COL retails groceries, liquor and every-day general merchandise predominately through its network of Coles supermarkets and Liquorland, Vintage Cellars and First Choice liquor stores around Australia
COL purchases groceries, liquor and every-day general merchandise from domestic and international suppliers that it retails through its network of retail stores and hospitality businesses in Australia:
COL has a 50% equity interest in Loyalty Pacific, the owner and operator of the ‘Flybuys’ loyalty programme. It also operates a credit card business in partnership with Citigroup and a home, car and landlord insurance business in partnership with IAG.
Grocery retailers are often characterised as high volume and low margin, but relatively stable because of the non-discretionary nature of the products they sell. Companies try to build economies of scale by developing national retail networks that optimise their buying power and supply chain efficiencies. Specifically, COL has indicated its near-term focus is to: transform its food offer by improving its fresh food offer, grow its home-brand sales, continue to evolve its every-day-low-price (EDLP) pricing strategy; offer anytime, anywhere shopping by investing in digital channels,and delivery options; improve its physical store network; reduce its operating costs structure, invest in developing a more efficient distribution and warehousing supply chain system and focusing on a team culture across the group. .
COL competes directly with a range of large company operated chains, small independent operators and speciality retailers. Its larger competitors within the supermarket sector are Woolworths, Aldi and Metcash (under its IGA banner group) in Australia. Its larger liquor retailing competitors are Woolworths (through its Dan Murphy’s and BWS retail chains) and Metcash (under its Cellarbrations, Bottle O and IGA Liquor banner groups). Its petrol stations compete with the Caltex, BP, Mobil (7-Eleven) networks and other independent providers like Puma, United, Freedom and Costco.
COL has successfully established a national presence and strong channels to market across Australia with a network of retail stores and distribution centres. Going forward, it should continue to benefit from increased sales and economies of scale through organic growth, expanding its product range and geographic presence, optimising its operations and supply chain as well as undertaking complementary and value-accretive acquisitions. Its possible downside commercial risks could include: an inability to adapt to structural changes within the retail industry with increased online purchases, changes in consumer trends and new instore consumer experiences; a broader economic slowdown that could affect the propensity of consumers to purchase discretionary groceries, liquor and general merchandise products; erosion of market share and gross margins from other multinational and domestic competitors; loss of a key customer, supplier or employee; changes to the availability, quality and delivered price of products and third-party supplier costs that are unhedged and cannot be passed on to customers through pricing increases; a depreciation of the AUD, which would increase the unhedged cost of its imports (equally, however, this could reduce the propensity of domestic customers to source alternative products from other competing international suppliers); and any inheritance of undue liabilities or commercial risks through new product offerings, store openings, acquisitions and entrances into new markets.
2018: Coles was founded by George Coles in 1914 when he opened his first general merchandise store in Victoria, Australia. Coles was first listed on the Australian Stock Exchange in 1929 (CGJ.AX) and by 1933 it had opened stores in every state of Australia. Its growth accelerated after the war with the acquisition and integration of other variety stores including Selfridges in 1950, F&G Stores in 1951 and Penneys in 1956.
CGJ entered the food retailing sector in 1958 through the acquisition of John Connell Dickins grocery stores. This was followed by the acquisitions of Beilby’s in 1959 and Matthews Thompson in 1960. CGJ opened its first dedicated Coles supermarket in 1962. CGJ entered the discount retailing sector in 1968 when it opened its first Kmart store as part of a joint venture and exclusive Australasian licensing agreement with S.S. Kresge of the United States. CGJ continued to expand into new retail categories with the acquisitions of the liquor chains Claude Fay Cellars and Liquorland in 1981, the footwear retailers Edward Fay and Eazywalkin in 1981 (later sold in 1988) and the women’s clothing retailer Katies Fashion in 1984.
CGJ undertook its largest transaction in 1985, merging with the Myer Emporium to form Coles Myer (CML.AX). The merger added a national network of Myer department stores, Grace Bros department stores, Target discount stores, Fosseys discount stores, Country Road clothing retail stores (sold the following year) and Red Rooster fast-food stores. It continued to focus on acquisitions, which included the Bi-Lo and Shoey’s discount grocery chains and the Charlton Feedlot beef and dairy production business in 1987. This was followed by its first international acquisition of Progressive Enterprises of New Zealand in 1988. The acquisition included the Foodtown supermarkets, 3 Guys discount supermarkets and Georgie Pie restaurants. CML acquired another complementary liquor business called Vintage Cellars in 1992 and opened its first Officeworks stationery store in 1993.
CML began to face increased scrutiny over falling profits and insider trading allegations. These eventually led to the rationalisation of its property portfolio and the sale of Progressive Enterprises and the Charlton Feedlot in 1993. CML launched its ‘Flybuys’ customer loyalty programme in partnership with Shell and the National Australia Bank in 1994 and by 2004, it had also established a network of Coles Express petrol stations and convenience stores after securing a petrol wholesaling agreement with Shell. It also acquired Mr Corks Liquor Group in 2006, which it later rebranded First Choice Liquor. Its financial performance, however, continued to wane and in 2006 it rebranded Katies Fashion, Fosseys and Grace Bros under the Myer umbrella before selling it later that year. Bi-Lo was also rebranded under the Coles umbrella and its Red Rooster fast-food chain was sold the next year.
CML was renamed Coles Group, shortly before it was acquired by the Australian-listed conglomerate, Wesfarmers in 2007. Wesfarmers chose to demerge and relist Coles on the Australian Stock Exchange (COL.AX). At the time, it owned and operated around 900 Coles supermarkets, 700 Coles Express petrol stations, 900 liquor outlets and 100 pubs, clubs and hotels across Australia.
2019: The terms of the alliance with Viva Energy, the distributor of Shell oil and petroleum products in Australia, was changed to COL receiving a commission on the volume of petrol sold through the Coles Express petrol stations. COL formed a joint venture with the Australian Venue Co, into which it sold its hotels and gaming business. COL formed a strategic partnership with Ocado, an Australian online grocery technology provider.
2020: The global Covid-19 pandemic forced major nations to temporarily close their borders and restrict people’s movements. This caused major disruptions to supply-chains, employment and consumer demand in almost every sector. COL was able to keep its supermarkets open, but was required to close its pubs and clubs for several weeks.
COL was first listed on the Australian Stock Exchange on 24 September 1929 and after various machinations was relisted on 21 November 2018. It had 1.3 billion shares on issue at the time of listing, 15% of which were owned by Wesfarmers and the rest by a mix of approximately 500,000 retail and institutional investors.
The COL Board collectively owned 0.0 million shares at the time of relisting. The Board currently comprises:
Steven Cain has been the COL Managing Director and Group Chief Executive Officer since November 2018. Steve comes from a retail background, having previously been the Chief Executive Officer of Metcash in Australia and Carlton Communications in the United Kingdom. He was also the Managing Director of food, liquor and fuel at Coles Myer before it was acquired by Wesfarmers.
Unless otherwise stated, all numbers are based on those reported at the end of the prior financial year.
COL’s historic Annual Reports, Presentations, Prospectuses and Other Announcements can be viewed below or they can be sourced from its website (www.coles.com.au) or the Australia Stock Exchange (www.asx.com.au)
COL.AX Annual Report 2019 - COL.AX Annual Result Presentation 2019 | COL.AX Demerger Scheme Booklet 2018 - COL.AX Demerger Presentation 2018
 Refer to Part 3, Division 5, Section 29 of the New South Wales Liquor Act 2007 and Part 2, Section 11 of the Victoria Liquor Control Reform Act 1998
 Refer to slides 5-10 of the COL Annual Result Presentation 2019