It is fascinating to watch the evolution of the marketing of the two retail gorillas, Coles and Woolworths.
It is clear what they are doing, setting out to engage consumers with the freshness, range and provenance of their produce, and selling consumers all the packaged goods they need on the way through the stores. Their strategies are working, but more importantly, they highlight the depth of the opportunity for those few independent retailers left alive, and points to the way the more fragmented food service, ingredient, and emerging home delivery and farmers markets should be marketing themselves.
Coles and Woolies remain mass retailers, vulnerable on the edges.
A few years ago Woolies were undisputed heavweight champ, Coles the belted contender with no hope, but how things can change with a new trainer. Coles has been rejuvenated, and whilst their financial results have been hugely improved, they have a way to go to catch Woolies, but in the marketing stakes, they have taken the lead.
The sponsorship of “Masterchef” was a masterstroke, and they have followed up and leveraged the success extraordinarily well, with Woolies just starting to respond by buying Jamie Oliver to shape up to Heston, Curtis, and Status Quo (I was young in the 70’s) and a massive and very well co-ordinated marketing budget. Bit of an uneven contest.
From a consumers perspective, increasingly their choices are limited to brands the retailers control. Wether they be Coles new “Heston Blumenthal” brand, Woolies “Jamie Oliver” brand, or one of the various other housebrand versions at differing price-points, and pack configurations, they are all housebrands.
Suppliers of packaged proprietary brands have been progressively squeezed out, and those left are mostly sourced via global supply chains rather than manufacturing domestically, where almost nobody is left standing.
Change always starts at the fringes, as we have seen time and again over our history. Change is happening now in the food value chain, but at the fringes. Organics, local produce, micro suppliers of almost personalised products, restaurants differentiating on the basis of seasons and local supply, “pick your own” farmers markets, food tourism, various home delivery services, all happening outside the supermarket, some pretty basic marketing communicating the differentiated offer.
Jamie and Heston can take their money to beat each other up in the ad breaks of the nightly news. The increasing number of us who really care about what we eat, will go to the local blokes who genuinely care about what they deliver to us, and buy from them.