Market insights Technology

Retail competition: threat or opportunity?

retail competition tristan kitchener

Kitchener Companions principal Tristan Kitchener’s presentation on the altering retail panorama attracted a excessive degree of curiosity on the APAL Publish Harvest Seminar. Right here he shares his insights into how the key gamers might act to take care of progress in an more and more aggressive market and what meaning for growers.

Why are the onerous discounters (ALDI and Costco) set to vary the retail panorama in Australia?

Attitudes to low cost retailers have modified considerably because the international monetary disaster (GFC). Whereas previous to the GFC, buying at ALDI may need been barely frowned upon, purchasing at ALDI can now imply you’re a frugal, savvy and switched on shopper.

The exhausting discounters – these retailers with a restricted product vary, low costs and a handy buying expertise – are resonating with Australian shoppers. While ALDI is main the cost of the arduous discounters, Costco can also be having fun with regular progress and Kaufland (one other German retailer), will be a part of the celebration in late 2019.

Within the face of accelerating meals inflation and stretched family budgets, shoppers are more and more turning to ALDI and Costco, notably low to middle-income buyers. Along with the drawcard of excellent worth, shoppers additionally recognize the time-saving and ease of choice made potential by a restricted choice of choices. The predominantly personal label ranges are good high quality and competitively priced, and the on a regular basis low worth (EDLP) pricing technique drives loyalty as shoppers really feel they get good worth each store.

Maybe most worrying for Coles and Woolworths is that the onerous discounter market share in Australia is properly under the worldwide common and is more likely to double over the subsequent 5 to seven years from 9 per cent at present to virtually 20 per cent by 2024.

That is due partially to the hole out there created by their very own acquisition and closure within the 1990s of discounters corresponding to Bi-Lo, Franklins and Food4Less – a niche into which ALDI stepped in 2001.

The truth that Australia was dominated by simply two huge retailers meant the profit-pool was giant and ripe for the taking, and take is strictly what ALDI has accomplished. Taking their very own slice of this profit-pool is almost certainly the primary motivator for Kaufland’s entry. In hindsight, Coles and Woolworths might have been higher suggested to take care of their duopoly, however with the clear excessive and low worth codecs adopted within the airline sector, the place Qantas owns Jetstar, and Virgin owns Tiger.

What’s the probably future state for Coles and Woolworths?

Counter-intuitively, the rise of the onerous discounters has additionally been fuelled by the advertising behaviours of the majors. Coles’ massively profitable worth campaigns and relentless concentrate on worth during the last 9 years, beginning with ‘Down-Down’ in mid-2010 and adopted by ‘Deeper Down-Down’ in early 2014, de-stigmatised ‘low worth’ within the eyes of shoppers. Woolworths was pressured to comply with Coles’ lead in decreasing costs, and mockingly, this aided ALDI’s progress as ALDI is the retailer that basically owns low worth.

Coles’ technique, based mostly totally on worth, has exacerbated the already commoditised nature of grocery retailing in Australia – as evidenced by the low loyalty and excessive cross-shopping between retailers by shoppers – and should ultimately come again to hang-out them.

Coles doesn’t have the size benefit of Woolworths, with value of doing enterprise estimated to be 1-1.5 per cent greater, so it’s more likely to be troublesome for Coles to finally win the worth warfare. Coles had over seven years of like-for-like gross sales progress greater than Woolworths till March 2017, with Woolworths then taking the lead. Nevertheless, second quarter 2019 progress by Coles of 1.eight per cent and Woolworths of two.7 per cent each lag behind the business common (four.four per cent), which suggests the battle is not simply between themselves, and that each their turnarounds have run their course.

retail competition tristan kitchener

There can be alternatives for environment friendly and revolutionary growers who can ship constant high quality, new improved varieties, provenance, and have the technical skillsets to work with retailers.

With the demerger of Coles from Wesfarmers in November 2018 and the arrival of a brand new MD, it’s probably that Coles will transfer away from
worth discounting to guard income. Coles should differentiate on non-price attributes, similar to service, recent providing, vary, in-store theatre and shop-ability. The query might be whether or not after the years of funding in decrease costs, they’ve the margin fire-power out there – between 2009 and 2016 Coles lifted earnings earlier than curiosity and tax (EBIT) by 125 per cent by investing in administration, shops and personal label, however EBIT has declined by 19 per cent since 2016 as competitors has intensified and quantity progress has slowed.

To realize progress, or just simply to sluggish the decline, the place will it come from? Definitely, Metcash is a goal with small-format shops similar to Coles Native and Woolworths Metro, in any other case it might be a case for a superb old style worth warfare – and ‘down-down’ for each of them!
As well as, as ALDI extends in SA and WA and matures down the east coast capturing extra of the extremely worthwhile ‘main-shop’, ALDI will seize additional economies of scale and it will place additional strain on Coles and Woolworths – and it’s essential to keep in mind that Australia is ALDI’s most worthwhile market globally and it might subsequently make investments extra in decrease costs!

retail competition tristan kitchener

Worth struggle – rational or irrational?

While the Coles turnaround has largely been a hit because the Wesfarmers acquisition in 2007, the Coles demerger at probably the highest of the cycle suggests progress will turn into more durable to realize.

Coles’ dedication to a excessive dividend payout ratio and an round$1 billion provide chain funding might tempt Woolworths and ALDI to view a worth conflict as a rational technique on the idea Coles doesn’t have deep sufficient pockets to compete.

A worth struggle could be thought-about an ‘irrational’ technique since it may well result in mutual destruction (retailers lose, suppliers lose, shoppers win), however counter-intuitively it could possibly develop into a ‘rational’ technique if one get together is perceived as not having deep sufficient pockets to match the worth funding of their rivals, resulting in a worth differential whereby shoppers change to different retailers, with the market share of the indebted retailer transferring to the competitor retailers.

That is precisely what the arduous discounters, ALDI and Lidl, did within the UK from 2011-14 to develop their market shares by round 20 per cent year-on-year as a consequence of Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s carrying an excessive amount of debt. And for the report, ALDI and Lidl’s progress has been wholesome ever since.

If a worth conflict eventuates, Coles could also be pressured to chop their dividend dedication to fund a response and will discover itself the subsequent Metcash (IGA), a ‘me-too’ with an undifferentiated mannequin, inferior scale and saddled with monetary commitments, leading to getting strategically ‘caught within the center’ between a decrease value Woolworths and a extra environment friendly ALDI… the times of the complacent duopoly are nicely and really over.

How do Coles and Woolworths compete with the exhausting discounters?

Coles and Woolworths should compete on worth, however achieve this rationally, and supply decrease, secure pricing on the merchandise that matter most to shoppers. Based mostly upon studying from abroad markets, this implies making certain Personal Label ranges are inside 5 per cent of ALDI’s costs on their 1,500 core strains. On the similar time, they need to present wider ranges in areas the place discounters can’t compete, notably in recent meals.

Coles and Woolworths have already taken motion, though arguably might do extra because the hole isn’t closing. This consists of eradicating unnecessary selection and offering a tailor-made vary particular to the dimensions and demographics of a person retailer. Equally, the majors should present worth certainty to clients by eliminating the promotional ‘high-low cycle’ and multi-buy reductions. Costco have been notably profitable in speaking on a regular basis worth to shoppers on the premise of ‘greater pack, higher worth’, and the majors have adjusted their gives accordingly.

Nevertheless, maybe the elephant within the room is Personal Label. Even after 40 years of Personal Label in Australia, Coles and Woolworths are nonetheless struggling to develop Personal Label methods that may truly compete with ALDI with out cannibalising their branded profit-pool. Till that is solved it is going to be onerous to sluggish ALDI’s progress.

How will the main retailers compete towards Amazon?

Grocery is massively engaging to Amazon, as not solely is it the most important retail class, nevertheless it presents a superb alternative for utilizing know-how and smarts to scale back the buyer friction and pain-points.

Amazon is a retail juggernaut and it’ll leverage its scale, deep pockets, long-term urge for food and skill to fund daring R&D so as to add aggressive strain to the grocery sector. The important thing enablers for profitable entry and progress in grocery retail is cash, time and knowledge, all of which Amazon has in spades. Amazon is rolling out checkout-free contactless shops (Amazon Go) and is adept at utilizing know-how to enhance the buyer expertise.

Amazon’s non-food market share in Australia is forecast to be virtually 5 per cent by 2026, and meals share 1.1 per cent. Given the challenges round residence supply, sourcing and cool-chain upkeep with recent meals, grocery meals will probably be impacted first. Nevertheless, maybe the extra related impression is the best way that the approaching menace of Amazon is already altering the behaviours of the majors as they search to turn out to be ‘Amazon prepared’.

The majors might want to combine bodily and on-line purchasing. This can require leveraging their present belongings, together with bricks and mortar shops, loyalty packages and buyer knowledge, and on the similar time enhancing their supply within the areas that Amazon dominate, specifically personal label, click on and acquire fashions which are economically viable and the candy spot of 1-hour supply home windows. Coles and Woolworths will more and more want to know their clients higher to allow them to interact instantly with consumers and supply them distinctive providers and experiences, and finally shield them from Amazon –Amazon is nice at amassing all types of knowledge and utilizing it to supply issues that folks didn’t even assume they wanted.

It will all should be accomplished while growing productiveness to reinvest into decrease retail costs. The top end result shall be additional funding at a time when margins are already declining and finally ‘doing extra for much less’.

The problem for the incumbent bricks-and-mortar retailers is that the digital disrupters have a special set of monetary incentives; Amazon doesn’t truly have to make a revenue from its grocery enterprise. The important thing progress metric for Amazon is to extend spend per individual throughout Amazon’s huge suite of services – in different phrases getting shoppers dependent upon the Amazon ecosystem, which in flip will make Amazon an much more engaging promoting platform for suppliers. It does recommend world domination with Amazon proudly owning the client in addition to the suppliers, taking a slice of all income streams and doing so with no actual want for making a revenue within the near-term. Scary.

What’s the chance for producers?

To keep away from being caught within the intensifying retailer competitors and inevitable give attention to worth, producers have to intimately perceive their retail and finish shopper, scale back prices by way of enhancing efficiencies, innovate and assume in another way.

For producers it’s essential to do the fundamentals properly. There will probably be a larger want to make sure consistency in product high quality, and this can be exacerbated by the growing progress of the majors and wish for larger volumes to satisfy demand. As well as, retailers’ progress will develop into more and more depending on the capabilities of their suppliers, with the extra succesful suppliers turning into more and more extra influential and gaining a louder voice.

In regard to technical experience, specialist information of recent meals will turn out to be a core competency for fulfillment
(understanding seasonality, varieties, cool-chain administration, ripening know-how, dealing with and merchandising shows and so on).

Retailers are more and more immediately using sector specialists and business specialists to enrich their inner shopping for groups and enhance decision-making, together with technologists, agronomists and provide chain specialists, so it’s necessary for producers to be equally nicely resourced with technical skillsets or danger dropping enterprise.

There’s additionally a chance in Australia, in comparison with say Europe or the UK the place the worth of provenance is already nicely understood, for technical enchancment round meals security and high quality assurance, and interesting with retailers on a technical degree to deal with a number of the harder challenges, reminiscent of environmental degradation via declining soil well being, water utilization, and on enhancing consistency in product high quality. The challenges round farm labour and use of rent corporations are additionally a crucial half.

So as to obtain a differentiated buyer providing, retailers will focus upon Mental Property and exclusivity. Suppliers that may safe IP and unique entry to raised tasting varieties, and entry to varieties with, for instance, excessive
‘performance’, comparable to longer shelf-life and better vitamin content material will in flip safe their future. As has occurred internationally, retailers will look to make customer-centric claims and talk their distinctive initiatives round provenance, sustainability, enterprise ethics, natural and non-GM.

Retailers are more likely to embrace closed-system manufacturing that takes benefit of latest applied sciences to make sure year-round safety of provide amount and high quality, akin to greenhouses utilizing LED lighting and elevated carbon dioxide to extend yields to decrease long-term manufacturing value. Equally, excessive density orchards which might be designed for mechanical or robotic harvesting will enhance product uniformity with extra fruit falling inside grocery store specs and scale back the dependency on seasonal labour. These improvements are capital intensive with lengthy pay-back durations and are more likely to drive additional business consolidation and corporatisation of farming.

The retail market in Australia is present process extra change that it has within the final 40 years, and because the retailers are elevating the bar for his or her shoppers, so should growers and suppliers. It is very important problem present enterprise fashions, look
to innovate, and most significantly, guarantee the fitting skillsets are within the enterprise on the proper time. Now’s the time to benefit from the altering retail panorama, as finally
‘change’ may also imply alternative – and people who make the transfer first would be the ones to reap the advantages!

Sources: Morgan Stanley Analysis, UBS, Kantar, ABS, Roy Morgan, Euromonitor

Prime banner: Billion Pictures/
‘Worth’ graphic: Modella/

Concerning the writer:

Tristan Kitchener is grocery retail sector specialist and principal of administration consultancy Kitchener Companions. He may be reached at, and you may see extra at


About the author