Countdown over for Woolworths

SHOPPING SUCCESS: Branding expert Jonny Mole says the marketing industry reckons Progressive Enterprises has done a great job with the makeover of its  Countdown supermarkets,   known to shoppers for years as Woolworths.
ANDREW GORRIE/ Fairfax NZ
SHOPPING SUCCESS: Branding expert Jonny Mole says the marketing industry reckons Progressive Enterprises has done a great job with the makeover of its Countdown supermarkets, known to shoppers for years as Woolworths.

The countdown is over – two years after Progressive Enterprises announced it would rebrand all its supermarkets in Countdown colours, the last Woolworths store has disappeared from New Zealand.

It is 82 years since the first Woolworths opened as a general merchandise store in Cuba St, Wellington, in 1929. It was not until 1956 that Woolworths began selling food, at its first "Food Fair" store in Panmure, Auckland.

Yesterday, the last two stores to carry the Woolworths and Foodtown brands – Woolworths Meadowlands in Manukau, and Foodtown Browns Bay on Auckland's North Shore – were reopened as Countdown supermarkets.

The rebranding may save the company money, but Consumer NZ chief executive Sue Chetwin said it would not necessarily mean cheaper prices at the till.

The former Johnsonville Woolworths, which was also rebranded recently, was found to be the dearest supermarket in Consumer's annual survey this year.

"In places like Johnsonville they rely a little bit on the fact that it's the only supermarket around for miles, and a lot of people aren't going to travel vast distances to go somewhere else," Ms Chetwin said. "It's a captive audience to a certain extent."

Wellington branding expert Jonny Mole, chief executive of Chilli Marketing, said it made financial sense for Progressive to consolidate its brands.

"Three different brands have three different markets, so that's three different marketing campaigns and budgets."

Whereas Foodstuffs' New World and Pak'n Save chains occupied specific corners of the market, Progressive was faced with three brands all competing for the same customers.

The Countdown rebranding exercise had been a success, Mr Mole said. "They should be commended, it's been a massive rebranding. You never know what the customer reaction is going to be, but to people in the know, it's been really well executed."

He expected there would be some kinks for Progressive to work out in the next few years, such as in sites where it now had two Countdowns across the road from each other, as in Johnsonville and Napier.

"It doesn't make sense to own two supermarkets under one brand on the same block."

But Progressive managing director Dave Chambers said there was no hurry to close any stores. "We'll be guided by the customers, and at the moment all those locations are doing really well for us."

Breaking into central Wellington was still a priority for Progressive, but finding a suitable location was tough and plans were still being developed, he said.

A new Countdown supermarket is being built in Newtown, on the corner of Adelaide Rd and Hanson St. It will house five or six smaller shops and 235 car parks over two levels, with the supermarket on the third level.

SUPERMARKET WARS

Seven new supermarkets are planned for the Wellington region.

Foodstuffs, which owns New World and Pak'n Save, is to open new supermarkets in Churton Park, Newlands, Mt Cook and inner city Ghuznee St.

Construction of New World supermarkets in Newlands and Churton Park has begun, with the Churton Park supermarket expected to open in mid-December, and the Newlands one in August next year.

Foodstuffs also plans to open a New World Metro in Ghuznee St and a New World in Tasman St, but these are in the early stages.

Progressive Enterprises is building a Countdown supermarket in John St, Newtown, which is expected to be finished by Christmas next year.

Another Countdown will be built at Takapu Island, next to the Tawa motorway turnoff. Work will start early in the new year, with the new supermarket scheduled to open in December.

In August, Progressive was given the green light by Hutt City Council for a large new Countdown supermarket in Jackson St, Petone, nearly opposite rival Foodstuffs' Pak'n Save store.

-Fairfax NZ

The Dominion Post