The chief executive of supermarket giant Coles has backed an NSW-style approach to managing the COVID-19 crisis in Victoria, saying reopening the economy with low but well-managed case numbers would be the best way forward in the long term.
Steven Cain, who heads up the $24 billion grocer, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that while he admired the work done in Victoria to suppress the second wave, states such as NSW had done a “very good job” at managing the virus while still keeping things open.
“If we can do as good a job as NSW appears to be doing over a longer period of time, then that appears to be the best of both worlds,” Mr Cain said.
“The virus is contained, the vulnerable are protected but more business is able to be done.”
On Monday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews conceded case numbers in the low-to-mid teens could be “as good as it gets” for the state, as the stubborn “long tail” of the virus dashed hopes of the rolling average dropping to five by the mooted reopening date of October 19.
Similarly, critics have increasingly questioned the state’s strict roadmap out of lockdown and have pointed to the management of the virus in NSW, which has reported a number of double-digit daily caseloads in the past week but has much of its state open.
While supermarkets are deemed essential and have remained open throughout the lockdowns, Mr Cain said restrictions and lingering health concerns would affect shopping patterns for Coles at Christmas.
However, he said the supermarket was expecting “the biggest Christmas of all time” due to an estimated one million Australians who would normally be overseas being at home, and a significant reduction in people having Christmas lunch at a restaurant due to COVID-19 restrictions.
To combat this predicted rush, Coles is echoing calls made by other retailers for shoppers to spread their purchases out over the holiday season, with Mr Cain noting the supermarket was still operating under capacity constraints both in-store and at its warehouses in Victoria.
The supermarkets had previously warned strict operating restrictions for warehouses in Victoria could lead to product shortages at Christmas, however, the industry has since struck an agreement with the state government that has alleviated supply concerns.
Coles is also gearing up for online to play a major part in Christmas shopping this year, as a “large minority” of shoppers who have hygiene and safety concerns were expected to prioritise delivery and click and collect shopping.
Mr Cain’s comments come as the supermarket unveiled its latest Christmas range, which the chief executive said had been designed with the financial situation of many shoppers in mind. “We’ve got a lot of people unemployed … but we’ve also got a lot of people who are not spending money on holidays and other things like they would have ordinarily done,” he said.
“It’s a bigger change than we’ve ever seen in consumer behaviour, both in what people are spending their money on and how they’re spending their time.”
Coles has also launched a new upmarket range of collectables, with shoppers being able to collect credits as they shop which can be used to redeem MasterChef-branded kitchen knives at the checkout.
“People have been doing that much cooking at home this year that a lot of knives will be blunt,” Mr Cain said. “So we are expecting it to be very popular.”
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