Foodstuffs North Island begins trialling facial recognition in select stores as part of its commitment to keep teams and customers safe by keeping previous offenders out

08 February 2024


Download our Facial Recognition Fact Sheet by clicking here
  • Trial follows 4,719 incidents of retail crime reported across FSNI stores in the last quarter of 2023, including 513 breaches of trespass, up 52% on previous quarter
  • Supermarket workers being stabbed, punched, kicked, bitten and spat at
  • Repeat offenders responsible for around one third of all incidents
  • Facial recognition to help store staff identify previous offenders and their accomplices
  • Up to 25 New World and PAK’nSAVE supermarkets taking part in cities and towns across the North Island
  • Trial overseen by independent evaluator
  • Privacy Commissioner briefed

Foodstuffs North Island (FSNI) – the 100% NZ-owned co-operative of more than 300 grocers across the North Island – has started trialling the use of facial recognition (FR) as part of its ongoing fight against retail crime.

The trial is taking place in up to 25 North Island stores and is currently intended to run for up to 6 months. The technologies' ability to help better identify repeat offenders and thereby reduce harmful behaviour in store will help Foodstuffs North Island determine if FR becomes adopted more widely by the co-op.

“Everyone has the right to a safe working environment and a safe place to buy their groceries,” says Foodstuffs North Island Chief Executive, Chris Quin. “This trial of FR in our stores is part of our commitment to keeping our teams and customers safe.”

“Sadly, retail crime is a growing problem, here and overseas. Our North Island stores recorded 4,719 incidents in the October-December quarter of 2023 alone. That’s 34% more than the 3,510 recorded in the previous quarter. Shockingly, one of our security team was stabbed recently and our people are being punched, kicked, bitten and spat at. We’re seeing over 14 serious incidents a week, including an average of two assaults.”

“All too often it’s the same people, coming back to our stores despite having already been trespassed, committing more crime, and often putting our team members and customers at risk of abuse and violence.”

“We have a moral and legal duty to make our stores as safe as possible for our teams and customers, and we think facial recognition has the potential to help by identifying repeat offenders when they try to come back into our stores.”

“All images in the FR system will be instantly deleted unless a person has committed a crime, has been aggressive, violent or threatening towards our team members or customers, or has actively assisted in such harmful behaviour. This is a high threshold.”

"The trial is important because we hope to establish if FR will help keep our people and customers safe without compromising their privacy. When preparing the trial, we’ve been very thorough in ensuring we respect the privacy of our customers, including having a specialist, independent organisation design and review the trial – they'll also evaluate the results. We’ve also engaged with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to ensure they’re well briefed and aware of how the trial will work.”

How FR will be trialled in our stores:

FR works by matching, in real time, the faces of people who enter a store against that store’s record of offenders and accomplices.

The FR system analyses facial features and converts them into an alphanumeric computer code. Both the images and the code will be securely stored.

The stores taking part in the trial will be a combination of PAK’nSAVE and New World supermarkets in cities and towns around the North Island. Each store will have clear signage at the entrance. When someone enters the store, their image will be taken by the FR system and instantly compared against the store’s record of previous offenders and accomplices. Only images of offenders and accomplices who actively assist in offending will be retained.

The FR system must detect a 90% facial match. If a store’s FR system matches the face of a person entering the store with that of someone in the store’s record of offenders and accomplices within the FR system, two specially trained team members will then need to agree it’s a match before the information is acted on. Team members have also been trained on how to best approach people who are verified as being repeat offenders.

Privacy considerations at forefront of FR trial

Foodstuffs North Island’s General Counsel, Julian Benefield, says planning for the trial over the past 15 months has included the appointment of an independent third-party organisation to design and oversee the trial, and a pre-trial consultation with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner.

“We’ve been very careful about ensuring this trial gets the balance right between providing a safe environment for our people and customers and being respectful of everyone’s privacy,” says Benefield.

The FR systems will be subject to strict access controls, with only authorised and specially trained store team members, who are required to keep information confidential, having access.

“Retail crime is our biggest safety risk, and we have a duty to do all we can to mitigate that risk. Each store has robust data protection safeguards in place. Images that do not match the store’s record of previous offenders and accomplices will be instantly deleted. Only images of previous offenders and their accomplices will be kept in the store’s FR system for longer - offenders for up to two years and their accomplices for three months.”

No information stored in the FR system will be shared between stores, and no information from the FR systems will be shared with third parties, unless this is required by law, or to run and evaluate the trial.

“No images of minors under the age of 18, or vulnerable people, will be enrolled into a store’s record of offenders and accomplices within the FR system.”

“All these parameters have been put in place to assure our customers that our FR trial is solely about retail safety and security, and learning if FR can help us better identify repeat offenders, so if they return, we can safely and quickly remove them, making the store safer for our teams and customers.”

Benefield says the trial’s success in achieving that goal will help determine whether FR is used more by the co-operative on an ongoing basis.

“Our trial will include a control group of at least 25 stores that have no FR system that we use as a baseline, so we can determine whether the use of FR is effective at helping us identify repeat offenders and their accomplices and lowering the rate of retail crime and the risk to people’s safety.”

Foodstuffs North Island’s trial of facial recognition will begin on Thursday, 08 February 2024 and is currently intended to run for up to six months.

Download our Facial Recognition Fact Sheet by clicking here
Download our Facial Recognition Trial Privacy Impact Assessment Report by clicking here

The following stores are currently trialling facial recognition:

From Thursday, 08 February

New World Brookfield. 89 Bellevue Road, Brookfield, Tauranga 3110
New World Westend. 247 Old Taupo Road, Hillcrest, Rotorua 3015
PAK’nSAVE Mill Street. 17 Mill Street, Whitiora, Hamilton 3200
PAK’nSAVE Napier. 25 Munroe Street, Napier South, Napier 4110
PAK’nSAVE New Plymouth. 53 Leach Street, New Plymouth Central, New Plymouth 4310
PAK’nSAVE Silverdale. 20 Hibiscus Coast Highway, Silverdale 0993
PAK’nSAVE Tamatea. Cnr Leicester Avenue & Coventry Ave, Tamatea, Napier 4112

From Friday, 16 February

New World Gate Pa. 948 Cameron Road, Gate Pa, Tauranga 3112
New World Kaikohe. 8 Marino Place, Kaikohe 0405
New World Levin. 21 Bath Street, Levin 5510
New World Mt Maunganui. Cnr Tweed St & Maunganui Rd, Mt Maunganui 3116
New World Pioneer. 179/197 Main Street, Takaro, Palmerston North 4412
PAK’nSAVE Ormiston. 1 Bellingham Road, Flat Bush, Auckland 2019
PAK’nSAVE Palmerston North. 327 Ferguson Street, Palmerston North 4410
PAK’nSAVE Sylvia Park. 286 Mount Wellington Highway, Sylvia Park, Auckland 1060

From Thursday, 22 February

• New World Regent, 167 Bank Street, Regent, Whangārei 0112
• New World Te Rapa, 751 Te Rapa Road, Te Rapa, Hamilton 3200
• PAK’nSAVE Manukau, 6 Cavendish Drive, Manukau City Centre, Auckland 2104
• PAK’nSAVE Papamoa, 42 Domain Road, Papamoa Beach, Papamoa 3118
• PAK’nSAVE Taupo, 105/131 Ruapehu Street, Taupō 3330
• PAK’nSAVE Upper Hutt, Gibbons Street, Upper Hutt Central, Upper Hutt 5018
• PAK’nSAVE Whangarei, Walton Street, Whangārei 0110