Foodstuffs North Island (FSNI), a New Zealand co-operative of 300 grocers, has initiated a facial recognition (FR) technology trial to combat retail crime.  

The trial, involving up to 25 North Island stores including PAK’nSAVE and New World supermarkets, is set to last six months.  

The technology analyses facial features and converts them into a unique alphanumeric code which is securely stored.  

The FR system then captures images of individuals as they enter the store and matches their faces in real time against a database of known offenders and accomplices. Signage informs customers that the FR system is in use.  

The trial comes in response to a significant rise in violent incidents against retail staff, including serious assaults.  

It aims to assess whether FR can effectively deter repeat offenders and reduce in-store crime.  

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The system will only store the data of those who have previously committed offences.  

Foodstuffs North Island chief executive Chris Quin said: “Everyone has the right to a safe working environment and a safe place to buy their groceries.  

“Sadly, retail crime is a growing problem, here and overseas. Our North Island stores recorded 4,719 incidents in the October to 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 more than 14 serious incidents a week, including an average of two assaults.” 

The FR systems will be accessible only to authorised and specially trained store team members. 

Retailers will not share information held in the FR system between stores, or with third parties, unless required to do so by law. 

Chris Quin added: “The trial is important because we hope to establish if FR will help keep our people and customers safe without compromising their privacy.”