The process of rebranding will commence this year, with a gradual transformation of signage and store aesthetics over time. The comprehensive transition across the entire network of 194 Countdown stores will unfold over a span of several years. With a dedicated investment exceeding $400 million within the next three years, the company will focus on upgrading older stores across the nation, while also preparing for the opening of a state-of-the-art Christchurch Fresh Distribution Centre in 2024.
However, the decision to undergo this branding shift has not been without criticism, as concerns were raised about the substantial expenditure during a period of cost of living challenges. Nevertheless, Countdown has assured that the associated costs will not be transferred to consumers.
The Bethlehem branch in Tauranga, which first opened nearly two decades ago, has become the inaugural supermarket in New Zealand to transition from Countdown back to Woolworths. Following a significant refresh that spanned over five months and entailed an investment of more than $5 million, the store now boasts enhancements like a designated drive-up area for online customers, electronic shelf labels, and an overall modernized appearance.
Dwaine Geddes, the store manager of Woolworths Bethlehem, has been part of the team since its inception and is at the forefront of guiding the transition to the Woolworths brand. He expressed his pride in the completed renovation and revealed that special activities are planned for the store’s opening weekend.
The momentous reopening was led by Spencer Sonn, the managing director of Woolworths New Zealand, who underscored the significance of this undertaking. He emphasized that the substantial investment is not just about changing signage, but rather about modernizing the stores to align with the needs of local communities throughout Aotearoa.
In line with these changes, the Bethlehem store’s customers can expect upgraded sections for fresh produce, deli, bakery, and seafood, an increased number of self-checkouts, and new aisles featuring over 1700 new products. Additionally, the store has extended its support to local food rescue partners Good Neighbour and The Salvation Army through charitable donations.
A glance at Woolworths’ history in New Zealand reveals its establishment in 1929 as a general merchandise store in Wellington’s Cuba St. Over the years, it evolved, and in 1958, the first Foodtown store under Progressive Enterprises emerged in Ōtāhuhu, Auckland. The introduction of Countdown Supermarkets in 1981 by Rattrays Wholesale Group marked another significant step. The merger of Countdown and Foodtown under Woolworths New Zealand ownership happened in 1993.
Notably, the year 2005 witnessed Australian Woolworths Ltd acquiring FAL and its Progressive Enterprises stores, including the Woolworths New Zealand chain. Subsequently, a rebranding phase from 2009 to 2011 transitioned all Woolworths and Foodtown outlets into Countdown stores. In 2018, Progressive Enterprises changed its name to Woolworths New Zealand. Fast forward to 2023, and Countdown’s rebranding initiative to Woolworths Supermarkets New Zealand was announced, with the Bethlehem store becoming the pioneer to reopen under the Woolworths name.