Coles has announced its commitment to switch to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2025. As part of this announcement, Coles also revealed a new power purchase agreement with Lal-lal windfarm, Victoria.
Held over the weekend of 6 and 7 of March, Coles Liquor launched its ‘Drop of Good’ campaign to support Clean Up Australia in their mission to clean, fix and conserve Australia’s environment.
Australian farmers, producers and manufacturers can now apply for financial support from the Coles Nurture Fund to help them innovate and grow. Coles has opened a new round of the Coles Nurture Fund to provide grants of up to $500,000 for small and medium sized businesses to develop new products, technologies and processes.
Coles Liquor has launched a new Tasmanian vodka, Pure Origin. Offering Australians an exceptionally high quality yet affordable vodka, Pure Origin is distilled using an all-copper Tasmanian-made pot still. The spirit is further refined, filtered through active carbon, then married with pure, pristine Tasmanian water.
Coles and the Transport Workers Union (TWU) have signed a charter on standards in road transport and the gig economy focusing on safety, driver education and mental health.
Coles has opened its latest award-winning Coles Local supermarket format on Sydney’s Manly Beach, tailored to the needs of Manly beachgoers, stocking hundreds of options perfect for a beachside barbecue.
Coles is opening a tailor-made supermarket – using the Coles Local format – that incorporates sustainability features and a product range personalised to meet the needs of the Chatswood community on Sydney’s North Shore.
The store is part of an expansion of the Coles Local format in Sydney, following the launch of the concept in Rose Bay in May – with Manly set to welcome a new Local store to the neighbourhood later this year.
Coles Local Chatswood has a range of refillable ecostore shampoos, conditioners, body washes, and laundry liquids available for customers through a new in-store refill station using bottles made from recycled and sugarcane plastic, eliminating the need for single-use bottles.
The store features more than 200 plant-based food products, ice cream just for dogs, a premium coffee and orange juice station, a macaron, mini gelato and Japanese mochi ice cream parlour, and a dedicated aisle with the largest Asian range in the country.
Coles’ chief sustainability, property and export officer Thinus Keevé, said each Coles Local supermarket is tailored to the specific needs of the local community.
“Coles Local Chatswood is a brand-new neighbourhood supermarket destination with new products sourced from 35 small Sydney suppliers, and innovative features that customers may not have seen before,” he said.
“As we make progress on our mission to be Australia’s most sustainable supermarket, we’re increasingly looking at new and inventive ways to reduce packaging on certain products.
“This new ecostore station is a first for an Australian supermarket, which we hope will resonate well with customers.”
Ecostore managing director, Pablo Kraus, said this was the first time the company had installed a refill station in an Australian supermarket to help reduce packaging waste.
“People are used to bringing in their reusable supermarket bags; now they can also bring in their reusable ecostore refill bottles to conveniently refill their home and personal care products at the supermarket.”
Supporting a sustainable circular economy, the trolleys at the store are made from recycled plastic milk bottles and REDcycle plastics, free recycled carry boxes are available in place of bags, unsold food that cannot be donated to food charities is diverted to organic composting and green energy generation, and team member name tags and uniforms also feature part-recycled materials.
How the refill station works:
The Refill Station has been designed with an easy four-step process:
- Customers choose a small or large ecostore refill bottle
- Select the product and apply the matching sticker
- Refill the bottle by positioning the bottle under the tap or pump, and fill to the top
- Purchase by taking the bottle to the checkou
Coles Liquor customers have raised a record $823,000 for national food rescue charity SecondBite to help provide the equivalent of 4.1 million meals for vulnerable Australians.
The 2020 Coles Liquor Winter Appeal was the biggest single community fundraising campaign held by Coles Liquor and takes the total funds raised by its Liquorland, Vintage Cellars and First Choice Liquor stores for SecondBite to $5.1 million since 2014.
The Coles Liquor Winter Appeal was launched in early August following a run of record-breaking national fundraising campaigns held across Coles supermarkets since Covid-19 restrictions were introduced in Australia.
With the $823,000 raised for SecondBite by Coles Liquor in the latest Winter Appeal, Coles customers and team members have together raised more than $8.1 million for SecondBite, FightMND, Bravery Trust and children’s hospitals since April 20201.
SecondBite CEO Jim Mullan said he was amazed and grateful for the results from this year’s Coles Liquor Winter Appeal.
“The fundraising effort by Coles Liquor team members and customers has been extraordinary, particularly in light of the current economic challenges,” he said.
“Like all not-for-profit agencies, 2020 has been an extremely difficult time and we have seen an increase in demand for support from a cohort of people who we usually don’t see under normal circumstances, such as international students, visa holders and recently unemployed people living in regional and rural areas.”
“The fundraising from Coles Liquor will help SecondBite support people who have previously never needed our help but may need it over coming months and potentially years as we ease off Jobseeker and Jobkeeper payments.”
Coles Liquor Chief Executive Darren Blackhurst said he was incredibly proud of the Coles Liquor team’s fundraising efforts.
“We didn’t know what to expect given the extenuating circumstances during COVID-19 but thanks to the generosity of our customers, we have reached new heights in our fundraising for SecondBite this year. The $823,000 raised is a testament to the resilience and community spirit of our team members and customers,” he said.
“SecondBite’s role in the community embodies Coles’ purpose to sustainably feed all Australians. It is wonderful to see our Liquor team play their part to support this vision and to help those less fortunate.”
In addition to fundraising appeals for SecondBite, more than 765 Coles supermarkets across Australia regularly donate surplus fresh food via SecondBite to around 1,100 community food programs that provide meals to Australians facing tough times. During Covid-19, Coles has also donated grocery essentials to the retail value of $7.9 million to SecondBite and Foodbank to distribute to vulnerable Australians.
Since 2011, Coles has helped donate enough surplus fresh food to SecondBite to provide the equivalent of 114 million meals to disadvantaged Australians.
New Zealand chocolate manufacturer, Whittaker’s, has come together with Australia’s iconic Bundaberg Brewed Drinks, to create the new Whittaker’s Brewed Ginger Caramel 250g Block. As well as a new chocolate flavour, the partnership reflects the special nature of the trans-Tasman relationship, the synergy between these two family-owned brands, and the resilience of both in working together virtually to create an exciting new product at such a challenging time.
Whittaker’s Brewed Ginger Caramel combines ginger caramel, encased in Whittaker’s five-roll refined creamy milk chocolate. The ginger caramel filling is made from Bundaberg’s ginger brew that is used to make its ginger beer, without the fizz. The amount of Bundaberg ginger brew provided to Whittaker’s for the chocolate is enough to make 335,600 bottles of ginger beer.
Whittaker’s co-chief operating officer, Holly Whittaker, said the two brands’ equally strong focus on quality was important to both in deciding to collaborate on product development.
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“Whittaker’s is proud to use only the finest ingredients and make all of our chocolate at our one factory in Porirua, which enables us to control quality from roasting the cocoa beans ourselves to the finished products. Bundaberg Brewed Drinks’ similar approach in using locally grown ginger and even growing and harvesting some of its own ginger, sourcing only the best ingredients and making its products locally fits perfectly with our ethos,” said Whittaker.
Bundaberg’s CEO, John McLean, who is the son-in-law of the business’ founder, Cliff Fleming, said the partnership with Whittaker’s is another milestone in the company’s history. It will be their first collaboration with another brand on a product to be distributed in supermarkets across Australia and New Zealand.
“Both family businesses have a long-standing commitment to excellence and are entrenched in the trans-Tasman way of life. It makes sense for Australia’s best soft-drink and New Zealand’s Most Trusted Brand to join forces, particularly during a time when consumers are looking for affordable ways to treat themselves. We’re very proud to be a part of this collaboration. We hope this will encourage Aussies and Kiwis to get together with loved ones to share some special moments, great food and delicious brews – while socially distancing, of course,” said McLean.
While the initial idea of collaboration between Whittaker’s and Bundaberg Brewed Drinks was first proposed in 2018 and product development and testing got underway last year, the critical final six months of development and launch planning have occurred under unique and challenging circumstances. With no possibility of getting together to sample products and review packaging, samples were sent across the Tasman and final product development and campaign planning meetings were held over Zoom.
Whittaker’s Brewed Ginger Caramel 250g Blocks will be available exclusively in Coles, in all of their stores across Australia, from 31 Augus
Coles has spent $43 million on a ripening facility in Melbourne that will support banana, avocado and mango growers in North Queensland and will ripen fruit from farmers across Australia.
It was built as part of a five-year agreement between Coles and growers collective Mackays Marketing and has the capacity to ripen 350 million pieces of fruit annually.
Using reversible air-flow ripening technology, the 7,280sqm facility is 70 per cent more energy efficient than traditional ‘tarped’ ripening systems, producing fruit that has been ripened as it is needed, improving shelf life for customers and reducing waste.
Mackays marketing CEO Richard Clayton said the partnership with Coles would be instrumental in encouraging greater consumption offresh fruit and vegetables to create a healthier nation.
“This project has bought best practice ripening technology to Coles and this will help us continue to regularly provide the very best quality bananas, avocados and mangoes to consumers,” he said.
The 5-star Green Star facility incorporates a number of sustainability measures, including rainwater tanks with a combined capacity of 100,000 litres and more than 1,790 solar panels — capable of generating electricity equivalent to the annual usage of more than 86 average Australian homes.
Murray River Organics Group has launched, in partnership with Coles supermarkets, the Murray River Organics brand in the breakfast cereals category. Eight new products will be sold across 800 Coles stores with estimated revenue expected to be in the $5-6m range per annum.
The launch will be backed by a new communications program including new website, Instagram, and Facebook platforms as part of the launch of the Murray River Organics brand into the Australian consumer market. Instore activation with Coles will also form an essential part of the program to drive awareness of the brand and products.
“We have made significant investments over the last nine months to develop the Murray River Organics brand proposition ensuring it is aligned to the Company’s strategy and purpose. We believe that the brand is authentic, has integrity and delivers accessibility for organic products to Australian consumers,” said MRG chief executive officer, Valentina Tripp, said:
“What’s also important is that MRG’s products carry the Australian Certified Organic BUD Logo with the Australian Certified Organic Standard – considered to be one of the most respected and rigorous standards in the world, and the symbol that is widely recognised as having integrity and that consumers look for when they are purchasing organic lines.”
The Australian organics market is estimated to be worth $2.6b with approximately 65 per cent of Australian households now buying some sort of organic product or produce yearly, with annual growth of five per cent.
The global organics market is estimated to be worth over $100b and provides significant opportunities to grow the consumer facing Murray River Organics brand that leverages MRG’s established export capability and distribution system.
The first of Coles’ new look local neighbourhood supermarkets has arrived in Sydney as the doors officially open to Coles Local Rose Bay.
The store marks a new era for supermarket shopping in Sydney, with never-before-seen features including a pick-and-mix bar just for dogs, a macaron, mini gelato and Japanese mochi ice cream parlour, a self-serve coffee and orange juice station, and one of the largest plant-based ranges of any Coles supermarket in New South Wales.
Coles Local supermarkets offer the community a tailored in-store experience, partnering with local butchers, bakers and cafes to offer a bespoke range of high-quality foods designed to meet the needs of local residents.
Coles conducted wide research into the Rose Bay community, finding they are more than twice as likely to choose premium, high quality products than the average Australian shopper, and overwhelmingly value fresh and healthy solutions at mealtimes. They are also typically aged between 25 – 44 and don’t have kids.
Coles Local will cater to these time-poor Rose Bay professionals, becoming a destination for health and convenience, offering more than 350 new ready-to-eat products that can be prepared in 30 minutes or less, including restaurant-quality pasta, salads and dinnertime meals from Sydney icon Pasta Pantry.
Coles CEO Steven Cain said the Coles Local format had been designed to appeal to local tastes and preferences.
“Customers want us to make their lives easier, and this store offers our customers the convenience of a supermarket with the range of a specialty store,” Mr Cain said.
“This is our first Coles Local supermarket to open in Sydney. The store has been carefully designed with cutting edge sustainability features and local partnerships with neighbourhood bakers, butchers and producers.”
The store features an extensive Kosher range, and products from 35 speciality Sydney producers, including family butchery Field to Fork, whose Bondi and Vaucluse outlets were hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.
“We are committed to making a positive difference to the communities in which we operate, and our Rose Bay store helps us to support these small local producers in these difficult times,” Cain said.
Joshua Horwitz from Field to Fork said the family was happy to be partnering with Coles to offer their range of top-quality marinated meats for customers.
“We are delighted that Coles has chosen our a small, family-run business to showcase our brand in their store,” Horwitz said.
“There was no anticipating the impact coronavirus would have on our industry. We experienced a 40 per cent reduction in revenue almost overnight.”
“When Coles reached out and brought us on board, it meant that we had a new place to retail our products and not one Field to Fork employee was made redundant and no stock has gone in the bin.”
Coles Local Rose Bay will champion sustainability, with team member uniforms made from 65 per cent recycled bottles, trolleys made partly from recycled plastic and free reclaimed customer carry boxes as an alternative to bags. A zero edible food waste policy also means that any unsold food that cannot be donated to food rescue organisation SecondBite will be diverted to green energy generation.
The store’s pick-and-mix selection of tasty doggy treats will be the first in New South Wales, so customers can spoil their pampered pooches with a bespoke blend of canine snacks.
Supporting the Rose Bay community, the store will create 26 new jobs and has partnered with local not-for-profit Print35 who provide employment opportunities for people with disabilities, supplying the store with Kosher serviettes and Jewish-themed greeting cards.
The redevelopment has also restored the heritage-listed Kings Theatre cinema to its former glory and in the process revealed the original cinema screen previously thought lost.
Coles has recruited more than 7,000 people in just two weeks to meet customer demand, providing much-needed employment opportunities at a time when many Australians are urgently seeking work.
The new recruits have been fast-tracked into Coles’ supermarkets and liquor stores across Australia and have come from a range of industries and businesses, including many that have been forced to close or to stand down staff such as in travel, sport, fitness and hospitality.
Among the thousands of newly-hired Coles team members are Sydney resident and international flight attendant Jenny Dunworth, Victorian resident and former YMCA employee Zoe Giagoudakis, Gold Coast barista Emma Vost and Hobart gym owner Nick Richards.
Coles has now extended the recruitment drive by opening an additional 5,000 positions across the country. These roles include store team members to serve customers and replenish shelves in Coles supermarkets and liquor stores, customer service agents to deliver orders to Coles online customers, and more than 100 trade-qualified bakers for our in-store bakeries.
Coles CEO Steven Cain said Coles was delighted with the response to the recruitment callout and will continue to work with other major employers and unions to find job opportunities for businesses that were recently forced to reduce team numbers.
“Coles is doing everything we can to support jobs and the economy through this challenging time, while also ensuring we can provide groceries for all Australians,” he said.
“We have been overwhelmed with the number of applications received from across different industries. To ensure we could act quickly, we streamlined our recruitment processes and assigned a dedicated team to fast track applications sent by corporate partners like Australian Venue Company and Virgin Australia. We have seen a lot of demand for roles, and where we have positions available, we are making sure that we can get people into them as quickly as possible.
“Within the last week we have also opened three new pop-up distribution centres in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria which has created more jobs in our supply chain network. We are also looking to open additional distribution centres to help us move more stock to stores and will help create even more jobs.”
Since the recruitment drive began, Coles has offered more than 6,500 casual positions to applicants, as well as 430 part-time and 80 full-time management positions across the country.
By State, Coles has offered 1,700 jobs in Victoria, 2,000 in New South Wales, around 1800 in Queensland, 600 in South Australia, 700 in Western Australian, 100 in Tasmania, around 90 in ACT and 100 in the Northern Territory.
Supermarket giants are coordinating immediately to ensure consumers have reliable and fair access to groceries during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) granted interim authorisation that will allow supermarkets to coordinate with each other when working with manufacturers, suppliers, and transport and logistics providers.
The purpose of this is to ensure the supply and the fair and equitable distribution of fresh food, groceries, and other household items to Australian consumers, including those who are vulnerable or live in rural and remote areas.
This authorisation applies to Coles, Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash. It will also apply to any other grocery retailer wishing to participate. Grocery retailers, suppliers, manufacturers and transport groups can choose to opt out of any arrangements.
Rod Sims, ACCC chair said Australia’s supermarkets have experienced unprecedented demand for groceries in recent weeks, both in store and online, which has led to shortages of some products and disruption to delivery services.
“This is essentially due to unnecessary panic buying, and the logistics challenge this presents, rather than an underlying supply problem,” he said.
“We recognise and appreciate that individual supermarket chains have already taken a number of important steps to mitigate the many issues caused by panic buying,”
“We believe allowing these businesses to work together to discuss further solutions is appropriate and necessary at this time.”
The ACCC granted interim authorisation on Monday afternoon after receiving the application last Friday.
The authorisation allows a range of coordinated activities but does not allow supermarkets to agree on retail prices for products.
Rod said the ACCC have worked “very swiftly” to consider this interim authorisation application, because of the urgency of the situation, and its impact on Australian consumers.
Coles is dedicating two Community Hour shopping periods per week to emergency services and healthcare workers, who are essential to protecting the community during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Coles is also spending an additional $1 million per week to extensively clean its stores and is in the early stages of rolling out our new Coles Online Priority Service and is looking to bring this service to as many vulnerable customers as possible.
On Tuesday 24 March, Woolworths has has announced its committed to the installation of protective plexiglass screens at the manned checkouts of each store across Australia in the coming weeks.
“Our stores remain open and we will continue to stand by the Australian community through this health crisis,” Claire Peters, Woolworths supermarkets managing director said on Tuesday.
The Department of Home Affairs has convened a Supermarket Taskforce, which meets regularly to resolve issues impacting supermarkets.
Representatives from government departments, supermarkets, the grocery supply chain and the ACCC are on the Taskforce.
The interim authorisation applies to agreements made as a result of Taskforce recommendations.
The ACCC will now seek feedback on the application. Details on how to make a submission are available on the ACCC’s public register along with a Statement of Reasons.
Coles has announced it will donate extra food and groceries to the retail value of $1 million a week to help Australians who are facing hardship as a result of the Coronavirus.
The food donations will be directed to food relief organisations, Foodbank and SecondBite, which will in turn distribute the food to up to 3800 community food programs across Australia.
Coles Group CEO Steven Cain said the decision to increase Coles’ food donations was in response to increasing demand for food relief from vulnerable Australians.
“For many years, we have donated surplus edible food from our supermarkets and distribution centres but sadly we are hearing that an increasing number of people in our community are facing particularly tough times as a flow-on effect of the Coronavirus,” he said.
“We hope that by donating an additional $1 million in food each week to SecondBite and Foodbank, we can help get food and essentials to people who are especially vulnerable at this unprecedented time.”
“It goes to the heart of our strategy which is to feed all Australians and help them lead healthier, happier lives.”
The announcement comes just days after Coles introduced a dedicated Community Hour2 at its supermarkets to improve access to essential groceries for the elderly and disadvantaged during the period of unprecedented demand.
SecondBite CEO Jim Mullan welcomed the additional food donations. “A key issue for us at the moment is keeping up with the growing demand. Coles currently donates surplus food from around 780 supermarkets and these additional donations from its distribution centres will help us to reach an increasing number of people in need,” he said.
Foodbank CEO Brianna Casey said the combination of drought, bushfires and Coronavirus had placed unprecedented pressure on the charity’s food supplies. “We are already assisting 815,000 people a month, but the need for food relief is skyrocketing at a time when donations of essential food and groceries are reducing. The additional donations from Coles will help ensure Foodbank can bolster its supplies to ensure vulnerable Australians can continue to be assisted,” she said.
Shoppers recycled enough pieces of plastic to go around the world one and half times at Coles last year, representing a 32 per cent increase on the previous year.
Revealed in Coles’ Sustainability Report, Coles customers recycled 905 tonnes or 226 million pieces of soft plastics – including packaging such as biscuit packets, lolly bags, frozen food bags and bread, rice and pasta bags which cannot be recycled through most kerbside recycling services.
Coles became the first major Australian supermarket to roll out REDcycle bins in all supermarkets last year.
Customers can place plastic bags and soft plastic packaging in REDcycle bins at the front of Coles stores so they can then be recycled for a range of uses such as furniture, playground equipment and materials for walkways in parks, roads and bollards.
Locals in Hornsby in New South Wales, Yarraville in Victoria, Kenmore in Queensland, St Agnes in South Australia, Kingston in Tasmania, Jamison in ACT and Inglewood in Western Australia are among the most dedicated soft plastic recyclers in the country, with these stores diverting the most plastic from landfill.
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Coles chief property and export officer Thinus Keeve said customers should be commended for remembering to bring their soft-plastics back to store.
“The increase in use of REDcycle bins shows just how significant the issue of reducing waste has become for customers,” he said. “We know that recycling is important to our customers, and we are seeing many people changing their habits to reduce waste that ends up in landfill.”
“Since we partnered with REDcycle in 2011, our customers have recycled enough pieces of plastic to go around the world five times which is just fantastic. We want to become Australia’s most sustainable retailer, so we are looking at ways to divert even more waste from landfill and reduce packaging.”
The soft plastic collected in REDcycle bins at Coles supermarkets is used as a raw material by Australian manufacturers, Replas and Plastic Forests. It is converted into a range of uses, including playground benches, garden edging, wheel stops, walkways in parks, bollards and the customer seats used in Coles supermarkets. REDcycle has also partnered with Close the Loop and Downer EDI to provide soft plastic for road base.
RED Group director of development Elizabeth Kasell is proud that consumers have jumped on board to support soft-plastic recycling. This is helping retailers, distributors and manufacturers work together for a better outcome for materials that were previously going to landfill.
“The beauty of this program is its simplicity. We’re not asking people to change their routines – it’s just a matter of remembering to take their plastic packaging with them next time they visit their local Coles supermarket. And we were delighted to roll out our bins to Coles supermarkets across the country, it’s made a huge difference,” Kasell said.
Coles has lowered the price of more than 300 products, introduced new big value packs and more own brand products as it starts upping the ante against main competitor Woolworths.
Customers will save on products they need to feed their family every day like RSPCA approved whole chickens down to $3.90 per kilo (down from $4.50 per kilo), RSPCA approved chicken thighs reduced to $11 per kilo (down from $12 per kilo), crumpets down to $1 per 6 pack (from $1.35) and lunch wraps down to $2 per 6 pack (from $2.30).
Coles chief marketing officer, Lisa Ronson, said this new campaign is to help lower the cost of living for Australians.
“We’ve been reviewing the products our customers are buying every day and determining where we can really make a difference to their cost of living,” she said.
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“Chicken is the number one dinner protein, so we’ve made a big investment in lowering the price and giving customers a whole RSPCA Approved chicken to feed their family for less than $4 per kilo. We know customers need bakery staples like rolls, wraps, croissants and muffins day in day out for breakfast and lunch so we’ve lowered the price on these items knowing it can make a big difference to their family budget.”
Coles is also introducing value packs and other pricing structures, such as :
- big pack value products like tea, coffee, tomato sauce, olive oil and rice;
- mix, match ‘n save with seasonally relevant bundle deals such as dips, yoghurts, snacks, bakery, prepacked vegetables and baby food where customers want variety; and
- hundreds of new Own Brand products to help customers find value and try the latest flavours, meal solutions and food innovation.
Solar power plants capable of generating sufficient electricity for 39,000 homes* will be built in regional New South Wales following a landmark 10-year agreement between Coles and global renewable power generation company Metka EGN.
In the first deal of its kind to be made by a major Australian retailer, Coles will purchase more than 70% of the electricity generated by three solar power plants to be built and operated by Metka EGN outside the regional centres of Wagga Wagga, Corowa and Junee – the equivalent of 10% of Coles’ national electricity usage.
The photovoltaic solar plants will supply more than 220 gigawatt hours of electricity into the national electricity grid. Producing the same amount of power from non-renewable sources would result in more than 180,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions^ every year, or the equivalent of the annual emissions of 83,000 cars**.
Coles Group CEO Steven Cain said the increased use of renewable energy was a major part of the company’s commitment to be the most sustainable supermarket in Australia.
“Coles has been a cornerstone of Australian retail for more than 100 years, and ensuring the sustainability of our business is essential to success in our second century,” he said.
“We are thrilled that with this agreement, Coles can make a significant contribution to the growth of renewable energy supply in Australia, as well as to the communities we serve.
“We have already made changes throughout our business to use energy more efficiently, which has enabled us to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 4 per cent over the past financial year and more than 30 per cent since 2009, despite growing our store network.
“Over the past two financial years alone we have invested more than $40 million in energy efficiency measures including upgrading all store lighting to LED by the end of 2019 and the installation of solar panels on 30 stores.”
Coles Chief Property and Export Officer Thinus Keeve said Coles was the first major Australian retailer to commit to buying renewable energy through a Power Purchase Agreement.
“Agreements like this are crucial to growing renewable generation capacity in Australia because they give the developers the certainty they need to invest,” he said.
As well as supporting large-scale generation projects, Coles is working with property partners to increase on-site generation of renewable power at stores and distribution centres.
“We plan to install solar panels on another 38 stores this financial year and we will be working with our landlords and property developers to identify further locations suitable for on-site solar power generation,” Mr Keeve said.
The projects announced today were developed by Australian renewable energy developer Terrain Solar, with the support of advisory firm PwC, as part of a portfolio of renewable generation plants. Metka EGN acquired the portfolio earlier this year and will build, operate and own the plants.
“Terrain Solar is incredibly proud of this landmark agreement that will underpin the construction of three new renewable energy plants in regional New South Wales” said Terrain chairman David Griffin.
The new solar plants are expected to support more than 250 jobs in regional NSW, including over 240 during construction and 10 ongoing roles.
Construction is scheduled to begin in September and the plants are expected to commence supplying power to the grid in July 2020.
As one of the three big players in the supermarket space, Coles is always under the microscope – usually via headline-grabbing mainstream news, such as the furore surrounding its and Woolworths getting rid of single-use plastic bags, or criticism over its Little Shop plastic toys not being environmentally friendly.
It is something that the company is aware of and knows it needs to improve on. James Whittaker’s role as the company’s head of responsible sourcing and quality has many facets – ones that are increasing, shifting and malleable at the same time. Over the past decade, Coles has put a lot of effort into not only being seen to be doing the right thing, but actually doing it. He cites the company’s policies on cage-free eggs and RSPCA-certified chickens. Then there is its decision to stop using the aforementioned single-use plastic bags, as well as its more recent foray into utilising solar panels on its buildings, and implementing the more environmentally friendly LED lighting in many of its stores.
Addressing a packed room at the Australian Food and Grocery Council’s Sustainability Seminar at the Novotel in Sydney’s Olympic Park quadrant, Whittaker laid bare what the company is planning to do over the next few years. Not only in terms of sustainability but how it can change the public’s perception of what its whole corporate philosophy entails.
He first asked a question of the audience. “What does sustainability actually mean?” There were no takers, so he gave his interpretation.
“Sustain means to keep doing something for a period of time,” he said. “For example, I could run for an hour, maybe two. But I couldn’t do it for 24 hours.”
He then put his definition in context when it came to Coles’ business and how it approaches sustainability.
“We could continue to put petrochemicals [in the form of single-use plastic bags] in landfill,” he said. “We can do that for a period of time, but eventually the raw material is going to dry up and the landfill is going to become full and we won’t be able to do it anymore.”
Whittaker and his team knows that the public is becoming more discerning about the environment – part of the umbrella that sustainability falls under. This is why the company needs to start spruiking its ideas on the environment and sustainability more fervently. Although he feels it has been transparent when it comes to corporate responsibility, getting the message out hasn’t worked as well as it could have, said Whittaker.
“Last year, we did a study and talked to about 30,000 customers every week,” he said. “We wanted to see how customers perceived Coles. We think we are doing a great job because we have all these great initiatives, yet when we talked to customers they came back with ‘You’re all about down-down (ad campaign). You’re about cheap prices. You’re a big corporate giant’.
“We thought, ‘We’re doing all this stuff, but we are getting very little recognition for it’. We realised we needed to do things differently. This resulted in Coles working to build a new strategy, which was launched recently at our investor session.”
Part of this strategy included concentrating on driving the health agenda, especially when it comes to Coles’ home brands.
Whittaker said that the company’s mission statement is, “to feed all Australians to help them lead healthier, happy lives”.
As far as sustainability goes, he admits that Coles has made the odd mistake in the past, even when it’s had the best intentions.
“I think back to when we launched our Kids with Bananas program,” he said. “When the team developed the product we looked at how we would send the bananas out, so we wrapped them in plastic. They arrived in big cardboard boxes and we were pleased because we said, ‘We can do away with all of that cardboard, and we can take the smaller bananas and we can put them in the kids’ lunch boxes. And if you look at the lifecycle, we are using less packaging’. Of course, all the consumer saw were bananas wrapped in plastic. You can imagine what they thought of that.
“Now, we have committed to all our Own Brand packaging to being fully recyclable by 2020. The Redcycle program has been a key enabler for us. On top of that, we’re committed to the Australian Packaging Recycling Scheme. I think consumer confusion over labelling and what to do with that packaging is an issue that needs addressing.”
Whittaker said the company is setting itself a goal of being Australia’s most sustainable supermarket – in every way possible. It’s an ambitious goal, and one that he knows is going to be hard but also achievable.
“We usually focus on price and other elements, so this is really a change of direction,” he said. “What this means for us is to focus on something that differentiates us from other retailers. It’s going to take a lot of work and there are lots of elements in delivering that.
“But we do have three main pillars in place that are going to help get us there. The first is working towards sustainable communities. The second is to make sure we are supporting Australian farmers – so we have an Australian-first policy. Finally, we need to be a key contributor to the communities in which we operate.”
Another aspect the company is keen to highlight is the safety of the products that are on its shelves. Whittaker said that both safety and sustainability go hand in hand.
“We decided that safety had to be part of the sustainability drive, too. Because at the end of the day, if products aren’t safe then the sustainability of the business is affected,” he said. “Then there are sustainable environmental practices. And this is far reaching. This goes right the way through our store network, our fuel business and working with our suppliers.”
And what about carbon emissions? This is something that the company has not taken for granted, and it has sought to identify where most of the emissions are coming from in its business. They have identified the main causes – now it’s a matter of putting in place policies that will address those issues.
“I was looking at some data early this week and found that 97 per cent of the carbon emissions that we produce are coming from our supply chain,” he said. “While we can do some of these changes ourselves, we also have to make sure we are working with the right partners and the right industries.”
And the transparency part of its new strategy?
“My team is committed to transparency. This is an important point. We are building our software solutions to be able to understand where all our products are coming from,” he said. “Take our Graze product, which is grass-fed beef – we have line-of-sight of all the livestock producers, and what that allows us to do is gather a lot of information about best farming practices. For example, our Graze beef producers have planted three million trees since the program began. That kind of information is very powerful.”
Time will be the measure of how successful Coles’ new strategy pans out, but in the meantime Whittaker knows what the endgame needs to be.
“We are hoping that it will change the way we think about business and about how our team members and our customers see us.”