Country Calendar: Growing Strong — Whangarei Growers Market

Crossposted from Cryptogon.

We were over at my mother and father in laws’ house on Saturday. They have a television, so we all watched Country Calendar.

Country Calendar is usually very good, but it was particularly good this time.

Most of the food purchased in New Zealand is sold through the retail networks of just two large corporations. There’s New Zealand based Foodstuffs (which operate New World, Pak’n Save and Four Square stores) and Australian based Woolworths Limited (which operate Woolworths, Countdown and Foodtown stores). This duopoly has led to New Zealand having the second highest food price increases in the world over the last decade. (The cost of food in South Korea increased the most.)

The duopoly that has a death grip on most of New Zealand in the retail food sector exists to screw everyone over, except shareholders, to the extent possible. The people who produce the food are paid the minimum possible price. The people who buy the food are charged the maximum possible price. Yes, while that sounds like a good business model for the vampire middlemen, it pretty much sucks for everyone else.

Now, you know how I’m always going on about the power of many small scale producers selling directly to the retail customers.

Well, don’t worry, I’m not going to write it all out again.

Just feast your eyes on what happened when a couple of small scale growers got fed up with being screwed over by Foodstuffs and Woolworths. HAHA! This is fantastic.

Behold: The Whangarei Growers Market.

The retail customers are buying more varieties of higher quality food for lower prices. The growers are earning more, having eliminated the vampire middlemen. Foodstuffs and Woolworths, aren’t allowed to have stalls at the Whangarei Growers Market because they’re not growers. The purpose of the market is for local producers to sell locally produced food. And by the look of it, people seem to like the arrangement quite a lot. The vampire squid duopoly middlemen… Not so much.

Watch: Country Calendar: Growing Strong.

Here’s a bit more from Transition Towns Whangarei:

Via: TVNZ Country Calendar:

When supermarket price-setting was threatening the livelihood of Northland growers, they fought back by cutting out the middle man and selling their produce direct to consumers.

Today the Whangarei Growers Market is a thriving venture providing a living for around 30 local producers. Many more seasonal suppliers jostle for space throughout the year.

The market was started 12 years ago by Robert Bradley and Murray Burns in what has been likened to a David and Goliath struggle.

Robert Bradley says the supermarket chains were using their buying power to dictate prices, with low returns driving small to medium sized growers out of business.

Tomato grower and market co-founder Murray Burns was one of those whose margins were being whittled away.

“The only way to deal with that was to get much bigger or close down – and we wanted to do neither,” says Murray.

The pair were inspired by the concept of village markets in Europe and the United Kingdom, and a resurgence of farmers’ markets in the United States.

They found other growers who shared their predicament and a group of 12 held the first market in a car-park in Whangarei in 1998.

It now takes place every Saturday morning and, when Country Calendar visited, everything from fruit, vegetables, meat, eggs, milk and cheese to macadamia nuts and olive oil was on sale. The market has a rule that all produce must originate in Northland.

The local-only principle has kept struggling growers afloat and encouraged new businesses that may not otherwise have been viable. Asparagus, for example, is now grown in Northland for the first time in many years.

The market is also a venue for growers and consumers to meet face-to-face – there is a requirement that growers are also the stallholders.

At the peak of the growing season, the market attracts up to 6000 shoppers over the four hours it is open. Around 50 pallets, or 2000 cases, of produce is sold each Saturday.

Robert Bradley says the key to success has been offering significant qualities of high quality local produce at moderate prices.

Many similar markets have sprung up around the country in the last decade but the Whangarei enterprise deliberately distances itself from the popular farmers’ market movement.

Robert believes some of the newer markets have got sidetracked into “food fashion”.

“For us it is a matter of ‘keep it simple stupid’ – and it has really worked.”

7 Responses to “Country Calendar: Growing Strong — Whangarei Growers Market”

  1. Sharonnz says:

    We watched this episode too and found it really encouraging. Our town has recently started a small, but perfectly formed Farmer’s Market. We’re hoping it gathers support like the Whangarei one!

  2. Kevin says:

    Hi, Sharon. Where are you? How old is your market? Is it going well?

  3. lettice says:

    Follow the growers market model…no wages to be paid; run the market by growers for growers; make the market the place people come to buy produce, not somewhere they come to eat breakfast, so taking away from local businesses. The great majority of stalls must be produce sellers, not hot food vendors. And never ever be sucked into the nonsense of limiting competition, the “three of a kind” rule will limit the size of your market, thus limiting the numbers of your customers.

  4. hurley says:

    I enjoyed the programme. Its a very good market for ordinary people who just want to get their weekly fruit/vege shop done without fuss. I think that’s why its become so large. A market that targets the food-fad types and tourists is not suitable for ordinary families who don’t have money and time to waste and just want to feed their families.

  5. Duncan says:

    Hi Sharon — I too was stunned & amazed at the food duopoly that existed in NZ when I moved there in 2003 from the US of A – have bought all my food all my adult life from farmers markets & was mollified when I moved to NZ to find out I had to buy all my food from the supermarket chains – yuk. So yuk that I got motivated to start the Lyttelton Farmers Market which still runs successfully to this day & I hope & believe delivers the opportunity for Lyttelton (and surrounds) folks to buy fresh, affordable, good quality food direct from the folks who grow it…it is a sad thing about NZ that not just in the food realm but many, many other realms they are absolutely RIPPED OFF – taken to the cleaners by so many businesses – but food is CRITICAL so to be scammed on food to the way New Zealanders are (and the government won’t drop GST on essential food) is a travesty – nice to see someone feels the same way…Duncan

  6. Sam says:

    I’m so proud of my Dad!!
    My father is Murray Burns and I have literally grown up at The Market every Saturday morning. I started working with my parents there when I was 8 and that was now 11 years ago.
    It’s amazing how much it’s grown over that time as well.

  7. Kevin says:


    You guys are national heroes in my book.