Woolworths plans $370 million rebrand, upgrade of its NZ store network

Woolworths Group is to rebrand its chain of 194 Countdown stores in New Zealand under the Woolworths name. 

The rebranding is part of a $370 million, three-year transformation plan for the company which will see older stores revamped and an upgraded customer loyalty program. 

In a statement, the company said the rebranding was to create “a name well known locally given the brand’s long history in the country”. Signage on individual stores will begin to change “in the coming months” with the business name changing early next year and the entire network transformed over the next two years.

Spencer Sonn, MD of Countdown and Woolworths Group New Zealand, said he believed the time was right for the company to “accelerate the change” of making the company “a better business”, do more to meet customers’ needs and expectations, and bring more of its Australian operational approach to New Zealand.  

“In the coming months and years, you’re going to see us bringing the best of the Woolworths brand across the Tasman and equally sharing the best of what we have here with the broader Woolworths Group. We’re changing for the better and a name change for our stores is just one part of that.”

Everyday Rewards, the company’s Australian loyalty program, will be launched in New Zealand early next year. Customers will also see “more convenient e-commerce shopping options, a deeper connection to grassroots community activities, and further commitment to top quality fruit and vegetables”.

A Christchurch Fresh Distribution Centre will open next year to complement the Auckland one opened in 2022 and more than $42 million will be invested in additional security measures in stores and upskilling team members. 

The Woolworths brand has a long and complicated history in New Zealand. Group CEO, Brad Banducci referred to Woolworths Australia opening a store in Wellington back in 1929, illustrating the brand’s legacy there. Back then the chain was a department store until 1965 when the first Woolworths supermarket opened in New Zealand, before the company later bought the Self Help chain and from 1973 began rebranding those under the Woolworths brand. 

Hong Kong-based Dairy Farm Group, a predecessor of today’s DFI Retail Group, bought that grocery business – including other banners – in 1990.

The Countdown banner was established as a discount supermarket chain in New Zealand in 1981 by wholesaler Rattrays, which was later sold to Australian business Foodland Associated through its New Zealand subsidiary Progressive Enterprises. 

In 2002, Progressive bought Woolworths from Dairy Farm to achieve a 45 per cent combined share of the market and create a grocery duopoly in the market – alongside locally-owned co-operative-structured Foodstuffs – that has endured until today.

The merger of the two businesses left Progressive with two full-service supermarket brands – Woolworths and Foodtown – and two discount brands – Countdown and Big Fresh – along with a collection of grocery-store banners. 

Woolworths Group (Australia) bought Progressive in 2005 and subsequently set about rationalising the brands, banners and formats, removing three of its four mainstream supermarket banners from the market, and settling – perplexingly at the time – on Countdown for all of its large-format stores. Countdown stores later took on the same colour scheme and livery as Australian Woolworths stores with the distinctive apple-shaped W turned on its side as a C. 

Now Woolworths Group is to rebrand its now ‘full-service’ Countdown network under the same name as it operates across the Tasman. 

“The next stage of our transformation and the rebranding of our stores to Woolworths Supermarkets New Zealand, means we’re doubling down on our trans-Tasman connection to bring the very best to our Kiwi customers,” said Banducci. “That includes a refreshed loyalty program focused on providing more value and a materially improved fresh offer.”

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