Turners & Growers and Mr Tom Ah Chee



The Turners & Growers Annual Report for 2012 showed up in the mail today.  I was tempted to comment straight away but I will wait for a while and let it settle.  In the meantime, I shall continue with the missing years in the Turners & Growers timeline.

Fruiterers are innovative fellows and in the mid-fifties one of them, a certain Tom Ah Chee whose family fruit & vegie shop was up on Karangahape Road started dreaming  – and he dreamt big.  So big in fact that when he retired he could look back onto a company that started from the one fruit shop and had spawned 30+ supermarkets in Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga at the time.  The company was Progressive Enterprises Ltd and the supermarkets were called Foodtown.

A by-product of that growth was what amounted to a fundamental change to the way the produce business was conducted. Change did not happen overnight…but a head of steam started to build from the early sixties onwards and Turners & Growers were right in the midst of it.

In November 1968, the head of steam had becoming sufficient enough to warrant discussion at a special Turners & Growers board meeting. Here is what the then General Manager had to say to the board .

“For the past few years, a new class of retail buyer has become prominent in Auckland.  I refer to the supermarkets.  These have been established for a quarter of a century and undoubtedly have cut across the retail trade in New Zealand as well as in all other coutries where they operate.  For some time now a leading supermarket organisation had been pressing us to arrange sales of vegetables delievered directly from the growers.Up to the present time we have been able to avoid getting involved in that type of business…One of the leading supermarkets is now exercising further pressure and has intimated that if they are unable to get supplies direct from growers through our organisation they may be forced to dela directly with growers themselves.” (Stead, K. One Hundred I’m bid. A Centennial History of Turners & Growers, 1997. ISBN 0473 04169 3. Kestrel Publishing).

Stead then concludes the section discussing the board meeting as follows: “The board discussed the problem for hours and eventually decided to stick to its traditional knitting:  It resolved that it would “…not make any move away from our present auction system that would help to break it down.”

All I can say – opportunity lost.  20+ years later, in May 1989, Foodtown walked.  Why that took so long and how the separation was achieved will be discussed in future posts.



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