Coles Bosses Get A Rude Awakening After Being Challenged To Do A Weekly Shop On A $150 Budget


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There’s a particular feeling of dread that comes over the average Australian shopper when standing at the supermarket checkout.

You’ve popped in to pick up a few essentials, and before you know it you’ve cleaned out your wallet. Now Coles’ leadership team has been forced to experience the cost-of-living crunch first hand, after managing director John Durkan gave directors the ultimate challenge: buy a week’s worth of groceries for $150.

That’s how much the average family has to spend at the supermarket, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics Household Expenditure Survey.

“When I took over as MD I questioned how much we really understand the challenges our customers face,” Mr Durkan said in a November briefing, recounting an earlier team meeting about how much the average family was spending in-store.

“I stopped and asked the team around the table if they thought they could do a weekly shop for $150,” he said. “The consensus was it would be hard, but they could do it.” Just how hard, the executives would soon find out as they trawled the aisles of Coles at Melbourne’s Chadstone Shopping Centre, under instructions to buy enough to feed a family of four with two teenage children.


“I felt the pressure of standing at the checkout and watching the total amount click up at what seemed like an alarmingly fast rate,” said one exec, unaccustomed to having to pinch pennies.

One director complained of “frustrating” multi-buy specials that “forced me to buy more to get a good price”, while another lamented the challenge of “trying to buy healthy, fresh options and watching the price of fresh produce eat away at my budget”.

“I actually had to put some groceries back,” another said. “It is actually quite embarrassing, and yet this is reality for so many of our customers.”

The directors were given a 45-minute time limit in which to complete their task, in order to replicate the shopping experience of busy mums and dads.

After going through the checkout, they were faced with a real customer whose task was to review the purchases and give each trolley a scorecard.


“She had plenty of feedback,” said an exec who thought he’d nabbed a bargain with a half-price packet of Jarlsberg Cheese from the Coles deli.

The mum, whose family went through a 1kg block of cheese each week, was not impressed. “Six slices of Jarlsberg Cheese, what am I meant to do with this?” she asked. “I’ve got two teenagers, this won’t go very far.”

Another exec was chastised for buying just two litres of milk, when “my kids will polish off 10 litres a week.” The buyer of a $10 bottle of shampoo was advised that “when you are on a budget those luxuries are the first to go.” But the real dunce was the manager who popped a refreshing beverage into his trolley.

“Sparkling mineral water, are you serious?” the mum shrieked.

The shopping challenge made such an impact on the directors that Coles has rolled it out across its store support teams and graduate employees.

“We continue to put more and more team members through the program and most do it at least once a year,” Mr Durkan said.

“There is nothing more motivating than looking a real customer in the eye and having them tell you that you need to do better.”

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