It is difficult to pinpoint when the first self-service grocer operated in New Zealand. In 1927 a shop termed a ‘groceteria’ briefly opened in Dunedin, where customers picked their own goods off tables, and placed them in a basket provided by the shop. By the end of the 1920s the Farmers’ Trading Company operated an experimental ‘Help-Yourself Groceteria’ in Auckland along similar lines, offering a slightly lower price as compensation for lack of service.
A Four Square self-service grocery opened in Onehunga, Auckland, in late 1948. By 1953 there were around 300 self-service grocers – around 10% of the grocery stores in the country. By 1958 this had risen to 25%. New shops were specifically designed for this form of shopping, and they increased in size.
Supermarkets changed the grocery model. Instead of bringing a list to grocers who then gathered all the items for them, the shopper had to select their groceries for themselves. In the 1990s some supermarkets went even further with customers expected to bag their shopping. In the 2000s some also offered portable scanners or self-service checkouts, so shoppers could scan the barcodes themselves, saving time – and saving labour costs for the supermarket.
The distinction between a large self-service grocery store and a supermarket is blurred. However, a supermarket can be defined as a large, stand-alone, self-service store with car parking around it. They generally have large selling areas, self-service and many check-out lanes.
The first outlet offering ‘one-stop’ shopping was probably the Four Square supermarket opened in Devonport, Auckland, by Bill Miller in 1957. Among the first supermarkets was the Foodtown 'all-convenience' store which opened in Ōtāhuhu in June 1958. It boasted 118 car-parking spaces.
In Christchurch the first self-service grocery stores appeared in the early 1950s. Kincaids, a large downtown grocer, also became self-service in the 1950s. The city’s first supermarket opened in 1963.
Until around the 1960s it was common for the customer wanting some food items to walk to the corner dairy. The traditional model of dairies, grocers, butchers, milk and bread delivery was all about taking produce close to the consumer. From the 1960s, as car ownership increased, the model began to change to one where customers went to the produce – in their cars.
Self-service shopping arrived in many grocery stores over the 1950s, but not everyone was enamoured:
‘In the more conservative centres, particularly in the south … it is usually found that the housewife wanted to chatter to the grocer, and has generally liked to be waited upon while shopping. She somewhat resents being left on her own.’1
Throughout the country local authorities began to plan for new shopping centres as suburbs grew and car ownership increased over the 1960s. These suburban malls or shopping centres often included a small supermarket. From the 1970s butchers, greengrocers, grocers and other small food stores became less common as supermarkets stole their customers.
Over time supermarkets grew larger and extended their range of goods. Branding became increasingly important, so customers would select one company’s goods over another’s, and supermarkets often developed exclusive deals with suppliers.
New Zealand supermarkets have been allowed to sell wine since 1990 and quickly captured the lion’s share of domestic wine sales. A 1999 amendment to the Sale of Liquor Act 1989 allowed the sale of beer in supermarkets, and allowed both beer and wine to be sold on Sundays.
The salad-greens market expanded in the late 1990s, as supermarkets installed refrigerated cabinets into fresh produce sections. By the 2000s supermarkets lived up to their name. They were fishmongers, butchers, confectioners, delicatessens, bakeries, greengrocers, fruiterers and grocers – and even more besides. In 2007 supermarkets attracted around 90% of the total consumer spending on groceries.
In 2007 the Foodstuffs group accounted for around 55% of the nation’s grocery turnover. It had about 850 stores operating under the PAK’nSAVE, New World, Write Price, On the Spot and Four Square brands. Progressive Enterprises, which operated Foodtown, Woolworths, Countdown, Fresh Choice and Super Value supermarkets, was the other major player, with 45% of the grocery market.