Coles versus Whole Foods


Coles-broadway-deli-supermarketIf Whole Foods and Bristol Farms are the US yardsticks for best practice supermarket delicatessens and eat-in offers, then Coles has been taking notes.

Coles’ Broadway store in Sydney is one of the latest unveilings of its deli/bakery/eat-in offer first pioneered at Southlands in Melbourne.

The delicatessen format holds up pretty well against the Whole Foods in Seattle I visited a few days after Christmas.

Following is a bit of a roundup, but the pictures really tell the story.

What Whole Foods does better than Coles

Salad Bars: While Whole Foods pricing is slightly higher ($18.50/kg versus the Coles salads at $15/kg) you’re paying for variety and presentation.

Whole Foods had two well-signed double sided salad stations, each holding around 20 plus salads and components featuring complementing categories, such as nuts, sitting above.

Shoppers are able to make their own salad from components or scoop a pre-made salad mix into a tub.

Whole Foods' salad bar

Whole Foods’ salad bar

Coles has two small single sided salad stations located on the fresh vegetable aisle ends, each holding around 10 salads, most of which are traditional basic premixes.

The salad units require staff attention as bits of vegetable spread around the unit and onto the floor, so they looked messy and unkempt.

They also lack any eye level signage so they may be easy to miss.

International cuisines: Coles really only has sushi, pizza, and pasta. Whole Foods not only has sushi but other Asian, a Mexican Taqueria, and while you wait seafood.

Fresh cut fruit: Whole Foods features beautifully merchandised offerings by colour. Coles was out of stock, higgledy piggledy, and unkempt.

Whole Foods' fresh cut fruit selection.

Whole Foods’ fresh cut fruit selection.

Eat-in seating: Both chairs and tables and an island bar around the sushi counters provide seating in Whole Foods for up to 30 people.

Coles has only three tables, which were much appreciated by the parents with strollers when I visited.

To be fair, Coles have iPads showing Curtis Stone making recipes on the tables to keep you entertained.


Coles’ cafe seating.

Instore calendar of events: Whole Foods featured a combination of specials, opening hours, food, and wine tastings and events, such as meet the local produce vendors.

These were reasons to keep you coming back to the store.


Whole Foods’ calendar of events.

What Coles is doing better than Whole Foods

Delicatessen cheese and meat: This is excellent in Coles, with cheese guides and salami guides blackboarded on the walls.

There are large glass door cases containing product behind the counter staff providing the overall impression of range and absolute freshness.

There is also service, such as ‘we build your cheese platter for you’.

This is complemented by gondola end displays next to the deli focusing on ‘Coles Finest’ gourmet product and condiment selection which includes boutique brands like ‘Josh & Sue’ rather than Coles Private Label.


Toastie and coffee offers at Coles.

Barista coffee: You wouldn’t think this is a fair comparison really, given that Seattle is the corporate home of Starbucks, but Coles has a Lavazza barista counter next to the bakery that’s promoted on the digital signage at the store entrance.

Pity then that the Coles barista was nowhere to be found, irritating the small queue of caffeine lovers that had formed.

Cookware: Cook & Dine is the latest Coles incarnation of what started out as Cookshop; basically a clearly signed and segmented aisle of bakeware.

This gives it a level of focus; now it just needs to figure out how to tie it into recipes and the fresh offer.

Deli and bakery deals: Toasties and drinks and coffee/muffin type deals are common in Coles as a way of promoting its eat-in offer.


The pre-baked section at Coles.

Other notable new things in Coles

1. Bay of sandwiches and salads to go just inside the entrance had good variety and price points.

2. A gondola end of chilled single serve pies, pasties, and sausage rolls with sauces on top of the island also talked to the lunch/snack to go occasion.

3. Low profile bakery islands with glass sliding doors were attractive and gave a sense of discovery.

4. ‘Average adult daily intake of 8700kj’ stickers were present on just about every glass case of pre-prepared food.


Garlo’s Pies in Coles’ deli.

The only downer at Coles, apart from no barista, was the inability to take deli produce through the checkout. This confused me and other shoppers.

For instance you have to pay for your sushi at the sushi counter, which is fair enough if you’re eating it instore, but what if you want to take it away? This requires multiple points of transaction as you shop the deli vs centre store/checkout.

All in all, however, Coles is doing a good job with this new format, particularly for its location.

It’s nice to see an Australian retailer in the same shopping experience ballpark as the Americans for once. I look forward to seeing similar format stores roll out in CBD and office proximity locations soon.


Coles’ iPad stations.

Norrelle Goldring is head of shopper insight and retail strategy at GfK, and has worked with Coca-Cola, Goodman Fielder, and Vodafone. Contact her on 0437 335 686 or



  1. Angela posted on January 14, 2014

    I was fortunate enough to go to WholeFoods at Kahala Mall in Oahu and I just loved it! The takeaway food counter was amazing as was the whole store.i wish WholeFoods in Australia.

    • Angela posted on January 14, 2014

      That was meant to be ....I wish WholeFoods was he in Australia.A bit of competition is always a good thing.

  2. Angela posted on January 14, 2014

    That was meant to be ....I wish WholeFoods was here in Australia.A bit of competition is always a good thing.

  3. Daniel Fernandez posted on January 14, 2014

    This actually happens to be my local supermarket and it's a great concept which plays well to customers. I know my wife was impressed.

  4. Tom Mccann posted on January 16, 2014

    Great article Narrelle. Whole Foods is generally regarded as being a tad more expensive than many similar offerings in the US but the service and quality of the food is generally second to none - it has quite a cult following in some areas of the country. Next time you are over here check out Wegmens (a regional player in the North East) and Trader Joe's (found on both coasts). These stores are generally considered the #1 and #2 best grocery stores in the US, both have very distinct personalities and offer a great product assortment (Wegmean's more so than Trader Joe's) and service for a reasonable price. Wegman's in particular has a great fresh food / pre-prepared meals offering.

    • Norrelle posted on February 14, 2014

      Hi Tom Yep, been to Wegmans (HEB actually) in Texas among other places, their Cooking Connection store-in-store was outstanding. Trader Joe's have seen quite a few, don't see what the fuss is about from an execution POV I think it's still reasonably basic but Trader's private label products have personality, as you say. Norrelle

  5. Alan Hrlec posted on January 21, 2014

    Coles obviously haven't studied Whole Foods very closely! Coles is very clinical and nothing like Whole Foods. I agree with Angela I to wish Whole Foods came to AUstralia.

  6. Vic Cherikoff posted on February 17, 2014

    What is Coles really trying to do? Add a cafe to sell more rubbish products? Not a very clever idea as research shows that hungry customers buy more (never go shopping when you are feeling hungry). And iPads with Curtis Stone - spare me! That's enough to get the diet started AND bring up breakfast. WholeFoods and other US outlets are pretty impressive to be sure but you need to make rubbish food look good to sell it. Coles has the same poor quality consumables and no atmos, appeal or drawing power. Shopping in Australia is like breath hold diving. You want to get lots done in a minimum of time and quickly get out to where you can breathe again. Why bother with cafe/eateries? A supermarket is NOT a nice place to be.

  7. Cynthia Power posted on September 16, 2014

    I was lucky enough to travel through the US last year and discovered the Whole Food phenomenon. In fact i made it a point to visit just about everyone i saw. Australia is in desperate need of such a place..... the two big supermarkets here just seem to regurgitate and copy one another. We have nothing as fresh and exciting as Whole Foods here. Whole Foods have been quick enough to adapt to a market that longs for organic, locally grown and fabulous fresh fruits and vegies. I also found their health foods section second to none other when it came to variety. And the whole shopping experience is an assault on all senses. Visually appealing products and pumping music.... (Washington DC store was a truly exciting place to be in the evenings - the whole supermarket experience was flipped on its head ) Heads up Coles! Keep the progression happening and you will surely reap the rewards.

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