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Turnover: R 74.300bnTrading Profit: R 26.700bnTrading Margin: 35.94%
Stores: 1,487Trading Space: 709m2Employees: 44,520
Listed: Yes
 
Woolworths

INTRODUCTION

Woolworths Holdings Limited is an investment holding company and one of the top 40 companies listed on the Johannesburg Securities Exchange. Its core business focus is the provision of retail and financial services to upper and middle-income groups mainly in South Africa but also in Africa, Australia and New Zealand.

Woolworths was founded by Max Sonnenberg in 1931 officially opening the doors of the first store in Adderley Street, Cape Town on October 31st. His belief, that success lay in providing customers with superior quality merchandise at reasonable prices, has been instrumental in establishing Woolworths as one of South Africa’s leading retail chains.

Today, Woolworths is a South African retail chain that extends, through franchise partnerships, throughout Africa and into the Middle East, trading through more than 1400 stores. Woolworths Holdings influence also extends to Australia with a majority share in the Australian retail chain, Country Road.

 

STRATEGY

Build stronger, more profitable customer relationships
Our customer insights and data will drive and inform all our business decisions as we become a more customer-obsessed Group. To build on this, we continue to enhance our loyalty proposition and offer our customers a connected retail experience.

HOW WILL WE ACHIEVE THIS
• Deepen our understanding of our customers
• Lead the market in customer loyalty and increase membership, retention and spend
• Build and leverage a single view of the customer, enabling customers to be recognised in real time, with delivery of personalised, seamless service across all our channels
• Embed customer insights and analytics across the Group as a core competency

Connected retail
We are focused on offering our customers a connected retail experience. This entails connecting our customer seamlessly from our physical store to our digital experience, and helping our staff deliver a consistent, brand-aligned customer experience.

HOW WILL WE ACHIEVE THIS
• Increased focus on the customer and integrated, customer-focused technology to move from a ‘silo-ed’ channel approach to a connected retail experience
• Define the ideal customer experience by format, channel, and services
• Digitally transform stores, improving connectivity to enable staff and customers to engage differently
• Build our digital channels with increasing focus on mobile commerce
• Balance our future real estate growth with the future demand for online

Be a leading fashion retailer in the Southern Hemisphere
We differentiate ourselves on quality fashion that is relevant to our customers through clearly segmented, design-led ranges and innovation.

HOW WILL WE ACHIEVE THIS
• Continue to differentiate products that lead the market in quality, innovation, and sustainability, through a world-class supplier base
• Build fashion credibility by delivering differentiated, design-led ranges
• Grow our private label brands and actively manage concession brands
• Strengthen our value proposition
• Offer the right product, at the right time, at the right place
• Grow margins through Group sourcing

Become a big food business with a difference
We are focused on providing our customers with consistent superior quality, flavour, and innovative food at great value.

HOW WILL WE ACHIEVE THIS
• Entrench our food authority credentials through freshness, quality, flavour, and innovation
• Offer our customers a comprehensive but edited range of most-wanted and needed items for every shopping occasion
• Maintain our strong private label offering with carefully chosen third-party brands that complement our ranges
• Deliver great value, balancing price with quality, innovation, and sustainability attributes
• Develop and grow supplier partnerships and utilise these partnerships to differentiate our offering
• Provide convenience in product, format, and channel

Drive synergies and efficiencies across the group
A key strategy for the Group is to leverage scale across the southern hemisphere. Through closer integration across business operations, we will drive efficiencies and add significantly to profitability.

HOW WILL WE ACHIEVE THIS
• Enhance margins through Group sourcing
• Creation of a single regional corporate structure in Australia
• Co-location of David Jones and Country Road Group in Australian head office
• Leverage real estate in Australia
• Leverage and invest in distribution capacity and capabilities to support growth
• Embed a mindset of continuous improvement in productivity and ongoing
cost optimisation

Embed the Good Business Journey throughout the business
Our vision is to be one of the world’s most responsible retailers. We will achieve this by entrenching our Good Business Journey programme throughout the Group. Through this programme, we embed sustainability into every aspect of our business model. We have committed to achieving aggressive targets by 2020 and aim to achieve them through focusing on eight sustainability pillars.

HOW WILL WE ACHIEVE THIS
• Transformation of our business and supply chain
• Contributing to social development priorities where we operate
• Health and wellness for our customers and our people
• Ethical trade
• Sustainable farming and sourcing of raw materials
• Reducing waste across our business and helping customers to do the same
• Reducing water consumption to manage scarce water resources
• Improving energy efficiency












 

SUSTAINABILITY

2020 Goals:
• Contribute R3.5billion to our communities
• Save 500billion litres of water
• Halve our energy impact by 2020 and source all our energy from renewables by 2030
• Responsible sourcing of all key commodities
• Have at least one sustainability attribute for all directly sourced products

 

CEO REPORT

2017: A year of challenge and transformation.

We are experiencing rapid technological change, altered customer behaviours, and a globalisation of retail competition. We are clear that we need to recognise these challenges and build a future-fit business that will be very different to the one of the past. Retail is in the midst of significant structural and cyclical change in the markets in which we operate. Political and economic turmoil in South Africa and a challenging economic environment in Australia are creating a customer lacking in confidence and reluctant to spend. In that context, 2017, and indeed, 2018, will be years of real transformation.

PERFORMANCE IN SOUTH AFRICA
South Africa has experienced a particularly challenging year with political turmoil and low economic growth resulting in the rating agencies’ downgrading of the country’s sovereign risk rating. Consumer confidence has been significantly depressed as a result of the downgrade and the continued political uncertainty. This has been further exacerbated by stricter credit conditions, higher tax rates, and high levels of unemployment. This lack of growth and consumer confidence directly impacted consumer spending, particularly in the Clothing and General Merchandise markets and this is reflected in the subdued sales growth of our Clothing and General Merchandise business of 1.4% on last year. Notwithstanding the difficult trading conditions, we continued to build our fashion credibility with our segmented, brand directed customer experience. We launched (&US) for the Tween demographic and further segmented our womenswear offering by rebranding our modern merchandise as EDITION. We signed contracts with market-leading beauty brands including Chanel, La Mer, Bobbi Brown, Estée Lauder and Clinique, and will continue on the journey of becoming a Beauty destination. Food continued to outperform the market with sales up 8.6% from last year. We have focused on price competitiveness without compromising on the superior quality, innovation, freshness, and sustainability attributes for which we are renowned.

PERFORMANCE IN AUSTRALIA
The Australian retail market continued to be negatively impacted by historically high household debt, low wage growth, and high levels of underemployment. This has led to subdued consumer confidence and, along with increased competition from northern hemisphere entrants, resulted in unprecedented levels of promotional activity in the market. David Jones sales increased by 1.0% (in Australian dollar terms) on last year. The termination of the Dick Smith electronics concession last year negatively impacted growth by 1.0%. However, despite the reduced consumer confidence and lower footfall, we managed to maintain our relevant market share over this period. Country Road Group sales, including sales in South Africa, increased by 5.1% (in Australian dollar terms) and by 1.4% excluding the acquisition of Politix.

In light of the difficult trading conditions, I am pleased with the turnaround experienced by CRG in the second half of the year, especially in Country Road and Witchery, as new leadership, a more customer-led approach, refreshed marketing, and modernised processes reconnected the brands with their core customers.

THE TRANSFORMATION IN AUSTRALIA
We continue to drive the transformation of David Jones and the growth and turnaround in Country Road Group. In the current year, we made good progress with numerous key initiatives in David Jones. Our new Customer Relationship Management programme, introduced in July 2016, is a key enabler for us to gain a deeper understanding of our customer and to use this information to inform our business decisions. We have already seen the benefits of more active and targeted customer engagement through increased website visits and direct email communication, which has contributed towards an increase in frequency and spend of our customers. The next stage of this journey includes introducing a new tiered regional loyalty programme in Australia. This will further embed our customer-centric culture and provide us with richer and deeper customer insights from an enlarged regional customer database. These introductions will allow us to attract new customers, drive up-selling and cross-selling opportunities, and optimise our marketing expenditure and promotions through more targeted and direct communication.

The performance of private label, which include the David Jones, Woolworths, and Country Road Group brands, remains one of the key levers in our transformation and growth journey. Woolworths private label brands, including RE:, Studio.W, and JT One, now occupy over 100 pads in our stores. The initial performance of the brands was hampered by poor visibility and availability due to system and supply chain issues. However, we have reflected on the lessons learnt, implemented numerous improvements to our processes and refined our pricing and merchandise selection to appeal to our target customers.

With its deep understanding of the Australian customer and its strong design capability, Country Road Group will now assume responsibility for the design of the David Jones private label brand. We will also continue to optimise the space allocation of the brands and remain confident that the private labels will continue to strengthen as the brands gain traction in the market. In August 2016, we sold the David Jones Market Street building in Sydney for A$360 million and we will now invest up to A$200 million in redeveloping our iconic Elizabeth Street store in the heart of the city’s dynamic retail precinct.

This store will set a new benchmark in Australian and global retail as we bring together a unique combination of contemporary luxury fashion and gourmet food under one roof while maintaining David Jones’ proud heritage and history. This will include a new restaurant developed in partnership with renowned Australian chef, Neil Perry. A three-year lease-back of our Market Street store and a coordinated, phased approach will limit the disruption to our customers. The redevelopment of Elizabeth Street will commence in the second half of 2017, with completion expected in the second half of 2019. We have made a great start to re-invigorating the David Jones Food business to provide our customers with an authentic food experience that offers consistent superior quality, flavour, and innovative fresh food at good value. This includes a new food store design that creates a food destination that celebrates Australian living and puts eating at the heart of the customer experience. This is reflected in the re-launched Foodhall at Bondi Junction, which opened in August 2017.

We also focused on enhancing our food offering to differentiate ourselves from the traditional supermarket and to bring our customers best-in-class product which supports the best of Australian food. Two production facilities were commissioned by one of our key, exclusive suppliers, which provide us with innovative private label produce and prepared food ranges.

Along with our shared Group knowledge and expertise, we will continue to bring our customers the best of the world in foods with premium private label product and excellent food services.
We continue to invest in transformational initiatives in David Jones to reduce the cost of doing business and improve our customer experience. In July 2017, we introduced our new world-class merchandise system, which will optimise trading and reduce markdowns.

We will also be implementing a new website platform that will enhance the customer experience by being mobile responsive, quicker and easier to navigate and provide richer content and online services. In November 2016, Country Road Group acquired Politix, a leading Australian menswear brand which has a distinctly modern and detailed focus that appeals to a broad base of fashion-conscious men aged 18 to 35. This is consistent with our southern hemisphere retail strategy of building a strong and diversified portfolio of iconic brands. Scott Fyfe was appointed as the new Chief Executive Officer of CRG in January 2017. Prior to joining CRG, he worked for 20 years at Marks & Spencer in a wide variety of roles spanning buying, merchandising, and sourcing. He has already made positive changes in CRG and I look forward to his further contribution during this exciting time. We have begun the exciting process of establishing a new designed-for-purpose Australian head office in Melbourne, co-locating the service functions of both David Jones and Country Road Group. The creation of a centre of retail excellence and singular operational hub under common leadership will create substantial financial, operational, and cultural benefits.

APPRECIATION
Our Group now employs more than 44 000 employees in 14 countries who deliver value to our millions of customers on a daily basis. I would like to thank them for their hard work and commitment to meeting our customers’ needs and exceeding their expectations. I would also like to thank the Board for their guidance and support during the year, and the management teams of the Group for their leadership and focus on driving the delivery of our strategic objectives.

OUTLOOK
Market conditions in the year ahead are likely to be constrained by the same economic and political conditions that impacted our performance during the year under review and we will continue to see more structural change both in South Africa and Australia. However, we expect our Food and Clothing businesses in both regions to continue to outperform their respective markets and we will continue to invest in our transformational initiatives, most notably in David Jones.

THE FUTURE OF RETAIL
Retail is likely to change more within the next five years than it has done in the last fifty years due to rapid technological developments and an increasingly digitally connected customer. These trends will influence the products and services we provide, how we present and sell our products, and even the type of stores we decide to build. The upcoming generation are strongly supportive of good corporate citizenship. They want to know what retailers care about and how the act of buying can be a force for good. The way in which we speak to our customers will also shift dramatically. Retailers will no longer have the loudest or most important voice – this will belong to the customer – and we will need to pursue personalised, transparent, and active dialogues with our customers. Increased personalisation will extend further into appealing tailored products, services, and rewards. While the rise of online retail cannot be downplayed, the biggest change in retail may, in fact, be in the physical store.

Indeed, a ’one store fits all’ notion will seem archaic. Our stores will need to take on many different forms with deliberate variations in formats and offerings to best meet the diverging needs of our customers. Furthermore, the physical store will need to be re-imagined to deliver truly unique in-store experiences and will remain a critical way to engage and connect with customers. We have clear Group strategic priorities which both address future retail trends and stand us in good stead during the more difficult trading conditions that face us in the immediate future. We remain confident that our strategies will deliver future-fit businesses capable of long-term profitable growth, continued market share gains, and sustainable value creation for all our stakeholders.



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CHAIRMAN'S REPORT

This year has been a challenging one for the Group. The deeply concerning political and economic landscape in South Africa, the tightening consumer environment in Australia and the on-going migration of David Jones into our world, have each been sizeable challenges in their own right. Each too will serve to strengthen the Group.

They have reminded us to refocus on our core strengths – beautiful, wanted merchandise at prices that offer surprising value for money, all within a deep values-based context. Our growing scale and our ability to operate sustainably across two geographies, continue to be core assets that will differentiate us into the future. This differentiation has never been more relevant as retail evolves into a seamless mix of online and traditional shopping patterns.

Our combination of private label, unique merchandise and the very special experience in our departmental stores set us up well for this changing world. Encouragingly our leadership teams in the operating divisions are generating some real green shoots. In South Africa, despite the economic climate, the Woolworths Food business continues to gain share of market and is back in volume growth.

The teams have stuck to their knitting of providing outstanding quality, real innovation and correct pricing. They have combined this with improved availability to keep this business different and special for our customers. Clothing too, in Woolies, is performing slightly ahead of what is truly a difficult market. Here, also, the economic headwinds that our customers are feeling and the on-going expansion of top foreign competitors, keep on driving us back to the core set of values which our customers so deeply trust – sourcing beautiful goods with a difference at value for money prices.

Woolworths has again been recognised as the most valued apparel brand in South Africa’s Top 50 Brand report for 2017. Brands are valued to determine the most powerful by country, by industry, and against other brands worldwide. We have been rated as one of the strongest brands in the country, receiving an AAA- rating.

David Jones was always predicted to have been a transformational acquisition for the Group. It has itself needed considerable re-engineering. New systems, new processes, a rejuvenated Food business, and the move to Melbourne where much of Australia’s retail talent is based, will all come together to create strong investment returns for our shareholders. The WHL Board confirmed our plans to invest almost A$200 million from the funds generated by the sale of the David Jones Market Street property in Sydney to refurbish the company’s flagship Elizabeth Street store.

We are fortunate to be able to share thinking with international departmental store peers from London to Paris to Bangkok. Their experience in capital cities with big tourism potential has been that magnificent (and effective) flagship stores can indeed be very profitable.

Excitingly too, we have launched our first new David Jones food market in Bondi Junction in Sydney. This has taken good learnings from the Woolworths Food business in South Africa and merged those with both Australian shopping habits and international trends in food retailing.

Our customers are excited, sales are ahead of target and we are seeing a real uplift in apparel sales in the store. In Country Road Group, despite a tough and ever more competitive environment, a fresh injection of merchant leadership has focused those brands on getting the right goods bought and delivered to our customers ever more quickly during the seasons. This division also leads the Group in online sales and the learnings from that are now being spread to David Jones and Woolworths in South Africa. For the period, Group sales increased by 3.0% to R74.3 billion. Earnings per share (which includes the profit on disposal of the David Jones Market Street property) increased by 24.8%. Headline earnings per share (HEPS) and adjusted diluted HEPS declined by 7.6% and 7.9% respectively and the total dividend was maintained in line with last year.

GOVERNANCE FOR VALUE CREATION
We are fortunate to have a strong and diverse Board which continues to guide and oversee our management team in delivering the Group’s strategy. Our governance policies and practices continue to be informed by local and international best practices, but most of all they remain underpinned by the deep values of the Group.

These give us the primary moral guidance in doing the right thing transparently and openly for all stakeholders. In September 2016, Chantel Reddiar was appointed as Group Company Secretary and Head of Governance, Risk and Compliance and her insight and knowledge have already contributed towards the quality of our governance structures.Thina Siwendu, an independent non-executive director, resigned from the Board in February 2017 after her appointment as a full-time judge of the Gauteng Local Division of the High Court, Johannesburg. I would like to express my deep gratitude to Thina for her significant contribution to the Board, particularly for her instrumental role as Chairman of the Social and Ethics Committee. I wish her great success with her new responsibilities. Nombulelo (Pinky) Moholi has assumed the role of Chairman of the Social and Ethics Committee and is already making a significant impact.

Following the announcement of a new, single regional corporate structure and regional leadership team for our Australian businesses, I am pleased to inform shareholders that, in conjunction with his appointment as Chief Executive officer of WHL Australia, John Dixon has now been appointed as an executive director of the WHL Group. John joined us in January 2016 as Chief Executive Officer of David Jones from Marks & Spencer (M&S), where he started his career in 1986. He joined the M&S Board in 2009 as Managing Director of Food and led the turnaround of that business before his appointment as Managing Director of Clothing and Home.

We welcome John onto the board.

After serving over 11 years as a Non-executive Director, member of the Audit and Remuneration
Committees, and trustee of the Woolworths Holdings Share Trust, Peter Bacon will retire from the Board and Trust at the conclusion of the November 2017 Annual General Meeting. I would like to thank Peter for his remarkable contribution to the Group and wish him well in his future endeavours.

OUR GOOD BUSINESS JOURNEY –VALUE CREATION FOR OUR SHARE HOLDERS
We place great value on our Good Business Journey, the GBJ, to sustainably deliver real value for all our stakeholders. We celebrated 10 years of this journey during the year. The GBJ was launched in South Africa in 2007 to formalise the greater role that Woolies saw it should play in the world around us. We took a key decision to run our business in a way that added back to the community around us and to the environment that sustains that community.

This has been an enormously successful journey. It has helped us save hundreds of millions of rands of costs and driven greater value for shareholders, staff and suppliers. We have given some billions of rands of date-expired food to the underprivileged and are approaching half a billion rand of direct support for individual schools through our ‘MySchool’ programme. We have reduced our own electricity and water footprints by over 40% and have dramatically changed the ecological footprint of our Food business in South Africa. We have a strong proven track record in enterprise development and transformation. This journey is now spreading to David Jones and Country Road Group. They are both reporting considerable positive impact on the communities around them. In each country in which we operate we are finding it easier to recruit top talent who increasingly wish to associate with companies for whom doing good is good business. Ian Moir talks of our vision to be one of the world’s most responsible retailers. He and his team’s dedication to sustainably create value for all shareholders remains the bedrock of this Group and further differentiates us from our competitors.

We have reduced our own electricity and water footprints by over 40% and have dramatically
changed the ecological footprint of our Food business in South Africa.

TOWARDS A VALUES-DRIVEN SOUTH AFRICA
I talked last year about the lack of values demonstrated by our South African national leadership. Never before has this been more evident than in the recent firing of Pravin Gordhan by Jacob Zuma in March. As a direct result, the country’s credit rating was downgraded and trust in government dropped to an all-time low. The president’s apparent concern for his personal interests above those of the country has put incredible strain on the economy. Already hampered by red tape and restrictive labour legislation, it is now exceedingly difficult for business, especially small entrepreneurs, to drive meaningful, inclusive growth and jobs.

As ever, the greatest sufferers will be the poor and those millions desperately seeking employment. I write this report on the morning after the No Confidence Debate. How difficult it is, even for a free nation, to remove corruption when, from what is so widely reported, it starts at the top. As a business leader, I am proud that in the private sector in South Africa we have such strong checks and balances.

Our corporate governance is among the best in the world. Whereas in our state institutions, those same checks and balances are being eroded daily - and nowhere more so than in our state-owned enterprises. There is no rational reason for many of these to even exist.

Our privately owned airlines serve the public well, employ thousands, make profit and pay taxes that are then wasted by an unnecessary state-controlled airline. The same is true of PetroSA and much of the electricity generating industry. Most of the ills of these institutions could be eliminated with proper independent governance, independent shareholders and, above all, transparency and accountability for both their boards and their executives. We are fortunate still to have some key pillars of civil society prepared to act in defence of the South African constitution and its people. We have a proud and independent judiciary which has been handing down critically important judgements, affirming that the executive needs to act rationally and in the interest of the nation. We have a free press which is showing great courage.

They are exposing more and more of the detail of state capture and the links between the Gupta family, the president and some members of his cabinet. We too have the ballot box and we have civil society itself. That civil society in South Africa has not been at such risk since the days of apartheid. Woolies role in those dark days was to act and speak bravely as a constant agent for change and transformation. We continue to accept that role as part of our values today and will do so for as long as is needed. We are active in a number of civil and business groups, working together with those areas of government that we feel we can trust. We are also particularly proud of our association with Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA).

Under its new leadership, BLSA is taking a principled stance in driving transparency in government and in supporting the role of business as our nation’s key engine of economic transformation. The current climate has forced, not just Woolworths, but thousands of other businesses around the country to pull back on capital expenditure and on job creation. The sooner we see a change towards a values-based political and economic leadership, the faster we can all get back to growing our economy and to creating those desperately needed jobs. Across the Indian Ocean sits Australia. That nation’s deep commitment to transparent government, steeped in values and principles, has driven enormous transformational benefits to its citizens. Its culture of accountability is a telling example to South Africa’s leaders. Our decision over the past few years to expand our footprint in Australia has been strongly vindicated. There is, though, little doubt that if South Africa were to come back on track from a moral and economic point of view, the Group’s southern hemisphere strategy will be doubly powerful.

THE WAY FORWARD
We see little short-term relief to the current economic headwinds in our markets. Ian and his team are committed to nurturing the green shoots they have created. As we grow, this Group will emerge stronger, leaner and more sustainable into the future. We have over 44 000 dedicated and passionate employees. They and our suppliers across the globe are each committed to adding quality to the lives of our many millions of customers. On behalf of the Board, I thank them all for their efforts during the year. They are indeed the deepest roots of our value system.

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