""More than 60 per cent of customers think that fruit and vegetables are the most important Australian-made category"

Supermarket giant says Australians have a desire for locally grown produce

Australian consumers are placing importance on buying locally grown fruit and vegetables more than ever before, according to one of Australia's leading supermarkets.

Speaking at the annual Food Agility Summit 2021, Woolworths Group Chair Gordon Cairns told delegates 74 per cent of customers say buying Australian made items is the main driver in their purchases.

"We get around 11.5 million people through our stores every week, and we contact 30,000 customers every week to see what they are doing," he said. "More than 60 per cent think that fruit and vegetables are the most important Australian-made category, 56 per cent want clear labels that the product is Aussie-made, and 35 per cent of customers want signage that makes buying Aussie made items easier."

He says that there has also been an increase in focus for sustainability, with over 50 per cent of customers consider where they are going to shop depending on whether the retailer is committed to it.

"That is particularly important to our customers, and I must add that is particularly important to our staff as well," Mr Cairns said. "It is one of the main reasons they choose to work at Woolworths is our commitment to sustainability. In addition, 66 per cent of our customers think that taking care of the environment is important and 25 per cent of customers said that reducing the amount of plastic is the top three priorities. As well, fresh categories have consistently rated as an important aspect of sustainability in the past few years."

Another priority for the supermarket, according to Mr Cairns is to make healthy choices easy for the customers. He says the company has a pivotal role to play in helping address people’s wellbeing.

"It is fair to say that there is an obesity pandemic in Australia," he said. "That manifests itself in increased heart attacks, strokes, cancer and Type Diabetes. We are introducing fresh ideas where we are putting out 150 healthy recipes on both our app and our website to feed the family. Not only that but introducing healthier options to nudge consumers to eat healthier."

The Woolworths chair noted that using the word "disruption" to describe the COVID-19 pandemic probably underestimates what the company has been through in the past 12 months. First, there was panic buying that drove volumes through the supply chain that were higher than at the peak of Christmas shopping.

"We have probably innovated in a short period of time than we have in the past five years," Mr Cairns said. "It is amazing how the organisation responded to the crisis by innovating. We made direct to car boot (deliveries) available, so we take it out and put it directly into your car and it means you don't have to come in contact with people around the supermarket. We launched crowd delivery, which increased the capacity of delivery during the peak of COVID, and we partnered with DHL and made a 'Basic Box' that was less than cost, to make them available, especially to groups like the elderly who were unable to get out. We also digitised the shopping experience, so things like Q-Tracker allowed you to search and see when the busiest times were, and we rolled out scan and go and launched our rewards app."

He also saw customers shift to eCommerce, with at least 20 per cent of customers purchasing at least one new category online, and 30 per cent of people expect to continue to keep shopping online.

The Food Agility Summit 2021 was a two-day virtual, interactive event, featuring national and international speakers from the agrifood, technology and research sectors. Food Agility is a $150million+ innovation hub aimed at creating a sustainable food future for Australia's producers, consumers and communities.

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