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"Aggression towards our team": Woolies boss fronts media, pens letter following Jan 26 merchandise outrage

Jarred Cross -

Woolworths boss Brad Banducci has been forced to defend his companies decision not to stock Australia Day-themed merchandise, stating the company is 'not trying to "'cancel"' the public holiday following outrage at the decision.

On January 10, Woolies Group announced the themed-merchandise would not appear in its supermarket and Big W stores in 2024 citing "gradual decline" in demand and "broader discussion about 26 January and what it means to different parts of the community".

German retailer Aldi made a similar call shortly after, while Kmart's opt against Australia Day merchandise was made in 2023.

Woolies' announcement prompted a wave of backlash, including federal opposition leader Peter Dutton's call for consumers to "boycott" the company, vandalising of stores, and misleading reports to the group's plans to fly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags outside some of their buildings which was later clarified.

Mr Banducci has also revealed staff have received increased aggression from shoppers following the decision.

He has also conceded the company "could have done a better job" in making the move.

Woolies have now taken out full-page ads with a letter directly from their chief executive in major newspapers around the country explaining the decision.

"Over the last two weeks, there's been much commentary in the media and we have had direct feedback from our customers and our team regarding our approach to selling Australia Day merchandise" Mr Banducci wrote.

"As a proud Australian and New Zealand retailer, we aren't trying to "cancel" Australia Day."

He reiterated the axing of merchandise this year "was made on the basis of declining sales" with the decision dating back almost 12 months.

Mr Banducci said the decision to scrap Jan 26 merch was made almost 12 months prior to the annoucement. (Image: supplied)

On Wednesday morning, Mr Banducci faced a grilling from hosts in appearances on morning TV shows Today and Sunrise.

In both interviews, he stood by the decision and restated his claims Woolies' are celebrating January 26 with a priority to provide the best value on products to shoppers.

"Australia Day means different things to everyone. We want everyone to make the choice of how they want to mark Australia Day. For those who want to celebrate it, go for it. For those who want to mark it in a slightly more thoughtful, reflective way, that's your choice as well," Mr Banducci told Channel Nine.

Mr Banducci also said he is proud to be a first-generation on Australia Day, and Woolies stores would be decorated with green and gold in celebration of the public holiday.

On ABC Radio, and in his letter, he said backlash to the shift away from themed merchandise has taken its toll on staff.

"Unfortunately, there's been a 50% increase in the number of incidents in our stores; of reported acts of rudeness or or as I say, aggression towards our team," he told ABC.

"It's critically important that any frustration is expressed towards me and the executive of Woolies, not to our hard working team in stores."

Mr Banducci said he has personally received over 3000 emails from the public.

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