Steven Cain, Coles CEO Who Led through Crisis and Boosted Own-Brand Products

Steven Cain, the former CEO of Coles, has revealed his appreciation for the supermarket giant’s home brand products. During his five-year tenure, Cain worked on a long-term strategy to boost Coles’ private label offerings, which has resulted in the launch of 227 new own brands in the March quarter and a sales jump of 11.4% to $2.9 billion for exclusive products. Cain’s departure from Coles came after a challenging time for the company, with numerous unexpected events such as bushfires, floods, pandemic panic buying, and soaring inflation. Nevertheless, Cain praised the company’s ability to handle crises, highlighting the importance of effective communication and rapid decision-making in times of crisis.

The COVID-19 era has reshaped the relationship between the government and the grocery sector, with the Department of Home Affairs setting up the “Supermarket Taskforce” in 2020 to help Coles and its rival Woolworths collaborate on solving supply chain challenges as panic buying took hold across the nation. This collaboration resulted in closer communications with the federal government, which played a crucial role in Coles’ major infrastructure projects, including the construction of its automated distribution centre in Redbank, Queensland, during the pandemic.

Cain’s enthusiasm for grocery technology was clear when he visited the Redbank center ahead of its official opening. The site, a key piece of a billion-dollar investment into grocery technology, changes the very nature of how distribution centres operate. Cain was impressed by the fact that things just flow without any bottlenecks, and the product can get to the back of a truck without any human intervention.

However, some of Coles’ other major automation projects, such as its robotic home delivery systems being built by Ocado, have been subject to further construction delays. Nevertheless, Cain believes that the robot-filled warehouses will solve some of the biggest challenges with home delivery, such as the availability of goods and the freshness of produce on offer. He has long said that Ocado will be worth the wait, as it “cures the biggest pain point in home shopping today, which is, ‘Did I get everything I ordered, and was it on time?'”

Cain’s successor, Leah Weckert, will start as CEO of Coles Group on Monday, making her the first woman to lead the company in its 109-year history. The appointment of a female CEO reflects Coles’ commitment to diversity and inclusion in leadership roles. With her experience in retail and consumer goods, Weckert is expected to build on the momentum created under Cain’s leadership and drive further growth for the company.

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