‘Simply the Best’ at Foodstuffs South Island Distribution Centre

Foodstuffs is New Zealand’s largest grocery organisation and its Distribution Centre in Hornby is the hub for the South Island. Foodstuffs knows that its biggest asset is its staff and at the Hornby Distribution Centre they have a diverse workforce, with over 1000 staff and around 30 different nationalities.

Gerard Anngow, the Training and Development Coordinator, first heard about the impact of a workplace literacy and numeracy programme at a barbeque. ‘Sounds too good to be true’ he thought, but a meeting with Richard White from RMG, convinced Foodstuffs to participate in a programme. The literacy and numeracy programme was first piloted in 2017. This was successful but piloting the programme also allowed for a few tweaks to be made to ensure it was fit for purpose before rolling it out to the wider team.

Naming the programme was key. To begin with it was called Literacy and Numeracy Training. However, this didn’t give the staff the best perception of the course benefits, therefore, something had to be done. After some brainstorming, ‘Simply the Best’ was born – the name helps ‘sell’ the 10-week, 40-hour programme to staff who’d like to improve and become ‘Simply the Best” in both in their work and personal lives.

Celebrating success is pivotal to the Simply the Best programme. Success deserves recognition, many of the staff have stepped out of their comfort zone to shine, and shine they do, they beam with pride. At their graduation, each group presents their improvement projects to around 40 – 50 people, including Foodstuffs South Island CEO and Senior Executives. All projects presented have been relevant to the business and based around people and process improvement. Many have been introduced by Foodstuffs in some shape or form.


Some of these projects were nominated for the 2018 Skills Highway Champions Awards, held in late 2018:

  • The Foodies Fantastical Festival of Diwali was created by the most diverse group on the Simply the Best programme, covering four separate divisions of the business and representing five cultures. Prior to the programme, most team members did not know each other. But it didn’t take long for the team to forge a respectful bond through openness and honesty in sharing their cultural norms and celebrations, life experiences and journeys. In choosing a group project, the team wanted a cultural focus and chose to set up the inaugural Foodies Fantastical Festival of Diwali – a three-day celebration of Diwali. The team is driving this project which has been fully endorsed by the business. Foodstuffs firmly believes that making staff more informed about different cultures will improve interpersonal and intercultural communication, enabling staff to convey ideas and instructions more efficiently, and leading to improved productivity due to fewer misunderstandings and less conflict.
  • Tuhinga: The Safe Place – the Tuhinga team, consisting of day and afternoon shift workers, was also a diverse group. They learned about each other’s culture and gained knowledge and skills to better manage their finances. As part of the programme the group selected a workplace continuous improvement project – choosing the company’s health and safety on-line reporting system, Vault, because they had found it challenging to use prior to the course. They designed a staff survey, using their improved reading and writing skills, to find out if other staff also found the system challenging to use. Once barriers were identified, the team developed the concept of Tuhinga: The Safe Place – a safe place for Vault reporting, using Vault Champions – staff who are competent Vault users – to assist staff to file reports. The team felt that over time staff would gain the skills to file reports without assistance and Foodstuffs have implemented many of these ideas.
  • The Ngā Mahi team’s project won a Skills Highway Innovation Award. As part of the course the team became aware of the diverse opportunities to progress in the business but thought most staff did not know this, so they decided to tackle this issue for their group project. They wanted to develop a way that staff could be more supported in their career journey at FSSI so they came up with the concept of the Ngā Mahi office – a jobs office providing support and guidance. They felt in this supportive environment more Māori and Pasifika staff would seek more senior roles. The company is going to implement this innovative project with the HR team organising CV and interview preparation courses and setting up a Ngā Mahi drop-in office.


‘Simply the Best’ wouldn’t work without the people who make it happen! Bridget (Bridge) Gambell is the training and development department of the FSSI with responsibility for organising and managing staff training, new staff inductions and 30-day reviews, plus identifying talent for further development.

When first developing the Simply the Best training course Bridge was right there – espousing the positive impact it would have on her team to anyone who would listen and encouraging management and staff to come on board with the amazing opportunity. Bridge walked the ‘floor’, talking to most of our staff, encouraging them to seize this learning opportunity and to not let their fears of failure prevent them from participating in the programme. She talked openly about her own learning challenges, and how the only way forward for her was to take every training opportunity. Bridge’s passion and enthusiasm for this work was recognised with a Skills Highway Champion Workplace Support Award.

Diane Thomas, HR Business Support Manager says “nobody deserves this award more than Bridge. Bridge is always there to support and guide everyone she meets. Bridge is an outstanding team member and a true asset to our department’.

Of course it’s the programme participants who really drive the success of Simply the Best. Two Foodstuffs learners were recognised as 2018 Skills Highway Champion learners:

  • Faauma Toatua has become an asset to the business, training new staff on forklifts and mentoring/training new employees. During the programme Faauma took every opportunity to improve his English language skills, taking home the day’s training booklet to further study. He participated enthusiastically in all activities, constantly applying new learning. Faauma particularly enjoyed the financial literacy in the course, sharing his newfound knowledge and skills with his family and community.
  • Faauma is now a trainer in the First Move programme – a health and safety initiative to train all staff to move properly and safely in the workplace. He is also an active member on the process improvement team, helping to establish best practice across everything Foodstuffs does. “Simply the Best has helped me understand and have respect for other cultures and beliefs.”
  • Binod Mishra was born in Bhutan, living 17 years in a refugee camp in Nepal before coming to New Zealand in 2008. During the Simply the Best programme Binod took every opportunity to improve his understanding and working knowledge of the English language, often taking worksheets home to share with others in his community so they too could benefit. He took every opportunity to improve his spoken English. He commented that the course improved his communication with his community, including elders and the family, taking the learning from the course to help others with visa applications, travel arrangements and job interviews. Binod is also using the money management skills he gained on the course to build a better life for his family and his wife, and he is now taking night classes, so he can apply for more senior roles at Foodstuffs.
  • Binod has taken his honed communication skills into the workplace becoming a better supervisor, is building stronger relationships with his team and motivating and inspiring other staff. Binod says “the best way to predict the future is to create it.”


Of the 91 staff that have been through the program, 85 are still employed within the business, which is a much higher retention rate than those who have not been through it. Some of those that have done the course have stepped up and taken on more responsibility and they help to promote the programme to others.

There were a further 12 or so staff ready to start the course in June. ‘Although it’s been a big investment in terms of lost time, it’s been worth every cent when you see what people get out of it’ says Gerard. ‘The results for Foodstuffs as a business are brilliant, however, the benefits for the individuals in their wider personal life and communities are immeasurable’.