In 2018, a new crop of Foodstuffs North Island supermarket owners made the annual NBR Rich List.
With their estimated wealth in the tens of millions of dollars, most of them had risen from the ground floor, from delivery boy or shelf stacker to million-dollar-a-week supermarket owner.
But a few years later, as conversations about supermarkets as money-making machines intensified, they disappeared from the NBR’s list. One had left the industry altogether.
While people could make the list in 2018 with $50 million, in 2021 the smallest entrant reached $100 million, My Food Bag co-founders Cecilia and James Robinson, who in 2019 were worth just $2 million.
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The Commerce Commission found that the two supermarket giants could be earning $430 million a year in excessive profits, following its investigation into the $22 billion food industry.
The government said the industry was not competitive enough and buyers were not getting a fair deal.
How did they get to the list?
Food only allows ownership of one supermarket at a time. The cooperative maintains the land and buildings, while the franchisee owns everything inside and pays rent. Foodstuffs also guaranteed loans to members totaling about $650 million at the North Island and South Island co-ops.
The most successful owners were those who owned the best supermarkets, but they also owned property and participated in other businesses.
No one from Countdown made the rich list. Australian owner Woolworths retains ownership of Countdown supermarkets, but franchises SuperValue and FreshChoice supermarkets.
Also absent from the list are people from the mahogany ranks such as Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin and Woolworths Group New Zealand board member and soon to be chairman Scott Perkins.
Too much risk, too much reward
Only a handful of the country’s top supermarkets are large and profitable enough to qualify as the most profitable, said Brett Ashley, a former senior executive at Woolworths New Zealand.
There was huge variation in the size of supermarkets, with sales ranging from $50,000 a week to over $2 million a week.
He estimated that there were no more than 20 large supermarkets in Woolworths and Foodstuffs.
“If you have the ability to own a significant business of that size, you had to have some money behind you to do that,” he said, speaking from a personal point of view.
“Somebody had money to invest in it, or figured out how to invest in it, or borrowed heavily, and maybe they have other assets elsewhere,” he said.
There was a lot of risk and a lot of capital involved in owning supermarkets, which he said were earning less than 5 cents on the dollar.
“You make mistakes at that level, you lose a lot, but if you succeed at that level, you gain a lot. Why is this a problem?”
Tim Hazledine, professor emeritus of economics, said it was “grotesque” that a single supermarket could generate enough profit for someone to make the list of the rich.
The profitability of a Countdown supermarket would be similar to that of Foodstuffs stores, but the company did not need to split the profits, he said.
It was understood that a Countdown store manager would earn between $110,000 and $160,000.
The advantage of franchising a business is that it gives the owner a real reason to run it well, rather than just paying a salary with occasional bonuses, Hazledine said.
“So that’s always the tradeoff. There are pros and cons to allowing someone else to pocket the surplus, while generating more surplus for the ultimate owner.”
Real estate development remains one of the most successful ways to create wealth in New Zealand, said Hazledine.
“Some really good developers like the Manson family, they really create good new properties, and you have to admire them for that.
“But it seems that some of the people who get rich [property]it would be difficult to prove that they add more to the country’s wealth than they take away.”
Ted Manson founded the Auckland builder Mansons TCLM and the Manson family was on the NBR list worth $1.1 billion.
A former Pak ‘n Save owner, Glen Taylor, said that while some supermarket owners make a profit, in other cases, the owners have lost everything.
“There is no doubt, sales are very good. And certainly when you’re in a large format store, you’re doing a lot of business and a lot of volume.
“Profiting from these sales is very, very difficult.”
Margins were tight, and it could take a decade to pay for a smaller store before buying a more profitable one. Owners have also invested millions of dollars in improving the stores and contributing money to their local communities, Taylor said.
Foodstuffs managed the sales processes, and it was not an open market where the owner could choose the best price.
“Since Foodstuffs is guaranteeing the loans, they also have a good chunk of the line and they need to make sure they are backing the right operators.”
The information below is from public records. Does not include debt, which can be significant.
in business together
In 2019, the top-ranked supermarket owners on the Rich List were Gary Baker and Ian Hong, who jointly owned New World Wellington City, better known as Chaffers New World.
The duo had an estimated value in 2018 of $75 million, which grew to $80 million the following year.
Both owned a mix of residential and commercial properties, including a property valued at $9.5 million in Queenstown.
Baker owned two small retail properties in Greytown with a combined capital value (CV) of $1.2 million, while the real estate investment firm Hong owned a Placemakers in Kilbirnie with a CV of $17 million.
Baker’s residential properties had an estimated value of $20.1 million, according to Homes.co.nz, while Hong’s properties had an estimated value of $25 million.
Baker was also a shareholder in a helicopter charter company, a shareholder in several commercial property rental and investment companies, and a shareholder in the job search service MegaJobs.
Jayde Cunliffe started in supermarkets at age 16 and now owns her own store.
Originally from Invercargill, Brian Galt built his career at Wellington supermarket to the apex of owning the Pak ‘n Save Kilbirnie, now owned by his son Dean Galt.
Thanks also to commercial property assets built by Brian, the Galts were listed together worth $70 million in 2018 and $75 million the following year.
The companies under both names owned several properties in downtown Wellington, including 79 Boulcott St, with a CV of $14.4 million, and 49 Tory St, with a CV of $61.7 million.
Dean Galt said the level of industry scrutiny was taking its toll.
“All we are trying to do is provide the cheapest groceries for our community. I care about the community, I have lived here for 46 years.
“I will not steal from my community, we try to give back what we can whenever we can.”
Supermarket owners were stuck in a situation where everyone’s costs were rising, he said.
“Every supplier we deal with is giving us price increases of 10%, 20%, 30%. And we’re being blamed for everything when it’s the cost of wages, it’s the work, the energy, the fuel, that’s pushing up all the prices of the groceries that we sell.
“We are not getting excess margins, if our margins are going down because all our costs are going up as well.”
The owner of one of Auckland’s biggest Pak ‘n Saves, Glen Innes, was worth $65 million in 2018, which grew to $70 million in 2019.
In 1987 he bought his first supermarket, the Cut Price Store in Taumarunui, followed by New Worlds in Hamilton and Auckland.
He owns properties in Auckland and Omaha with an estimated value of $20 million.
Redwood is a director and shareholder of Tahua Partners, which owns Burger King, Hannahs and Number One Shoes.
In 2018, the owner of Lincoln Rd Pak ‘n Save in western Auckland was worth about $65 million, which grew to $5 million the following year.
A former director of Foodstuffs North Island between 1997 and 2012, Cotterill joined Foodstuffs in 1992 when it purchased New World Te Puke. He bought the Pak ‘n Save Whakatane and another in Tauranga.
He owns two properties in Auckland and one in Mt Maunganui, worth an estimated $19.9 million, and a commercial property in Ponsonby worth $8.2 million.
Cotterill is also a director and shareholder of GCC Aviation, the Burncott Property Group business management service, and a shareholder and director of Milton Innovations, the designer of a reusable beverage container lid.
On the board of Foodstuffs North Island, Witehira is one of the few owners of large Maori supermarkets, and in 2015 he won the Outstanding Maori Business Leaders Award.
On the 2018 rich list, he was worth $60 million, which hasn’t changed in 2019.
Starting in 1998 as the owner of New World Taumarunui, he bought the flagship New World Victoria Park supermarket in 2010. He sold it and bought Albany Pak ‘n Save from fellow wealthy Paul and Liz Blackwell in 2021.
Like many other owners, he started at the bottom, stacking shelves in a New World in Rotorua.
He owned a property with an estimated value of nearly $10 million. He has also been involved in agribusiness, as a shareholder in the Miro blueberry growing partnership and a director of the seafood company Moana New Zealand.
From butcher to supermarket owner
Quintin Proctor, owner of the bustling Wairau Park Pak ‘n Save on Auckland’s north coast, was worth about $55 million in 2018 and added another $5 million the following year.
A skilled butcher, he worked in several New World supermarkets before becoming an owner-operator.
He and his wife owned properties north of Auckland to Christchurch worth an estimated $22 million.
Paul and Liz Blackwell left the industry after selling Pak ‘n Save Albany. Paul joined the rich list in 2014 worth an estimated $50 million, which grew to $65 million in 2019. The couple were involved in publishing, had a stake in the New Zealand Breakers professional basketball team, and were associated with companies in the United States. estimated value of US$ 25 million.
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