A variety of delivery services operated in New Zealand cities and towns up until the mid-20th century. Milk, groceries and meat were delivered in most places, as was coal for the fire and ice for the pre-refrigerator ice chest. Bread sellers and fruit and vegetable vendors arrived regularly in some places, and hawkers selling rabbit, fish or whitebait arrived intermittently.
Training on the milk run
New Zealand’s best-known athletics coach, Arthur Lydiard, had a milk run. He encouraged his runners to do a milk run because it was such a good way of building the stamina required for middle- and long-distance running. Barry Magee, who won an Olympic bronze for marathon running, remembers that some criticised the mileage Lydiard demanded: ‘Other coaches said he was killing us, that it was disastrous to be running those mileages. Year by year the public perception changed.’1
In the days of horses and carts, milkmen carried big vats of milk on a horse float and filled the household billy. In some places horse delivery continued on into the 1960s, when trucks took over completely. Milkmen bought a ‘milk run’, and often worked in the very early morning before other vehicles were on the road.
The switch from vats to glass bottles came in the 1950s. People left money in one of the bottles or, later, used tokens, usually bought at the local dairy. The shift from the pint bottle to cartons came in the late 1980s.
Deregulating the milk run
Milk regulations were introduced in 1944 to ensure a year-round supply of fresh milk at a reasonable price. One milk producer in each area was granted the right to supply town milk. Until the late 1980s the sale of milk in supermarkets was prevented by regulation to protect home-delivery vendors against price cutting.
Deregulation of the milk industry began in 1986. Supermarkets could now sell milk, but the price was controlled. By 1991 only one-third of consumers still bought their milk from a vendor at their gate.
After full deregulation in 1993, milk could be sold by anyone at any price – opening the way for supermarkets to undercut the milkman. The home-delivery system died out over the new few years.
Grocery deliveries decline
During the Second World War the shortage of both labour and petrol interrupted the delivery system. As few housewives had cars, they had to carry heavy shopping home on foot.
Delivery services resumed after the war. Housewives could have a standing order for a weekly delivery, could phone through an order or leave a list with the grocer while out doing the shopping. Shop staff would assemble to goods. This included weighing out and bagging up items like flour and sugar, which were kept in bulk. The order was usually delivered in the afternoon.
From the 1950s, with increased car ownership and the arrival of supermarkets, deliveries gradually declined – along with the grocers, butchers and greengrocers that had been prepared to deliver. Some city areas still had deliveries in the 1970s, but in the next decades more women were in paid employment, and there were fewer people at home to deliver to.
The internet delivers
From the late 1990s the internet brought back home delivery of supermarket goods. Woolworths began its online service in 1998, and after 10 years of operation it was turning over more than one of the group’s average-sized stores.