Leaders Forum: Theo Foukkare, CEO, AACS

As part of the 2024 C&I Industry Leaders Forum, Theo Foukkare, CEO of the Australian Association of Convenience Stores (AACS), discusses his predictions for the year ahead in P&C and how AACS will be advocating for the channel.

C&I: What have been the highlights for AACS and the convenience industry over the past 6-12 months?

Foukkare: Without doubt, for me, the highlight has been enhancing the AACS brand with media and all relevant government stakeholders, ensuring our industry’s voice is heard clearly. Our member engagement across our events program has continued to strengthen the AACS position as the leading voice for convenience retailers and suppliers. The key highlight was bringing together over 620 delegates for our Connect 24 conference and 700 delegates for our industry awards night.

C&I: What will be your main priorities for the remainder of 2024?

Foukkare: My continued priorities for the remainder of 2024 will be focused on retail crime and its impact on both retailers and the general community, as well as driving commonsense outcomes for tobacco licensing in Victoria and NSW to address the out-of-control black market. We will also continue our advocacy on the sensible de-regulation of packaged alcohol, working with the Federal Government to achieve a sensible tightly regulated consumer model for vaping by adults in Australia, as well as working with all stakeholders on the potential for a future sugar tax and why it will not achieve the desired outcomes. Alongside this, member engagement through our series of events planned for the second half of this year.

C&I: What are the most important topics the industry should be discussing in 2024?

Foukkare: Given the current state of the economy and low levels of consumer confidence, combined with the enormous pressures on the cost of doing business, operational efficiency for all businesses must be a major focus to ensure they can remain profitable. Simultaneously, the investment in the latest technology, running in parallel with commencing on the AI journey for all organisations is must. My only advice is to start with the problem you are trying to resolve and work backwards, it is very helpful knowing what you need to address rather than allowing AI or technology to dictate what you need to do.

In terms of retail format development, the discussions should be focused on understanding your consumer and tailoring your offer to your local area – the one size fits all approach is no longer relevant. And finally, if you aren’t on TikTok or creating reels for your socials, you are falling more behind every day. Invest in these to make sure you are talking to tomorrow’s customers today before your competitors does and takes them from you.

C&I: What does your crystal ball tell you about the future of convenience in Australia?

Foukkare: I believe the industry will see further consolidation in the second half of this year, which will drive increased competition and see the introduction of a new self-serve format, which has the potential to see a new dynamic play out for consumers. It will continue to be a challenging 12 months ahead, with positive news on the horizon for consumers as confidence will come back into retail spending and discretionary spending eases up, but I don’t expect to see this until the second half of 2025. Even though the industry has its challenges to manage, I foresee continued food and beverage investment to be a major growth driver for the next 5-10 years.

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

Foukkare: The most enjoyable part of my role is engaging with members and listening to what I can do to support them from a legislative perspective with Federal and State Governments, as with continued efforts I have the ability to drive policy change. I really love representing retailers and suppliers for the best industry in Australia – the petrol and convenience industry.

C&I: Are there any other messages you’d like to share with the industry?

Foukkare: Interest in the convenience retail channel continues to be strong, both in terms of real estate investment as well as distribution opportunities for traditional and new brands across the 7300 strong network of stores. The future continues to be bright.

To read more insights from leaders within the P&C and independent grocery channels, check out the latest issue of Convenience and Impulse Retailing magazine.

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