Coles: Everything you need to know about the Aussie supermarket

For years Coles was Australia’s most profitable supermarket, taking the market share of the country’s grocery shoppers. The catchy “Down Down, Prices are Down” campaign which started in 2010, gave them a growth of 6.3 per cent in a year, and convinced customers their prices were lower than Woolworths. 

But, in 2017 that changed. Woolworths had spent $1billion on cutting their prices, meaning they could compete with Coles’ costs. They also came up with a plan to counteract the huge success of Coles Little Shop and Stikeez collectibles and started to give away Ooshies. The strategy worked and in 2019 the Woolworths Group had a market share of 32.9 per cent ($34billion) of the total grocery market, and Coles Group had 26.6 per cent ($27.4billion). 

Ivy Luo poses with her Coles Little Shop mini collectables in 2019. Photo: Getty Images.

When Wesfarmers, the conglomerate who owned Coles, announced in 2018 it was demerging the company, it was unclear what would happen to Australia’s first major supermarket. Two years on, it hasn’t retained its market leader position, but they did record huge sales in the first quarter of 2020 as people panic-bought and stockpiled during the height of the coronavirus pandemic.

We take a look at the history of Coles, and how it functions today.

How did Coles start?

Coles was founded in 1914 by a young Victorian man, George Coles. His first shop was bought from his father, who moved to Tasmania, and called the ‘Coles Variety Store.’ Based in Melbourne’s Collingwood, the original tagline was “nothing over a shilling.” 

Known for his entrepreneurial attitude, he introduced sales catalogues and made displays of sale goods on a table in the middle of the shop. By 1958 he owned 54 more stores, and by 1960, over 300 stores. Later that year, Coles opened the country’s first free-standing supermarket with its own carpark. In 1991, the stores were rebranded Coles Supermarkets and in 1998 they became known simply as Coles. Today the chain has around 110,000 employees and 2500 stores, with its head office is in Hawthorn East, Victoria.

George Coles' half-brother, Norman Coles, became managing director of Coles Supermarkets. Here he assists a customer at Coles Burwood in 1974. Photo: Getty Images.

Who owns Coles?

Between 1986 and 2006, Coles was owned by Coles Myer Limited, who then became Coles Group Limited. In 2007, the Coles Group was bought by Wesfarmers, who also own Bunnings and Kmart. However, in 2018, with Coles sales growing by 1.5 per cent compared to Woolworths’ 5 per cent, Wesfarmers announced the demerger of the Coles Group, and Coles was listed as a standalone company on the ASX. Wesfarmers still holds 15 per cent of Coles total shares, and a 50 per cent share in the Coles loyalty scheme, Flybuys.

What day of the week do Coles specials start?

Coles runs their specials in-store every Wednesday to the following Tuesday. You can see everything that’s coming up in the catalogue which is available in-store and online.

In June 2020, Coles debuted its new ‘Best Buys’ range which many saw as an effort to keep step with rival Aldi's wildly popular Special Buys. The first catalogue included a $79 weighted blanket, a $19.99 faux fur throw and a machine washable wool blend queen size doona for $54.99.

Best Buys products are currently available at 58 stores in New South Wales, Queensland and Western Australia but it's believed more stores will be added soon.

Who owns Coles MasterCard?

The Coles MasterCard is owned by Citi, who bought it from Wesfarmers in 2017. The card can be used in any store, not just Coles, and can also be used overseas.

In June, Coles launched its winter appeal to support charity SecondBite with help from ex-MasterChef judge Matt Preston. Photo: Instagram/secondbiteorg.

Who owns Coles insurance? 

Coles offers car, home and landlord insurance. All the policies are underwritten by IAG, Australia’s largest insurance group, who also underwrite NRMA and CGU insurances.

Who does Coles sponsor?

Coles partners several national and state charities. They have a long-standing partnership with food relief charity, SecondBite, where they donate surplus food to community food programs to help disadvantaged Australians. They also work with Redkite, that provides financial and emotional assistance for children with cancer, and have raised more than $35 million for them. They also partner with Guide Dogs Australia, Australian Red Cross and Clean Up Australia.

Where do Coles deliver?

Home delivery is available around most of the country. Remote areas need to be completed four or five days before delivery, depending on where you live. They are delivered by a third party transport provider that isn’t affiliated with Coles. Delivery is free on all orders over $200, wherever you are in the country, and is $12 for orders under $100.

Where does Coles meat come from?

All Coles Own beef is 100 per cent Australian sourced and has been since 2011. Coles Own brand chicken and turkey are RSPCA approved and grown on Australian farms. 

Coles branded milk is sourced from Australian farmers. Photo: Getty Images.

Where does Coles milk come from?

All Coles Own Brand fresh milk is from Australian farms. In Central and Southern NSW supermarkets, the milk is sourced from farms in those areas. 

Where do Coles eggs come from?

Coles says all their Own Brand eggs are cage-free, either barn laid or free range, and come from Australian farms. However, according to a Choice report in May 2020, Coles Free Range Eggs don’t meet the CSIRO model code of practice, which states there should be a maximum of 1500 hens per hectare on an outdoor range. Coles Free Range Eggs come from a farm that has 10,000 hens per hectare, although Coles Organic Free Range Eggs come from a farm with the recommended number of 1500 hens.  

Are any Coles open 24/7?

As coronavirus restrictions ease, some supermarkets have been given the go-ahead to open 24/7 again. Some of the Coles stores that are now open 24 hours a day include Burwood, NSW. For more information on store hours look here

Can Coles vouchers be used for fuel?

No. Coles gift cards can’t be used for fuel or at any Coles Express stores. They are not able to be redeemed online either, or at Liquorland, which is affiliated with Coles. You can use them in-store at any Coles, or at Coles Central shops.

Which Coles have Mix clothing range?

Mix was the Coles brand of clothes which were sold in some larger stores. They stopped selling the range through the website in 2019. Some stores hold a few items of the range, but it is limited. 

Can I return an item to Coles?

Yes. If the item is faulty, you can return the product, empty packaging or receipt of any Coles product and get a refund or replacement. This includes fresh produce and items from the deli. As of March 2020, Coles changed their ‘change-of-mind’ policy to discourage people from overbuying during the coronavirus pandemic, so it’s no longer possible to return something simply because you no longer want or need it. If you have bought something online that you want to refund or exchange, you need to phone or email in order to get your money back.

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