Inside Woolies’ most exclusive store
IT may say Woolworths on the door but it's not your usual Woolworths in the store.
The supermarket giant has quietly opened a new concept store in one of Sydney's ritziest suburbs and it's as remarkable more for what it doesn't stock, than what it does.
There are "no nasties" in this store.
Welcome to "The Kitchen by Woolworths" which has been causing quite a stir in the harbour-side suburb of Double Bay.
"Customers have been excited about the store; before it opened they were tapping on the window to see what's inside," Woolworths format development director Rob McCartney told news.com.au at its opening on Wednesday.
It's a very exclusive store for a very exclusive suburb. And you might just get a sneak into the future of supermarket retailing when you step inside.
But the new store has been controversial, and if Woolies had lost a court case over a $10 million contract it may never have opened.
One potential customer wasn't convinced. She told news.com.au the concept was "rubbish" - but another said if it can work anywhere, it will be Double Bay.
TURMERIC THREE WAYS
Three times smaller than an average Woolies, at first glance The Kitchen actually looks like a posh cafe, with a menu offering turmeric three ways (lattes, quinoa and poached eggs), bowls of "forgotten grains" and corn and pea burgers.
It's only when you move past this, you get to the store proper. And it's a surprise. Firstly, here's a not very exhaustive list of what you won't find: Mars bars or any big name chocolate, Coco Pops, Magnum bars, Coca Cola, Pepsi, Vegemite, Omo or Radiant washing powder or any Woolworths branded products at all.
In fact, at least 500 products are completely unique to this location, many limited batches from smaller suppliers.
HEALTH AND WELLNESS, 'NO NASTIES' FOCUS
Mr McCartney said he doesn't even think of it as a supermarket.
"I call this a market with a very particular mission - an overarching objective of health, wellness, 'good for…', 'free from …' and no nasties," he said.
"Each line has an attribute that is better than its peer group in that particular class of product."
Even the shopping trolleys are special, each one made from the recycled remains of sixty milk cartons.
So what can you find in store? There's the largest range of gluten free products of any Woolies anywhere, an entire section dedicated to hemp food, something called "Rice Cream" which is frozen and has never seen a cow, and a huge range of sprouted breads. It also sells ready meals made by the site's previous owners, health food chain About Life.
There's staples, like milk, but the most basic brand you'll find is a2. And every piece of fresh fruit and veg is organic.
According to industry body Australian Organic, the organic food market is now worth $2.4 billion, and has grown 88 per cent since 2012.
Mr McCartney is a big fan of the store's hot chooks: "They're flame roasted, 40 per cent bigger with a lemon stuffed up their butt - it's the most amazing eat."
ONE-OFF TEST BED
In terms of own brand, Woolies' Macro wellness brand is all you'll find.
There's even a kombucha station where you can get a fresh glass of the on-trend drink poured straight from the tap.
Woolworths is busy opening Metro-branded small format stores in inner city areas; but don't expect a branch of The Kitchen to pop up near you soon. Mr McCartney said it was strictly a one-off.
"It's not a format were rolling out. It's an environment where we can test products that could end up being in other Woolies stores and to see what our customers are asking for."
He intends to regularly tweak the products, and if it takes off here it could end up across all its 1000 stores.
"This store is where we will find the next kombucha," Mr McCartney said.
He denied the store was a purely gourmet offering for moneyed up locals. Products that performed in Double Bay could end up in Doonside.
"There are premium customers here, but you tend to find things that begin at a narrow customer base often find a more general population.
"Gluten free isn't a reflection of wealth, that's just how you are wired as a human - it's across demographic, so it's not posh shops versus budget or mainstream stores."
Given the store is in Double Bay, nicknamed "double pay" due to the sheer size of the average pay packet in these parts, had Woolies considered adding a little extra margin to the products?
The very idea, scoffed Mr McCartney: "You can go and compare any products upstairs (where there is a full size Woolies supermarket) and it's the same price. And on ranges we don't carry in the main store, the team have been quite thoughtful as far as the price architecture."
Mr McCartney was unfazed by their being a pretty swanky Woolies right on top of The Kitchen. The new store had a specific mission and customers would use it to find products they couldn't source elsewhere, he said.
NEW STORE'S $10 MILLION STOUSH
Indeed, the space was always meant for a Woolies owned store. The whole block was developed for $110 million in 2014 by Woolies with the ground floor custom made for a branch of its now-defunct Thomas Dux gourmet grocer.
By the time it was ready to open, Woolies had already gone cold on Thomas Dux and sold the space to About Life. When About Life bailed that firm sold the store for $10 million to Sydney based greengrocer-cum-supermarket Harris Farm Markets.
Woolies wasn't happy about a well-regarded local competitor moving in and took the matter to court arguing they had first refusal on the space.
According to the judgement, Woolworths has argued it had a "symbiotic relationship" with About Life, reported The Daily Telegraph.
But if a company selling many of the same products moved in, " … as a typical Harris Farm store would, Woolworths would lose the benefit that the co-location with About Life brings to the supermarket, without obtaining any offsetting benefit," the judgement said.
Woolies won the case.
"Everyone would have loved Harris Farm," local Caron Stein, who was enjoying breakfast metres from the new store, told news.com.au. "But Woolies built this block, it was never going to happen."
Mr McCartney was diplomatic about the spat, and said he came on-board after the court case was over.
Outside the store, another local was sipping an espresso. She was less than impressed with the one-off Woolies. "I think it's absolute rubbish, I don't believe in organic at all."
But it wasn't a sentiment shared by Ms Stein, or many Double Bay-ites it seems.
"There's a lot of people who are gluten-free round here," she said.
"People in the area will spend their money in the store, but only if it's a good product."