Caring New Zealand Supermarket Provides Dignity and Self-Respect

This new supermarket is helping food insecure people in a new innovative way.

This social enterprise supermarket looks like a regular grocery store.

(Courtesy Wellington City Mission / Tareq Branney) 

A new supermarket opened in Wellington, New Zealand on March 16, 2021. While it has the look and feel of a regular supermarket, something is very different. That’s because this store has no prices, all the food is free.

Opened by The Wellington City Mission, this new market is a big shift from the traditional model of people who are food insecure receiving ready-made parcels  because it gives people the dignity of being able to choose their own food, according to the mission’s blog.

“We can only imagine how hard it must be for someone to ask for food support. The concept of the Social Supermarket is about providing dignity, self-respect and encouragement to those who are vulnerable in our local community,” Wellington City Missioner Murray Edridge said in  the blog.

The supermarket is a joint project from the mission and New World (a supermarket chain) and will be open for anyone in need in the Wellington region. This includes people who are already receiving help from the mission or who are referred from other social service agencies.

“We wanted to make a positive change to our Foodbank model,” said Edridge. “We already had a close working relationship with New World across Wellington, they’re always hugely supportive with donations and through their annual Family2Family Foodbank Appeal, so when we started to develop the Social Supermarket concept, we picked the phone up and asked for their help.”

People do not have to prove that they are in need to shop at the supermarket according to a My Turn by Edridge  in Newsweek, but appointments are necessary. The super is open Monday – Friday from 9:30 am to 3:30 pm. There are social workers on hand to help the shoppers, some of whom have never shopped in a super for a long time if ever.

The store which is located in a large space has everything you will find in a conventional super. That’s because the supermarket chain helped put and designed the space, fitting it with shelves, refrigeration units, vegetable racks, displays, checkout aisles, and shopping carts.

Edridge said that it was really important to make the social market have an authentic supermarket experience for people who are experiencing financial stress and food insecurity.

“Many of us go to the supermarket, buy our shopping and go home. Very seldom would we reflect on the privilege of being able to do that. I think the uniqueness of our project is the efforts we have made to make this look like a regular supermarket, because we're genuinely trying to say that we want this to be a normal, lovely experience for people,” wrote Edridge.

Instead of prices, the food is graded by a point system which will help clients learn to manage a food budget. There is a five-point scale with items worth NZ $1-2 all the way up to NZ $10. People are allocated points depending on their individual situations. A single adult is allocated $55 in points and families receive more. There are also special bins that include items that do not come out of the point system.

The market stocks almost anything you can find in a grocery store except alcohol or tobacco products and already has 3,000 different products. Even though the new store is being supported by a large chain, food donations are still needed and wanted.

In a time when food insecurity is on the rise in New Zealand, the new social supermarket will go a long way in reducing the stigma of people who can not afford to purchase food on their own. Edridge wrote: “My hope is actually that people won't shop with us very often, because I hope their experience with us is part of their journey towards independence.”

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