The defensive strategy employed by supermarket giant Woolworths has paid off over the last twelve months as the 2000 annual report has shown that the company has turned around 1998-9’s disappointing profit result and allayed fears that its investment in new distribution centres was foolhardy.

This time last year, newly appointed CEO Roger Corbett had only just taken hold of the corporate baton from Reg Clairs, and his first duty was to announce poor financial results and promise to do better. A “defensive” business in providing grocery staples, Woolworths attracts investors due to its inherent survival status and its ability to make great earnings on shares or dividends.

Business development was still forthcoming however with the establishment of Woolworths.com for the Internet-based consumer, and the Ezy-Bank account venture, which attracted 150,000 customers in its first year.

Project Refresh was also instituted to cut cost across the board, in IT, HR, the supply chain and organisational redesign. In the report, Corbett revealed that: “We can now confirm that these estimated annual savings by fiscal 2003 will reach A$134m.” He added that over the past year, costs fell by A$172m, meaning that “we are able to serve our twin goals of increasing shareholder returns and giving greater customer satisfaction, which in turn drives volume to the further benefit of our shareholders.”

Corbett also revealed plans to open 20 to 30 new supermarkets every year for the foreseeable future, and he displayed an extremely optimistic outlook. “[We] are confident that, given ongoing satisfactory economic conditions, Woolworths will continue to deliver sales growth in the high single digit and profit in the lower double-digit ranges for the foreseeable future, i.e. three to five years… Growth remains a key factor in Woolworths’ strategies for the future.”

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