The Australia Association of Convenience Stores (AACS) hosted its Connect 22 conference at the International Convention Centre (ICC) in Sydney’s Darling Harbour with around 500 people in attendance.

The event was sponsored by Coca-Cola Europacific Partners and the day summit focused on AACS’ three key pillars of advocacy, connection, and knowledge. Unfortunately, AACS CEO Theo Foukkare was unable to attend for health reasons, so AACS Chair, Stephen Crystal, provided an update on the great work AACS has been doing and the progress it has made in advocacy, particularly in areas such as alcohol and vaping.

Ben Meredith, Strategy and Policy Advisor, AACS, gave a preview of the new AACS website, which is set to go live towards the end of April and will include the new AACS Training, which will feature short courses both online and offline as well as accredited courses. Additionally, Meredith released information about a new Campaign that AACS have developed called ACCESS by AACS, which is designed to promote choice, educate stakeholders & provide balance to the arguments around Vaping, Alcohol & Alternative Fuels.

Meredith also highlighted AACS new partnership with the National Retail Association (NRA), which has assisted with the training modules as well as the ‘No one deserves a serve’ campaign, which addresses the issue of retail crime.

Speakers throughout the day included Brett Barclay, Director, CMA, who launched the 2021 AACS State of the Industry Report, highlighting that overall, 2021 was a solid year for convenience retail. Despite the many challenges the industry has faced, such as COVID and the decline of tobacco, the industry has continued to see consecutive growth for the past seven years in a row, no easy task.

Brett Barclay, Director, CMA

Andrew Leakey, General Manager, Mars Wrigley, delivered an important message around sustainability and how customers put their trust in us to drive the change for the promise of a better future.

Andrew Leakey, General Manager, Mars Wrigley

Joanne Taylor, Executive General Manager, Ampol, spoke about the challenges that we’ve faced as an industry but highlighted that with challenge comes opportunity. And presentations from the two Peter Jowett winners, Joshua Cooper from bp Australia and Matt Gronow from Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, gave us a glimpse into our future forecourts and what they could look like.

Joanne Taylor, Executive General Manager, Ampol

Mike Davis, Vice President, NACS Member Services, was one of the keynote speakers and discussed the future of convenience and covered how many of the challenges being faced in the US are similar to what we’re facing locally, so we can look to how some of those businesses are innovating to solve these problems.

Mike Davis, Vice President, NACS Member Services

Investor, Advisor, Adventurer, and Alternative Futurist Gus Balbontin was the second keynote speaker and reminded us of the difference between resourcefulness and resources, and to focus energy on fixing the customers problem rather than what you perceive as the business’ problem.

Gus Balbontin, Investor, Advisor, Adventurer, and Alternative Futurist

Other speakers included Sandra Lau Future Fuels Manager, Viva Energy; James Kennedy, Chief Technology Officer and Founder, Tritium; Hon Bruce Billson, Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman; Paul Nicolaou, Executive Director, Business Sydney; and Bec Goulter, Director, NRA.

Sandra Lau, Future Fuels Manager, Viva Energy

While AACS CEO Theo Foukkare was unfortunately unable to attend due to falling ill, he did share the following message with C&I regarding the success for the conference.

“Our AACS Connect 22 event was curated to share insights for members to help shape the future of convenience retail in Australia. Once again, we reconnected the industry at our summit with over 470 registered attendees, followed by an awards night of nights attended by over 650 leaders from the industry!

“Whilst I was unable to attend in person due to falling ill right before the event, the energy while I was streaming live was fantastic, so I can only imagine that in person it was even better. I wanted to personally thank my team and the AACS Board for helping in my absence, with a special thankyou to our Chair Stephen Crystal, our Treasurer Brett Barclay and our Policy and Strategy Advisor Ben Meredith for stepping up at the last minute to fill in – a great team effort.

“The Connect 22 Summit was a showcase of what we have achieved over the last 12 months and how we are continuing to add value to our members every day.

“I am thankful for the unprecedented support that our retail and supplier members are providing. We are here for our Members – day in and day out.”

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