Woolies CEO Claims Customers Want Value & “Not Getting Engaged” In Broader Social Conversations

Woolies CEO Claims Customers Want Value & “Not Getting Engaged” In Broader Social Conversations

Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci has declared that customers are only looking for value and do not care for the broader social conversations that dominated headlines in the right-leaning press around the Voice to Parliament referendum and Australia Day over the last six months.

Speaking to the AFR, Banducci said “Our customers are saying focus on delivering value for us and not getting engaged in conversations that are broader than that.”

Woolworths had copped flack from Coalition politicians over its decision not to sell Australia-themed merchandise on Australia Day. Leader of the opposition Peter Dutton said that Woolies was “peddling woke agendas” and United Australia Party affiliate Craig Kelly declared “GO WOKE, GO BROKE.”

Banducci would later concede that Woolies “could clearly have done a better job” of explaining its decision over the merchandise.

“I do feel anxious about the impact that this is having on our team. They are proud, hard-working Australians, and for them to be seen as anti-Australian or woke is fundamentally unfair,” he told Karl Stefanovic on Nine’s Today Show in January.

He also denied that Woolies was making a political statement with its decision, telling Natalie Barr on Seven’s Sunrise:

“We’re focusing on what we do best, which is food and everyday needs,” Banducci said. “There is pressure out there on Australian families and affordability, so we focus on what we do best, which is that.”

However, he told the AFR that he was “broadly aware” of the decision but was not involved in it.

Banducci was speaking to the Nine-owned AFR ahead of Woolworth’s half-year results, due to be released on Wednesday. The grocer is also currently embroiled in several regulatory and legislative inquiries over claims that it gouged prices at the expense of Aussie consumers.

Speaking to B&T as part of the CMO Power List, Woolworths CMO Andrew Hicks said that the cost of living crisis had triggered a change in its messaging.

“It’s become ‘we can help you spend less at Woolworths’. It’s about saying to the customers we care about and actively want to help you. Your fundamental focus has to be being true to what the customer needs and responding to those needs with authenticity and care,” he said.

“The customer notices what you do, not what you say. It’s about actions — big and small — and small actions matter. Your job as a marketer is to solve their problems and do it with conviction, so you become dependable. It’s not the big gestures, it’s the small things that the customer observes.”

However, while the showdown over Australia Day merch isn’t likely to rear its head again until 2025, the debate around the cost of living will roll on. Banducci is set to appear before the Senate Select Committee on Supermarket Prices and maintain that the prices of its goods are set by market forces, not by a greedy grocer.

“The price of fruit and vegetables in Australia is primarily driven by supply and demand,” said Woolies in its submission to the inquiry.

“For example, in 2022, prices went up when heavy rain and low sunlight associated with La Niña reduced the available volume of fruit and vegetables on the market. Better growing conditions in 2023 improved availability, and fruit and vegetable prices have been in deflation since the middle of 2023.”

Banducci told the AFR that “There’s been a lot of inflation, and a lot of stress for customers, and everything else is a manifestation of that. If we address that, we essentially address all the questions that are asked of us … our customers are the high watermark.

Whether Woolies (and Coles, for that matter) can convince legislators and consumers that it is on their side, remains to be seen. Wednesday will be a big test.




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