Coronavirus (COVID-19): latest updates from Australia

Date : 04 June 2020

In reaction to the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic Australian retailers have implemented lots of measures to ensure that everyone has access to the food and consumer goods products they need - we will continue to update this article with the latest measures...

Saying thank you

  • Woolworths has announced that it will reward over 100,000 staff with over AU$50m of free company shares and gift cards following the bushfires in Australia and volcanic activity in New Zealand at the start of 2020, plus the efforts made during the Coronavirus pandemic - full time staff will get up to AU$750 of shares, with part-time staff rewarded on a pro-rata basis.

New relevant product launches

  • With more Australian's eating at home, Woolworths has launched 60 new products that aim to make dinnertime more convenience and healthy for shoppers. It is the biggest product launch by the retailer since Christmas and includes soups, ready meals, traybakes, slow cooked meats, one pan dishes, side dishes, stir fry kits and ready-to-cook roasts.

Impacts to online delivery

  • Woolworths has introduced a new permanent offer for its Delivery Unlimited subscriptions customers who are over 60 years old, offering a 10% discount on the service. The move is expected to try and encourage older customers who have tried online grocery shopping during the lockdown to stick with the service. The retailer is also using its new delivery partnerships with Yello, Uber and Sherpa to offer select flower bouquets for delivery during Mother's Day.

  • Metcash's Independent Brands Australia (IBA) business supplies liquor to banners including Cellarbrations, The Bottle-O and IGA Liquor. On April 6 IBA launched a new ecommerce service called Shop MyLocal in partnership with Marketplacer. The platform rollout was accelerated due to COVID-19 and is available to all IBA retailers who have shown interest following just three months development. The new marketplace will allow more IBA retailers gain an online presence, with just 3% of IBA retailers with an online service prior to launch, 179 stores were live on the service by 1 May, offering both Click & Collect and Local Home Delivery.

  • Woolworths CEO, Brad Banducci, has said that the retailer has fast tracked its digital and online investments planned for the next two years and implemented them over an eight week period to help meet the unprecedented demand for online groceries. Woolworths restarted normal online operations on 22 April, with the CEO believing that the retailer will be in a strong position post the pandemic. He predicted that Woolworths and Big W's operations will become more aligned in the future and that pick-up would need to evolve to be more 'contactless'.

  • Woolworths has reportedly doubled its online capacity, with sales likely to top AU$3bn by the end of its FY21. Alongside the retailer's 800 delivery trucks, it has partnered with 5,000 third party couriers to meet the growing demand, as well as launch a temporary 7,000 sq m online delivery hub in Melbourne's Notting Hill that can service an additional 5,000 orders a week. Partnerships include those with Drive Yellow and Sherpa that offer up to 40 items delivered the next days. The retailer is also testing a new partnership with Uber out of Townsville. 

  • Coles reopened its home delivery and click & collect services to shoppers on Tuesday 21 April, having doubled its capacity for orders. Coles suspended its online services on 16 March so that it could ensure that its stores maintained stock levels and operation. Door step deliveries will replace kitchen table deliveries, while vulnerable customers will be prioritised. Coles has also increased its theshold for free delivery from AU$150 to AU$200, as well as increasing delivery fees under this limit from AU$8 to AU$12. Coles said the new delivery fees reflect the cost of picking, packing and delivering orders to customers, with the new AU$200 threshold still some way lower than Woolworths, which is set at AU$300.

  • Woolworths has partnered with Australian foodservices supplier PFD, to get bulk goods delivered to essential businesses, such as care centres, schools and nursing homes, with the service possibly being extended to large households. Woolworths business customers can order from the PFD range of bakery, freezer, meat, poultry, seafood and pantry staples, with PFD packing and delivering within three days.

  • 7-Eleven Australia has developed and launched a new online delivery service in Melbourne, with plans to expand across the city and take it to new states over the coming months. The service was developed using the capabilities of last mile liquor delivery provider, Tipple, which it acquired in 2018. Orders are fulfilled from stores, mainly franchised one, with the stores taking the revenue and margin as they would normally. Delivery costs AU$7.95 and can be as short as an hour, but the majority of slots will be for the next day.

  • Woolworths is encouraging its Rewards customers to sign up to meal box solution provider Dinnerly. If customers buy three boxes for delivery by the end of April, they are rewarded with additional Woolworths Rewards points to the value of roughly AU$30. A standard Dinnerly box of three meals for two adults costs approximately AU$43, while the family version with three meals costing AU$75. Delivery is free. Dinnerly is owned by Marley Spoon, who Woolworths have a significant investment in. 

  • Woolworths has increased its online delivery capacity to all five Morton Bay Islands to the south of Brisbane, where a third of the residents are aged 65 or over and many have to come to the mainland to do large shopping missions. By the 20 April it will have tripled and doubled the service to some islands, while offering a daily delivery to others. IGA stores in the area are also supporting these remote residents, offering an online service that they didn't previously provide.

  • IGA are offering a new Priority Shop home delivery service from many stores. People can register online or via the phone, where they can place an order for one of four pack options; The essentials, Pantry Plus, Dog Pack or Cat Pack. The order is passed to a local IGA for packing, taking payment via the phone and delivery. Box and delivery costs vary by location.

  • Coles has followed Woolworths by launching its own 'Community Box' of essentail items. The box will also cost AU$80 and will contain enough supplies to support two people aged over 65 for a week. Each box will be flexed slightly depending on product supply, but will include long-life milk, cereal, pasta or rice, canned vegetables, fruit, snacks, coffee and tea, toilet paper and soap, plus other items. Boxes should come online soon and like Woolworths' version be delivered by Australia Post.

  • Woolworths has launched 'Basics Box' in NSW and Victoria. The box containing meals, snacks and essential items costs AU$80 inclusive of delivery and is targeted primarily at people who are not advised to leave their homes. The retailer has partnered with DHL and Australia Post to bring about the initiative. Australia Post will aid distribution, with estimate delivery times of two to five days, customers will be kept updated on their delivery via text and email. The service will launch in ACT and other states over the coming weeks. Woolworths will not be profiting from providing this service.

  • Woolworths has gradually ramped up its stores acting as delivery hubs to 200, up from the additional 55 stores previously. Woolworths tested the initiative of restrict the opening hours of 41 stores initially, so that it could increase online picking capacity and guarentee more deliveries for elderly customers. The initial 41 'priority delivery hubs' were spread across all states (excluding Tasmania) and will only open to shoppers between 11am-6pm for shoppers.

  • Woolworths is to prioritise online orders for elderly and disabled people and those in self isolation. The retailer has created an online form that enables customers to try and get an earlier delivery window. It is also looking at increasing its capacity of online delivery slots. Its online Pick Up service will remain unavailable nationwide. All Woolworths eliveries are contactless, with staff staff leaving groceries at the front door in reusable bags, rather than entering a customers home. 

  • Coles will launch its own online business to focus on delivering groceries to elderly and vulnerable people, including retirement and nursing homes. The service known as Coles Online Priority Service will launch w/c 30 March, with Coles to reveal more details as to how the service will work by the end of the week.

  • Coles' delivery and click & collect services will be temporarily suspended from 18 March for an undisclosed period, allowing it to redeploy vans to deliver products to customers most in need. It has also suspended deliveries via Uber Eats.

  • With the service gradually coming back online, Woolworths is hopeful that its online delivery and Pick Up options will be fully back up and running just after the Eatser weekend. Woolworths had put on hold deliveries in much of Victoria, as well as its Pick up service nationwide for an undisclosed period, redeloying staff to restock shelves. In Victoria it was still delivering to certain areas in Melbourne, using its West Footscray Fulfilment Centre. It aims to turn back on deliveries in other areas as soon as possible.

  • In New South Wales, Woolworths has started working with Meals on Wheels to deliver toilet paper to elderly people’s homes. While Meals on Wheels in Queensland has also teamed up with the retailer to ensure that elderly and disabled customers will each receive one four pack of toilet paper with their delivery.

Effective and timely marketing

  • At the start of April Coles partnered with some well knwon Australian chefs to create 'What's for Dinner' cooking segments during the Channel Seven 6pm news. The segments showcase easy and affordable meal solutions, helping Australian create family meals during lockdown.. Having proven popular, the initiative has been extended until 30 June. The videos are also available on Coles’ YouTube channel, Coles Facebook and Instagram pages, as well as its website. 

Early opening hours for those in need

  • Woolworths has announced that its stores will return to normal pre-COVID operating hours from Monday 11 May. Community hours will also be phased out, but these along with opening hour restrictions would be re-introduced if required.

  • Coles has announced that it will be scrapping its community hour shopping period for the elderly, sick, emergency and healthcare workers, with the last one to run on 7 May. Coles will also be extending opening hours to 6am in over 200 stores where it is allowed to.

  • Coles has announced that it will open its stores exclusively for healthcare and emergency services workers between 7-8am on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Starting on Thursday 26 March, doctors, nurses, paramedics, other hospital and ambulance staff, police, firefighters and emergency service workers can enter the stores at the set time if they either show a AHPRA card, workplace ID, or are in work uniform. Coles will still be opening stores early for elderly and disabled customers on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings. Those with a government-issued pension card, Commonwealth Seniors Health Card, Companion Card or Healthcare Card will be allowed to enter the stores between 7-8am.

  • Woolworths will also open its stores early on Tuesday and Thursdays for emergency services and healthcare workers. Woolworths has confirmed it will continue its dedicated shopping hour from 7-8am for the elderly and people with disabilities on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The trading hour came into effect from 17 March to ensure that those most vulnerable to coronavirus will be able to access staple items. To access a Woolworths supermarket before 8am, customers need to show a concessions or seniors card.

  • The move replicates that of an IGA store in Altona, Melbourne that will also open for elderly customers at varying times until 7 April.

Limitations on the number of products purchased

  • Coles has relaxed purchasing limits on all products, at one time the retailer had restrictions on 24 products of two packs or less per transaction.

  • Woolworths and Coles have relaxed restrictions on product purchasing limits. Woolworths has maintained restrictions of two products in a handful of categories, while Coles has relaxed limits on many items, but will maintain a two product limit on flour, dry rice, eggs, frozen vegetables, frozen desserts, liquid soap and anti-bacterial wipes.

  • Woolworths has started introducing purchase limits on almost all packaged goods, limiting transactions of any brand or pack variety to two per customer. The only exceptions are across fresh fruit and vegetables, meat (excluding mince), seafood, deli, bakery, fresh milk, canned fish, drinks, yoghurt, pet food and Easter chocolate. It has also placed a limit on fresh milk of two bottles per customer.

  • Coles has placed a limit on mince, pasta, flour, dry rice, paper towels, paper tissues and hand sanitisers, but has extended this to other items including eggs, chilled pasta, frozen vegetables, fresh milk and frozen dessert. With a limit of two items per customer. Toilet paper remains capped at one packet per customer. On 6 March Coles placed restrictions on meat purchases. All meat products will be included, with purchase limited to two packs per shopper. On 3 April Coles announced that it would be removing purchase limits on fresh meat and milk, having purchased double the stock it would normally order over the past four weeks.

  • Aldi Australia has implemented a purchase of two items per customer on pasta, flour, rice, paper towels, tissues and hand sanitisers, with toilet paper limited to one pack per customer.

Foodservice supporting the effort

  • McDonald's has closed all of its restuarants for dine-in, but continues to operate takeaway, delivery and drive thru services. From the 1 April it has also added English muffins, gourmet bread rolls and two and three litre bottles of milk to its menu, helping shoppers maintain basic needs. Over the coming weeks it will also add eggs and specialist milk varieties to its menu. Customers can have grocery items delivered also via its partnerships with UberEats, Deliveroo and DoorDash.
  • Cafe franchise business, The Coffee Club has launch 'Care Kits' for home delivery that includes a carton of milk and a standard loft of bread for AU$8. The package can also be personalised to include coffee, cake and other menu items. The kits are delivered via Uber Eats, with the chain positioning them as gift, as well as for personal use.

Ensuring social distancing in-store

  • Woolworths has started rolling out one way aisle to its stores to improve social distancing. The initiative started in 10 NSW and Victorian stores and will be rolled out more widely if successful. It has also installing plexi-glass screens between self service checkouts at 200 stores, in additions to the 1.5 m distancing rule that has been implemented, resulting in every second checkout in self-service being used. It is also installing hand sanitiser stations at the entrance and exits of 95% of its supermarkets.

  • Coles, Woolworths and Aldi have announced plans to limit the number of shoppers in its stores at any one time. Woolworths store managers will be responsible for managing the number of customers in their stores, with the number allowed based on store size, plus signs and cones marking out where people should queue. Coles will be doing the same and has requested people to shop alone to help ease congestion. While Aldi will limit the number of customers to between 70-100 at any time.

  • Coles has introduced some new guidelines for customers to ensure social distancing is maintained in-store. It is asking customers to use their trolley as a guide for spacing between shoppers, to load products onto the checkout from the end and wait for the customer in front to finished their transaction, to pack their own bags and pay with cards and not cash.

  • Woolworths has started installing transparent screens at its checkouts to ensure that its staff and customers remain seperated at the checkout. The first screens have started to be installed in Sydney’s Town Hall and Kellyville North stores, with plans to roll these out nationwide to all stores over the coming weeks.

  • Woolworths is using in-store signage, digital screens at the front of its stores and floor markings at checkouts to remind shoppers to keep their distance from each other. It is also requesting that customers use ‘tap and pay’, use their trollley as a distance guide to keep shoppers apart and asking customers to wash their hands before entering its stores. It is also rotating checkout staff every two hours to limit face-to-face interaction, as well as asking shoppers to pack their own bags. 

  • Aldi has introduced its own social distancing measures, which includes limiting the number of people allowed in some of its stores at any one time. It is also asking customers to let those less able or requiring assistance to be able to move to the front of the queue.

Using technology to be more contactless

  • Woolworths, Coles and other retailers across Australia will increase contactless card payment limits from AU$100 to AU$200 to speed up payments and reduce the number of people using keypads to insert their pin numbers in-store. The new limit will be in place for three months and extended if required. 

Improving store hygiene

  • Woolworths has almost doubled its in-store cleaning budget during the pandemic, bringing in external cleaning companies, as well as increasing the frequency of cleaning. Important areas in-store include all handles throughout the store including on the fridge and bakery areas, trolley and basket handles and baby capsules, bench tops including the deli counter, touch screens, eftpos keypads, coin dispenser, plus back of house areas including team lunch rooms, amenities, and all door handles / push plates.

  • As well as closing stores early to restock items without customers in the stores, Coles has increased store cleaning to between two to three times per day. As well as shifting restocking shelves from close at 8pm to 3am, night shifts are additionally being used to sanitise the deli, bakery, fresh produce preparation areas, specialty trolleys (including parental, additional needs and wheelchair trolleys) and store floors.

  • Woolworths has double the amount of time spent on cleaning it stores, resulting in up to 10 hours a day will be dedicated to cleaning in some shops. The retailer has upgraded its cleaning products to include hospital-grade disinfectant, plus is more regularly cleaning counters and other surfaces, as well as encouraging staff to regularly wash their hands, with many team members, including checkout staff, wearing protective gloves.

Supporting the community

  • With pubs and restaurants closed, Coles has added 24 small independant breweries to its supply chain. Coles is working with Hop Nation Brewing Co to ensure that small suppliers of beer can continue trading. It has already creates a 12 item variety pack via Hop Nation, in partnership with 12 local independent brewies in Victoria. Plus it will launch a 24 pack of ‘Communitinnies’ that will include beers from some of the country’s best independent brewers. The packs will be available at Coles Liquor's 900 stores nationwide.

    The move follows the creation of a 12-pack mixed case by Hop Nation in collaboration with a dozen local independent breweries, which hit Coles Liquor stores in Victoria recently.

  • Woolworths has given away 20,000 Easter eggs and 20,000 Easter bunnies to healthcare at hospitals across Australia, as a thank you for their efforts in fighting coronavirus.

  • Woolworths has started offering rental support and employment opportunities for tenants in its 28 shopping centres. With non-essential retail closed, the retailer is offering flexible contracts and prioritising new roles for employees of its tenants.

  • Coles has announced it will donate additional AU$1m of food products a week to Australians who are facing difficult times as a result of the coronavirus. Donations will be given to food relief organisations, Foodbank and SecondBite who will distribute the products to over 3,800 food programs across Australia. The scheme builds on existing activity of donating surplus food to charities that the retailer already operates.

Importance of working together

  • Woolworths has reduced the payment terms for small suppliers. Currently the Australian supermarkets business pays snmall suppliers with 14 days of invoice or goods being received. However, this will now be extend across the entire Group, including Edeavour Drinks, Big W and New Zealand supermarkets. The new terms will be in place until the end of June, when they will be reviewed again. They are expected to impact around 1,100 suppliers.

  • The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on 23 March relaxed competition regulations, allowing Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, IGA (Metcash) and any other grocery retailer to share ideas and strategies on how best to work with manufacturers, suppliers, transport and logistics providers at the current time. The move should also help Woolworths and Coles co-ordinate how best to restart their online services and point them towards supporting those most in need. The deregulation does not apply to pricing information.

  • Woolworths, Coles, ALDI and IGA have collaborated to provide a unified and consistent response to consumers in Australia. On the 18 March the four leading Australian grocers released a full page statement in the press with the title “Working together to provide for all Australians”.

  • The statement reassured customers that the major chains are working with their suppliers to ensure every Australian has the food and essentials they need. It also calls on shoppers to be 'more considerate' around ensuring there is enough product for everyone, especially the elderly and people with disability. Finally, it thanks staff for their hard work and dedication, as well as that customers show staff the respect they deserve at this busy time.

  • Woolworths are amoungst a number of businesses that have encouraged Qantas staff to apply for short-term jobs at its support office, supply chain facilities, customer fulfilment centres and stores. Qantas has stood down 20,000 works temporarily due to the drop in demand for air travel.

Retailer reassurance / transparency

  • On Thursday 9 April, Woolworths CEO, Brad Banducci attended a live Q&A on The Daily Telegraph website. He explained why special offers have had to be reduced to prioritise product availability. Toilet paper sales remain +45% YOY, but supply is +70%, therefore availability is improving. The retailer now has 200 Priority Delivery Hubs in operations nationwide and Pick Up is getting back up to speed. The health and safety of staff are the number one priority and it has been working with local distilleries to secure hand sanitiser. It has also secured 40 weeks (700k bottles) for resale, which will be sold from behind the customer service desks in-store, while restrictions on other products are gradually being lifted. Finally, it is limiting the numbers of shoppers in all stores, with staff at the store entrances using an app to track the numbers.

  • Woolworths CEO has written to customers via a full page newspaper advert to request them to only buy what they require. For the w/c 30 March Woolworths was still selling double the usual volume of toilet paper and has ordered an additonal 1,000 pallets of pasta (500k packets) to keep up with the demand. Two of the retailers fastest growth categories over the week were cake mixtures and cleaning products.

  • Coles has let Nine News Australia into its distribution centre to show that the retailer has plenty of reserves of tiolet paper, the challenge is getting it to the stores. In responses its logistic's partner Linfox has laid on 100 additional delivery drivers to try and get stores restocked.

  • Woolworths chief executive, Brad Banducci has told the public that 85% of food consumed in Australia is grown or produced in the market and that there is no supply issue. He also said that three main toilet paper manufacturers in Australia are operating their factories 24 hours per day to meet the demand.

Keeping availability levels up

  • With stock levels returning to normal, but buying restrictions remaining in place, Aldi announced at the end of Apirl that its stores will return to their normal trading hours unless state and local trading restrictions applied.

  • Coles has opened three new pop up distribution centres in NSW, Victoria and Queensland to help meet demand for products in-store. Additional temporary centres are also set to open, which will also create new employment opportunities.

  • Australia's major grocery retaiilers are relaxing rules around the specification of produce. To ensure that availability remains high, Coles and Woolworths will be selling fruit and vegetables that would otherwsie not meet criteria around appearance and size.

  • Woolworths will be closing all of its stores in Australia early in a bid to keep product availability levels up. The stores will close at 8pm on Wednesday 18 March to allow staff to restock shelves.

  • Coles is also closing stores from 8pm to restock and clean stores without customers.

  • Aldi Australia announced that it would be reducing the trading hours of its stores from 18 March. Stores are to open from 9:30am to 7:00pm, allowing staff more time to restock products and clean the stores, as well as employees more flexibility to look after family members. From April 6 Aldi has temporarily extend its trading hours, to 8:30am to 7pm unless local restrictions apply. It has also announced that it will close all stores on Good Friday (10 April) and Easter Sunday (12 April) to give staff  a 'well-deserved break'.  The changes will be reviewed on a weekly basis.

  • Aldi Australia has started prioritising essential grocery items ahead of its Wednesday and Saturday Special Buys. An Aldi statement, commented, 'We are currently prioritising the transport and distribution of our core grocery items and this may result in some advertised Special Buys not being available on the advertised on-sale date." In some stores, space for Special Buys products has been given over to food and grocery products to ensure greater availability.

Recruitment to keep up with demand and support economy

  • Woolworths is looking to recruit 20,000 new casual employees into the business. The new roles are understood to help add hours in-store, as well as help the retailer rapidly scale up its online capacity in the months ahead.

  • Coles has recruited more than 7,000 new staff members in the space of two weeks since the pandemic took hold in Australia and plans to now recuit 5,000 more. The retailer is looking for both skilled and unskilled labour, including bakers, shelf stackers and checkout operators, with these people fast tracked into the business. In its first round, Coles confirmed that it has had 36,000 people apply for its new casual employee positions. 

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