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What's all the fuss about

When I first heard about the “Boycott Countdown” campaign which started last week I was perplexed. What was all the fuss about?

Apparently, so the story goes, Woolworths Australia had aggressively backed the government’s “Buy Australia” campaign and in the process of supporting their home grown shoppers, who want to buy more Australian-made products, removed Kiwi products from their shelves. So incensed were Kiwis (and some Aussies) that the Facebook campaign had 9700-odd likes on Monday night this week.

However when you start to pull out the facts from the emotions, there are many successful Kiwi brands such as Whittakers chocolate, Mainland Cheese, Sealord Fish that have retained their rightful place on the Aussie shopping shelves. The real impact was largely felt in the fresh food departments.

I had an interesting conversation with a good friend of mine in the industry who, given his position as a supplier of fresh product, is pro-fuss. I empathise with the impact it has on his business, but if I was in Woolworths Australia’s shoes, or the shoe was on the other foot, I would do the same thing. Every time.

By supporting your country’s enterprise and locally owned and operated suppliers you provide a platform for their growth and prosperity. Imagine the reaction if supermarkets here favoured Aussie fresh food suppliers over our own locally grown and sourced product. That would be a reason to raise a fuss.

And supermarket operators aren’t dumb. NZ lamb is the best in the world and I have no doubt it will find its way back but at an even higher price point to reflect the premium nature of the product. Likewise NZ avocados and kiwifruit.

On a recent trip to Australia it was easy to see the motivation behind the move. Coles Australia has adopted a “Helping Australia Grow” campaign which has provided real momentum for the business. This is pitted against “Australia’s fresh food people” from Woolworths, who for many years owned fresh. Their latest catalogue draws the battle lines and there’s no mistaking just how important “Aussie” is for them.

Coles “Helping Australia Grow” campaign

Current Woolworths catalogues featuring a strong Australian Made flavour

New Zealand supermarkets have to get their act together and find ways to engage the shopper beyond merely promotion and price. Doubtless we will hear more about the David and Goliath battle between suppliers and supermarkets over the coming months. NZ is at the upper most extreme edge of price conscious retail behaviour and I believe our supermarket aggressiveness has contributed to that. (hmm, I must confess I bought into that philosophy in my tenure).

Key trends and shopper expectations can provide a frontier for supermarkets to compete for share of wallet in a different way. Liquor is somewhat restrained with last year’s legislative changes and I am unsure pharmacy is the right way to go given the structure of our practises here in NZ.

Countdown is having a good crack at doing some things differently, evidenced at their new generation store in Lincoln Road Store, Henderson. They have stepped up their game in fresh, general merchandise and, more significantly, their service approach.

New generation Countdown supermarket – Lincoln Road, Henderson

There is an opportunity with our time-poor, I expect it now, on my terms, make it easy for meexpectations. Pre-prepared and ready meals can become a way to win. There have been attempts in the past to compete in this space, but the timing wasn’t right. Shoppers weren’t ready to make the trade-off between my time and the cost for the curated and partially assembled product, but I think they are now. Observe the monumental growth of My Food Bag and local operators like Jess’s Underground Kitchen. There is such a lean offering in this space that the player who can pull off the right balance of taste, ease, freshness and price will actually win more wallet.

Shopper marketing provides a second battle frontier. Understanding and influencing the shopper on their path to purchase is essential to building increased shopper engagement and strike rate. Data analytics plus the merchant’s gut-feel equals powerful insights to help build the profitability of a shopper in a relationship which, quite frankly, gets a little lean (and it’s the supplier who pays). By fostering a category captain and preferential relationship based approach. A win/win/win will be achieved for the supermarket/supplier/shopper and will craft a more sustainable and exciting future for all involved.

Supermarket shopping is one of the most complex retail processes a shopper undertakes. The thousands of possibilities in front of them are daunting hence so much repeat purchasing on a weekly basis. However as our lives and expectations shift in a more “me” centric direction with higher experiential expectations, I have no doubt that the shift from full shops to more frequent top-up shops will be the order of the day. And may the best supermarket win.

And to finish up, I must commend Pak ’n Save who quickly capitalized on the fuss and made some very clever adverts. But now it’s approaching the end of the week and I think Countdown have bigger concerns on their plate to fuss over.

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