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Industry Leaders Forum: Theo Foukkare, CEO, AACS

As part of the 2021 C&I Industry Leaders Forum, Theo Foukkare, CEO, AACS, talks about how the association will be capturing new opportunities to ensure that convenience is king!

C&I: What do you most enjoy about convenience?

Foukkare: By far, the people are what make convenience retail the best channel to be a part of. We are a big family that offers support, we collaborate, and foster open dialogue to ensure that the channel continues to thrive. This is quickly followed by the speed of change and innovation that we continue to face, which ultimately presents new challenges and opportunities.

C&I: What is one challenge you’d like to see addressed in the industry?

Foukkare: Food for now and food for later has taken on a whole new dimension with the explosion of food delivery apps – give it to me now, wherever I am! The biggest challenge that we face here is the significant cost to play in this area, so I hope that there can be a reduction in transaction fees by the major technology operators here.

C&I: Highlight one achievement at AACS you’re particularly proud of since you joined as CEO.

Foukkare: Bringing the industry back together for my first event as CEO at our AACS Connect 21 event in April. To have 650 advocates of the industry able to network, learn and celebrate after the year that was, has been a major highlight. But there can never be just one highlight, and the re-engagement with AACS members – both suppliers and retailers – has happened very quickly, and this has been driven by clearly outlining what our strategic objectives for the 12–24-month horizon are. The AACS Board has been pivotal in providing a clear runway for the association to do things differently, and that is what we are now doing.

C&I: What is the immediate focus for AACS in 2021?

Foukkare: Reinforcing AACS as the champion for matters of convenience retailing. Finalising the plan to deregulate packaged alcohol and enable retailers in the channel to compete fairly. Improving compliance and enforcement around illegal tobacco. Engagement with other key national industry associations to build our advocacy ‘surround sound strategy’. And representing the industry with advocacy of sugar, sustainability, people and the forecourt of the future.

C&I: How do you envision the next six months for convenience?

Foukkare: With overseas travel restricted for some time yet and the effects of work from home still in place, it is pleasing to hear from members that baseline sales in suburban stores have settled at higher levels than pre-pandemic, and that consumers are starting to move back into the CBD, albeit not quickly enough.

The second half of 2021 will see a significant focus on new product launches from suppliers, as well as a greater level of retailer/supplier collaboration than we have seen previously. The race is on for retailers to ensure that their virtual store is a true representation of their physical store and is easy for consumers to shop.

Sales results in the first half of the year are being reported as very strong, and we expect that this will continue throughout the balance of 2021. Convenience retail has now proven that we are an essential service that plays an important role in serving the community. This has led to the channel being able to adapt to snap lockdowns and to show the resilience to just keep winning.

C&I: How do you see the retail and food service model through P&C evolving?

Foukkare: Our members represent more than 7,000 individual shopfronts, so think about that for a minute. Are we distribution hubs? Can we operate 2,000 dark kitchens and fight directly against the QSRs? Will consumers complete their top-up grocery shop with us? Will our forecourts have drone charging pads? Will they be pickup hubs for food delivery? The food story has a lot to go through its evolution. In short, as we continue to develop our food offer – food for now, food for later, food for someone in your family – this is the single biggest existing category opportunity that is ahead of the channel.

C&I: Is there anything else that you’d like to discuss?

Foukkare: I’d just like to say thank you to the industry for welcoming me into the CEO role. I am up for the challenge to protect what we are currently retailing and capturing new opportunities to ensure that convenience is KING!

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