Woolworths commits to 'concerning' store change despite customers' fury

Residents have held a meeting to voice their concerns to Woolworths over the conversion of the local supermarket to a Metro store.

Woolworths has ignored the pleas of angry customers and has vowed to press on with a controversial makeover of one of its main Sydney stores, continuing its trend of transforming busy supermarkets into Metro stores.

While the reason for the change was to "tailor to local" demand by stocking more of what customers buy and less of other items, shoppers are worried a Metro store will come with higher prices, less fresh produce and a smaller product range.

Following the outrage caused by the decision to convert Woolworths Alexandria in inner Sydney, Woolworths Director of Metro, Justin Nolan, attended a community meeting organised by the Alexandria Residents Action Group (ARAG) on Wednesday about the change to the store.

A photo of the outside of the Fountain Street Woolworths supermarket that is now functioning as a metro. A photo of one of the shelves inside the store.
Alexandria locals are concerned about their Fountain Street Woolworths supermarket being converted to a Metro. Source: Google Maps/Facebook

"Our residents made it clear to Woolworths that they are not asking for this change, especially given the many years it took to get a full size local supermarket opened in the area to begin with," ARAG member Ofir Zeevi told Yahoo News Australia.

"We've seen concerns with metro supermarkets trending towards higher prices, more plastic packaging and increasing range in gourmet products while removing cheaper offerings."

According to the Woolworths end of 2023 financial year report, sales at Metro food stores have increased by 21.6 per cent, while sales at supermarkets have only gone up by 4.7 per cent. Metro sales made up 2.5 per cent of Woolworths' Australian food revenue for the year.

Move could impact 'growing levels of food insecurity'

Lord Mayor of Sydney Clover Moore also attended the Alexandria meeting, and highlighted that the nearest Woolworths full-store will now be in Marrickville or Mascot, which is "concerning" for "vulnerable and elderly residents", and "those without cars".

A photo of Alexandria residents, Lord Mayor of Sydney, Clover Moore, and the Woolworths Director of Metro, Justin Nolan.
Residents shared their concerns at a meeting at Alexandria Town Hall with the Woolworths Director of Metro and the Lord Mayor of Sydney. Source: Supplied

"In the current cost of living crisis, I am concerned that replacing a supermarket with a store selling more pre-made meals, rather than a wide range of own brands and fresh food, will directly impact already growing levels of food insecurity," she said in a letter addressed to the CEO. "It will further alienate people on low incomes."

Woolworths goes ahead with Metro decision

After the community session, a Woolworths spokesman has confirmed the store has been converted to a Metro, with "no change to the size or footprint of the store, and the standard shelf price".

"We were pleased to speak with residents and customers and we will be holding a community information session at the store on Saturday," they told Yahoo News Australia.

"In some smaller supermarkets where we cannot easily expand the store, Metro conversions allow us to tailor the local range by introducing new product lines that are based on what the local community wants.

"It means we can be thoughtful in what we stock, so for example, in Alexandria we have reduced the number of products in what’s called general merchandise, things like batteries, light globes and stationary where sales are lower. We’ll still stock them, just not as many varieties."

QR code allows customers to get items restocked

They also confirmed the number of staff members will be increased at the store, and if anything customers would like to buy is not available anymore, they can scan the "QR code in-store" and share the details so it can be restocked.

"We have introduced more than 4000 products across our Metro stores as part of this ‘Picked by You’ program," the spokesperson said.

At the meeting, residents were also assured the deli and seafood counters would remain for now, unlike what is trending in some metro stores.

Councillor Moore was "pleased that Woolworths is listening to the community," however told Yahoo News Australia "there is a long way to go to rebuild trust". Her thoughts were echoed by Mr Zeevi, who said "the Alexandria residents will be watching what Woolworths do and hold them accountable for keeping faith with the community and restoring a level of trust".

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