By LAURA BASHAM – The Nelson Mail, via stuff.co.nz, last updated 13:00 21/10/2009

New World supermarkets in the South Island have dropped their 5-cent plastic bag charge because of customer complaints.

The backtrack follows New World’s lower North Island supermarkets scrapping the charge just a month after it was introduced in August to encourage shoppers to use reuseable bags.

Foodstuffs South Island chief executive Steve Anderson said it dropped the levy at its 40 New World stores yesterday following customer feedback.

"In general we were very happy with the 65 per cent reduction in plastic bag usage and our customers were aware of the issue and changed their behaviour by bringing in their own bags. That was a big positive but at the same time there was a negative response.

"Individual customers objected saying they did not feel they should have to purchase plastic bags. Some were quite loud in their feedback. We have listened to that noise and stopped the levy."

Mr Anderson acknowledged some customers would be unhappy the company had backed down.

"We cannot please everyone in this debate. We gave it a go but the objections were too noisy."

While New World had lost customers over the issue, it had also gained others so the net result was not a loss, Mr Anderson said.

"I specifically looked at that using Fly Buys data showing customers who stopped shopping and those who started and there was very little net change."

The scrapping of the charge at the North Island New World supermarkets had made it difficult for the South Island stores as customers asked why they also had not dropped it.

Some stores were more adversely affected than others, but he declined to say what the impact had been at its Nelson, Stoke and Motueka supermarkets.

Foodstuffs’ Pak ‘n Save and Four Square stores, which had not had the same level of adverse reaction, would continue with the charge, he said. Foodstuffs would also continue with its environmental initiatives to reduce plastic usage.

The profit from the 5c levy was earmarked for environmental projects and the company had given $50,000 in the first few weeks to the Department of Conservation.

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