FOCUS ON EXCELLENCE | Titans
by Shalane van Rensburg
“The food industry is a tough market with rising inflation, and the debt situation in South Africa makes the industry competitive. Companies such as Zara and Forever New with international exposure are ‘setting up camp’ in South Africa, which says that there is still growth for the high-end brands. The roll-out of our brands, such as Country Road and the Woolworths private brand, amongst others, has ensured that we maintain the highest quality on our shelves, which our customers have come to expect,” she emphasises.
Sustainability is a key theme throughout the Woolworths Good Food Journey. Our store has been designed with ‘green’ in mind – from harvesting daylight with skylights, to energy-efficient lighting, to reusing waste heat from the refrigeration system to keep our stores warm. The product selection is also very ‘green’ – only fish certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) is sold, and the eggs are free range with a larger selection of free range products such as chicken. Best practices in the food industry are evolving in South Africa; and so are our customer expectations. Prices are becoming more and more competitive, the need for better products is surfacing, and customers expect clearer labelling – and good value. Consumers are much better informed and expect to be treated fairly with increasing levels of transparency which we strive to provide.
“Our values as a business are in sync with these evolving customer expectations. I am also fortunate to have a great Chief Executive Officer who is supportive of my role in growing Woolworths Foods. The aim of our new strategy will ensure that we continue giving our customers ‘the Woolworths difference’ experience whilst growing our stores to the supermarket level – but we will not become ‘just another’ supermarket. Also, I have the utmost support in going to Harvard for two months to continue my studies,” she elaborates. The goal of Woolworths Food is to deliver on its strategy by building a big food business and growing Woolworths further by 2020. At Woolworths Food, there is a clear understanding of who the customers are and of whom it serves; hence it will be easy to deliver on its strategy.
Woolworths Food has a programme called ‘Farming for the Future’, which, together with its farmers, is pioneering a new approach to growing food sustainably and in harmony with nature so that South Africa’s farms will be able to provide enough food for future generations without compromising quality or adding to the cost. This is just one example of how Woolworths Food is being an innovative pioneer in the industry.
“I have a team of 350 people in Foods, 10 of whom report directly to me. Teamwork is vital in our business, and we all share the same objectives. We grow as a result of one another’s strengths and support one another in our weaknesses. As a collective, we are much more magical than the individual parts,” says Rylands – and this also explains the success of the team in delivering on the Group’s strategy. Woolworths Food is extending its ranges, expanding its stock-keeping units, offering more branded goods, introducing more bulk goods, investing in price, and expanding its space. “It’s still Woolies, but just bigger. We cannot lose who we are; you are not going to find 10 different tomato sauces or washing powders in our stores. We are obviously going to choose our private label first and, to support that, we’ll choose the best national brands that deliver to our customer profile. We still want to live up to the same brand values, and we will continue being obsessed about quality,” she explains.
“The good thing is that we’re already seeing customers’ in-store behaviour changing. When they see bigger stores, they think bigger ranges – they do not want to walk with a basket, but actually want a trolley. Our customer research showed us that we have not been considered as a main shop or complete shop for customers. When asked why, customers gave two reasons: range and price. We did not want to remain a top-up shop for others, so we set about tackling those two things,” Rylands says. She was recruited by Woolworths in 1995 as an Audit Manager and, after 18 months, she was appointed as Executive Assistant to the Woolworths Managing Director. Since then, she has headed up financial accounting and corporate planning, has played a role as financial executive for all of Woolworths’ stores, and has moved to Gauteng to head up a commercial division. In 2004, she was appointed Director of People. This was followed in 2006 by an appointment to the Woolworths Holding Board as Director of People and Transformation. In 2008, she was appointed as Chief Operating Officer: Support Services.
Rylands is also a non-executive director of the Open Society Foundation of South Africa, the National Urban Reconstruction and Housing Agency, and the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention. She also served as chairperson of the Audit Committee for Parliamentary Services, as non-executive director of the Black Management Forum (BMF), and as a trustee of the Trauma Centre for Survivors of Violence and Torture. She was also a recipient of the Impumelelo/BMF Top Ten Black Business Personalities Award and was a finalist in the Business Women’s Association of South Africa 2011 Business Women of the Year Award. Rylands’ greatest passion is people, leadership development and transformation in corporates and in South Africa.
“I love the fact that CEO Communications is recognising women in business and government. This is a fabulous initiative because we have too few women in boardrooms. The glass ceiling shattered a long time ago, so do not question yourself; encourage everyone around you to be the best that they can be,” she concludes.
Mind of a Supermarket - Soul of a Deli
Zyda Rylands is Managing Director for Woolworths Food and, in 2012, received South Africa’s Most Influential Women in Business and Government Award in the Consumer Business, Wholesale and Retail category.
CEO caught up with this dynamic and leading woman to ask about Woolworths Food’s new growth strategy which the Group is aggressively pursuing, a strategy grounded on the theme, ‘Mind of a Supermarket, Soul of a Deli’. “We have experienced overwhelming success owing to the assimilation of our new strategy and vision to have the mind of a supermarket and the soul of a deli. We developed our marketing strategy to ensure that the customer experience is one to remember and to have that ‘return trolley’ customer,” says Rylands.