clear.

A Countdown spokesperson said it hadn't put any of its "standard shelf prices up in any Countdown store across the country".

"We're very sensitive to making sure we deliver value for our customers in this time of need.

"We also have 3400 products on Great Price and none of these have changed. As with any week, customers may see produce and meat prices fluctuate due to seasonal or market demand."

The spokesperson said it decided last week not to go ahead with "planned promotions right now because we simply don't have the stock in store for customers and we don't want to exacerbate demand".

"We also want to enable our team to completely focus on serving our customers and not changing price or promotion tickets.

"It would be unfair and highly disingenuous of us to promote a special price, then limit the amount people could buy, or worse, not have it available at all.

"We are dealing with extraordinary and unprecedented demand, and feeding more people than we ever have in our history. If we put an item on special and it's all gone by lunchtime, that's not okay."

The situation was being reviewed "every day and ensuring that we're providing food and other essentials to Kiwis is our absolute priority".

She also urged Kiwis to be kind after reports of physical assault on a number of staff yesterday.

She said staff were working tirelessly to provide groceries for New Zealanders in a climate never experienced before.

A Foodstuffs spokeswoman said Covid-19 had "turned everything on its head, and right now our only focus is getting the essential products on the shelf for our customers".

However, some grocery items were on special.

"We must stress we do still have promoted products available, it is simply that customers are buying these first and effectively leaving the more premium brands or non-promoted products on the shelf. It is very much in Kiwi's DNA to look for a deal and even though these are trying times shoppers are still keeping a keen eye out for the best price."

The spokeswoman said they did not intend to increase prices and were working to keep key products on shelves.

"Our suppliers are doing a phenomenal job keeping up with extreme customer demand and promotional activity on products not under pressure is continuing."

If its business was operating normally it would be focused more on driving volume through its store but they were struggling to keep up with customer demand.

"We simply do not have capacity to focus on this type of activity."

The spokeswoman added that in the North Island alone, Foodstuffs had employed an extra 949 staff to help deal with the "massive volumes of product we are delivering to our customers".

Meanwhile, another Herald reader said he was "shocked" to see a dairy in Massey, Auckland, hiking its prices of basic food products.

"A loaf of bread went from $1.20 to $4.80. Flour went from $4.50 to $10 overnight. Something was said to the owner and his reply was 'someone will buy it'.

"They are just taking advantage of elderly people in our area that cannot get to supermarkets, and families without transport."

Wilson said price gouging wasn't illegal in New Zealand, but their reasoning for it was.

Unfortunately price gouging isn't illegal but it is illegal to mislead consumers about the reason why a price may have risen.