The Foodstuffs North Island Limited In-house Legal Team: (clockwise from top left) Mike Brooker (General Counsel), Kim Dreifuss (Legal Counsel), Jenine Briggs (Juno Lawyer – Senior Legal Counsel), Olivia Taylor (Legal Counsel), Julian Benefield (Associate General Counsel), Michelle Gibbs (EA to Chairman & Board). Inset, Jodie Gallagher (EA to General Counsel).

Can you give us an overview of the Legal Team at Foodstuffs and how you support the work of the organisation?

The Foodies North Island Legal Team handles all legal and compliance functions of the Co-op. On a day-to-day basis, this could mean us working on all sorts of things, including marketing and alcohol law, tech and privacy, helping our owners through change in supermarket ownership transactions, media queries, property deals, and guiding the business through crisis management. We also work on M&A, disputes, governance, employment, IP and brand, a huge range of key contracts with our suppliers and partners and helping social business Eat My Lunch that Foodstuffs has proudly invested in.

What do you do to build and enhance the influence of the in-house legal function across the organisation?

To be effective as a small team we need to be lawyers that are leaders, commercial, resourceful and ‘in it together’, and we need to take a real partnering approach. We are approachable and pragmatic so that the business wants to engage us to better consider and manage risks in projects, operations, and decisions. We all understand the strategy of the Co-op and work to proactively identify and manage key risks linked to that strategy. We also run training sessions across the business to help keep the Legal Team front of mind and to assist the business with issue spotting and identifying when to engage the Legal Team.

The whole organisation is driven to deliver great experiences for our customers. Our role in this is to help the Co-op and our operators manage risk so that our iconic Kiwi brands and stores remain strong and trustworthy for our customers.

What has been the most recent challenge facing the team and how did the team address this?

This year, the spotlight has been on our industry as the Commerce Commission has undertaken a retail grocery market study. The Legal Team has played a key role in managing the Co-op’s engagement with the Commerce Commission. We have worked closely with all different parts of the business and external advisors to provide strategic advice to the Co-op and facilitate our overall response.

Like most businesses, COVID-19 has also had a huge impact on Foodstuffs in the past 18 months and the Legal Team has been at the forefront in our Co-op tackling the challenges that have come with it. The Foodies Legal Team has stepped into an advisory role working with Government and helping define how essential businesses can operate through the challenges and complexities of Alert Level restrictions. This has been particularly important during the 2021 Alert Level 4 lockdown where some of our stores were identified as locations of interest with hundreds of staff members isolating as close contacts.

Mike Brooker (General Counsel) and Julian Benefield (Associate General Counsel) also took on the role of chairing the Co-op’s Crisis Management Team. During heightened Alert Levels, the Crisis Management Team daily stand-ups are the key forum for decisions, which then opens to a wider Owners and Leaders call to ensure the entire network has all the info they need for the day to trade. Often more than 300 New World, PAK’nSAVE, Gilmours and Four Square store owners and Co-op leaders will join the Owner and Leader call briefings which followed the Crisis team calls.

Organising guidance for stores around vulnerable workers, mask rules, employment and wellbeing and safety issues and boundary travel and testing is also a priority during COVID-19.

Are there any changes or new technologies you plan to roll out in the next 12 months?

As a small team dealing with a wide range and high volume of legal issues, innovation is a key area of focus for us. We have implemented LawHawk technology to automate the drafting of non-disclosure agreements, construction contracts and consultancy agreements. We are now automating other key high-volume contracts including Master Services Agreements and Statements of Work and marketing terms and conditions. This allows people throughout the business to generate the automated contract themselves with clear and simple instructions. We have found that this results in more accurate documentation as well as great time savings and efficiencies for the Legal Team.

We have also recently rolled out the use of Secured Signing, electronic signing software for our store change of ownership transactions, which can occur as often as weekly. Using electronic signing for our transaction documents has created efficiencies in the transaction timeline and helped to reduce the administrative workload. We are also focusing on how to collect more data in relation to our Legal operations and implementing an effective contract management tool to help with record keeping and management of material contracts across the business.