02 May 2008

Woolworth's Thomas Dux challenges Coles.

Woolworths is set to add to Wesfarmers' supermarket woes with the first of its new Thomas Dux branded stores opening in Sydney.

With another store already earmarked for an August opening in Sydney's Paddington, Woolworths says the stores will concentrate on offering mainly fresh foods and a larger deli in smaller format supermarkets under the new brand. Some of the brands to be included in the new store include one's already stocked at Woolworths' deli counters as well as new ones such as Simon Johnson.

In a local release, Thomas Dux Grocer is described as "a bunch of people passionate about food" who care about "what you care about" and aim to make the food shopping experience "so much better." It's going to be prove challenging as no supermarket brand in Australia seems to be able to do this with all relying on similar strategies to maintain market dominance, yet with none with a particularly differentiating brand strategy.

The move marks a new chapter in the attempt by both Woolworths and Coles to capture what is an increasingly savvy grocery customer and replicates similar IGA formats in Victoria and Queensland.

The look and feel of Thomas Dux (retro name and logo) is very much in line with similar format stores in London for small grocers such as Shepherd Foods and Partridges, and the reliance of fresh and specialist lines for stores replicates similar strategies used by US organic grocer, Wholefoods.

Both Coles and Woolworths look to be under threat by changes announced last week by the Australian Federal Government which will see the market set opened up to international competition. Already US big box superbrand Costco is set to open in Victoria later this year.

Coles is increasingly seen to be on the backfoot in its battle to maintain the Australian supermarket duopoly (Australia is one of the world's most lucrative supermarket battlegrounds deliverying higher than world average margins).

While Coles is currently undertaking a major review of both its media and advertising buying and strategy under new CEO Ian McLeod, no new brand strategy has been revealed. It was the absence of a coherent strategy that so successfully undermined John Fletcher's tenure in the role.