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Consumer magazine covers from 1990s.
9 August 2019

Consumer in the 1990s

We're turning 60 this year! To help mark this occasion we're revisiting stories we've covered in Consumer's six mighty decades in print.

We’ve come a long way since 1959. But our stock in trade hasn’t changed – whether it’s exposing dodgy dealers or giving you the lowdown on products that go the distance.

November 1990: WOF failure

We were appalled by results when we screened 71 garages and testing stations to see how they carried out Warrant of Fitness testing. Our mystery car was a 1982 Ford Cortina with four safety-related faults that should have earned it a certain fail. More than half of the garages issued a warrant – one had it in, out and warranted in five minutes! We calculated motorists were paying about $35 million ($60 million in today’s dollars) a year for often substandard testing that put lives at risk.

September 1991: The Big Bang(er)

When we tested sausages, we found bangers that didn’t pack the expected bang. It was difficult to test the actual proportion of meat in a sausage but we could test the type of meat. Of 19 snarlers, two labelled as beef and one as pork contained only mutton. Two brands of bangers had less than the minimum protein allowed by regulations, while another contained too much sulphur dioxide.

Oct 1992: Real estate agents

We surveyed 624 Consumer members who’d recently bought or sold a house using a real estate agent. While most agents (71%) did a good job, there were plenty of bad apples. We were told about unethical practices ranging from agents discouraging offers if they thought they could sell the buyer a higher-priced property to misleading advertising (four fruit trees does NOT an orchard make).

May 1993: Savings plan jungle

We investigated how people were looking after their retirement nest eggs. A 1992 survey by the Department of Statistics found endowment life insurance was the most popular form of retirement savings. However, high fees and early surrender penalties meant poor returns if you wanted to exit early. One couple, who invested in a policy with NZI, paid $6300 ($10,522 in today’s dollars) over four years – $4000 ($6,680) of which had gone towards fees.

June 1993: Little green lies

We navigated the tangle of claims and counter-claims about going “green”. Our quiz gave readers the low-down on how to sort the real from the fake. We also warned that companies could be breaking the law if their green claims were vague, irrelevant or unable to be substantiated, or used misleading graphics or logos.

September 1994: Let’s not get physical

Exercise videos were a popular choice for working out at home. However, Rachel Hunter’s “super shape-up program” turned out not to be so super: we rated it “poor” (sorry Rach). She wasn’t alone though. Of the 11 popular workout videos we assessed, five contained risky exercises. Often, they were advertised as suitable “for beginners”, but the exercises were far too difficult and could have been dangerous for newbies.

May 1995: Dry horrors

There’d been a lot of hype around sports drinks, so we decided to dilute it with some genuine research. We found the sugars and salts in these drinks were only of value if you’d been exercising hard and for more than an hour-and-a-half. In that case, they quickly restored lost fluids. However, less than that and you’d be fine with water and some fruit or bread.

June 1995: Public or private?

In 1995, medical insurance was popular – 55% of our members had it. They rated Southern Cross and UniMed as being a cut above other providers. However, we had our doubts about whether this type of insurance was worth getting. It came at a hefty price and we weren’t sure our public health system was lacking enough to justify it.

December 1996: Wash away the kilos

A soap promoted with ads showing a well-known squeaky-clean TV presenter who claimed to have lost “three pounds in three weeks” using the bars didn’t wash with us. We also weren’t convinced by praise from a “homeopathic doctor”, who was also a franchise holder selling the soap. These seaweed cakes were $29.95 ($46 in today’s prices) a bar – and you were advised to use at least three of them! We suggested you’d be better off putting the money towards a good pair of walking shoes.

June 1997: Cyber launch

We joined the internet age and launched! The website was designed to supplement our magazine with free sections on legal rights, letters that got results, consumer news and directories, as well as our internet plan selector.

August 1997: A super dilemma

Kiwis were heading to the polls to vote in a referendum on a compulsory retirement savings scheme. We didn’t support the scheme and thought the argument for a compulsory super scheme didn’t stack up. The majority of kiwis agreed. The proposal was rejected by 92% of voters.

May 1999: Is your chook cooked?

Reported rates of food poisoning had soared – but why? We tested 50 fresh raw chickens – all from major supermarket and butchery brands – and found 41 were contaminated with campylobacter, salmonella or both. We advised consumers on how to handle and cook chooks properly, and campaigned for better instructions on chicken packaging.

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