Turners & Growers Front And Center

T&G logoWell, it is not often that a produce business makes the front page of the National Business Review (28 March 2013 Edition).  As a company listed on the New Zealand Stock Exchange, Turners & Growers could reasonably expect to feature in the NBR at some time or other but I am sure that every board member regardless of whether they are based in New Zealand, Germany or Ecuador would prefer making news for all the right reasons…

Turners & Growers have been on shaky grounds since 8 May 1989.  That day heralded a change of Tsunami proportions for the company and the consequences of what happened on that day have either directly or indirectly driven every decision the business has taken since, even if the current crop of directors, with the exception of one, is not aware of what I am talking about.

On 8 May 1989, Progressive Enterprises Ltd, which then operated Foodtown and Three Guys supermarkets, stopped bidding for fruit and vegetables at the Turners & Growers auction and started buying all its domestic produce directly from growers and packhouses.

The key consequences this decision contributed to in the years which followed were these:

  • The auction system collapsed
  • Turners & Growers relocated from the waterfront in downtown Auckland to Mt Wellington
  • The fourth generation Turner family shareholders no longer agreed on the direction of the business and sold out;
  • MG Marketing turned from being a behind the eight ball Wellington/Christchurch based “wannabe” into a very serious nationwide competitor, capable of giving Turners & Growers a run for their money;
  • Other strong competitors emerged in the merchant sector, such as Fresh Direct (ironically owned and operated by Jeffery and Peter Turner following their exit from the family business) and Freshmax;
  • Grower/packers such as NZ Hothouse, AS Wilcox, Meadows and Sutherlands emerged and/or became key direct  suppliers to the supermarkets, thus significantly reducing volume and value of produce moving across merchants’ trading floors.

Where do I get the notion from that this is the way it was?  Well, the guy who walked the Progressive buying team out of their cosy Turners & Growers supplied buying offices back in May 1989 and into its own Produce Distribution Centre was I.

Anyone with access to “One Hundred I’m Bid”, the centennial history of Turners & Growers can check out the board report excerpts dealing with the events of the time…and over the next few weeks, while we wait with baited breath for Mr Hipkins’ successor to emerge, we might just chat a little here about produce industry strategy in general and the role Turners & Growers have played over the years in particular.


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