Australia Day merchandise ‘left over’ at Coles after Woolworths controversially pulled products

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A Coles shopper has questioned why there is “so much leftover” Australia Day merchandise if there is “such a demand” for the products.

Belinda Davey, who goes by the name Belinduh Pyne on social media, shared photos of shelves of Australia Day merchandise reduced to clear, including paper plates, balloons, thongs, bucket hats and beer coolers.

“If there’s such a demand for this Australia Day crap, why is there so much leftover at Coles!?” she wrote on X, in a post viewed nearly 40,000 times.

Australia Day-themed merchandise became a cultural flashpoint last month after Woolworths announced it would stop selling the items, sparking backlash from conservatives and calls for a boycott of the supermarket — including from opposition leader Peter Dutton.

Woolworths-owned Big W and Petstock, German retailer Aldi, as well as Cricket Australia and Tennis Australia all followed suit — but Coles said it would continue to stock a range of Australia Day-themed merchandise.

Coles has been contacted for comment.

Facing customer backlash, Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci insisted the supermarket was not trying to “cancel” Australia Day.

In full-page newspaper ads in the lead-up to January 26, Mr Banducci urged the public to respect Woolworths staff and explained that the “commercial decision not to stock specific Australia Day general merchandise was made on the basis of steeply declining sales”.

“The decision to stock this mostly imported merchandise has to be made almost 12 months in advance,” Mr Banducci wrote.

“So, as a business decision, it doesn’t make commercial sense. As a proud Australian and New Zealand retailer, we aren’t trying to ‘cancel’ Australia Day. Rather, Woolworths is deeply proud of our place in providing the fresh food that brings Australians together every day.”

But Mr Banducci, doing the rounds of breakfast TV and radio, conceded the supermarket could have “done a better job” communicating its decision.

“I do feel anxious about the impact that this is having on our team,” he told Today host Karl Stefanovic. “They are proud, hardworking Australians, and for them to be seen as anti-Australian or woke is fundamentally unfair.”

Grilled by the hosts on whether he was “anti-Australia Day”, Mr Banducci conceded the day “means different things to everyone”.

Nationals Senator Matt Canavan had earlier accused Woolworths of “taking a political position” on the national holiday, which commemorates the arrival of British settlers but which critics say marks the beginning of the dispossession of Indigenous Australians.

“Woolies says they’re a proud Australian company but they don’t seem proud of Australia,” Mr Canavan told news.com.au. “They were ambivalent about whether we should celebrate Australia Day, they said there was a ‘broader discussion’ about January 26, so they’re obviously struggling to be proud of their own country.”

He said he was sceptical about the claim that it was a purely commercial decision.

“I don’t think it’s up to our very wealthy corporations to try and dictate political change across the country,” he said.

“If they want to change something, stand for politics, run on that platform. I’m sick and tired of woke corporations trying to get political change through the back door, whether it’s the date of Australia Day or a carbon tax. It should be up to the Australian people.”

In a leaked letter to staff, Mr Banducci explained the reasoning behind the decision and apologised for the “aggressive” backlash they had received.

“I want to personally apologise to all of you for the way our merchandising decision has been received – and how this has resulted in hurtful and inappropriate reactions directed at you, our team member,” Mr Banducci wrote in the letter.

“I know that many of you have received negative and aggressive comments – and in some cases acts. I am deeply sorry that you are being subjected to that.”

Two Woolworths stores had been vandalised in Brisbane, with messages spray-painted on windows urging others to boycott the supermarket.

The South Africa-born CEO also addressed why stores had decided to display banners for Lunar New Year or Diwali “but not our own national day” – in a move that was labelled “a disgrace” by Mr Canavan.

“Celebrations like Diwali and Lunar New Year are often centred around connection over food, and as a business we are committed to supporting events and occasions like this for our customers and team,” Mr Banducci wrote, despite some arguing Australia Day is often celebrated with barbecues.

“We know that not every Australian marks Australia Day, in the same way and it’s important to us that all customers and team feel safe and a sense of belonging when they are in our stores.”

The letter also reiterated that sales of Australia Day merchandise had been dropping in recent years.

“Our commercial decision to not stock specific Australian Day general merchandise was made on the basis of declining sales. In recent years these sales have declined to less than $1000 per Supermarket over the month of January.

“BIG W has not sold Australia Day merchandise for a number of years,” the letter continued.

“Rather than stocking those imported products, Woolworths Supermarkets is focusing on continuing to celebrate the best of Australian fresh food for Australia Day long weekend gatherings with family and friends.”

Mr Banducci also confirmed Woolworths had engaged with the Australia Day Council “to seek guidance on the evolved meaning on Australia Day 26 January” as well as their First Nations Advisory Board and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team.

He listed “numerous ways” the company is encouraging customers and their team to celebrate Australia including allowing staff to dress up on the day and selling Australian and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags all year round in Big W.

The letter has since been met with backlash online, with some arguing Mr Banducci is “out of touch” and has “failed” in his damage control.

“Astoundingly Banducci’s reasoning behind the decision is because ‘Celebrations like Diwali and Lunar New Year are often centred around connection over food’ … This bloke is so out of touch with Aussies he fails to recognise that we celebrate our national day with barbecues, family picnics and parties. His hollow argument is a joke and the hole he is digging for himself and Woolworths is getting deeper,” one person wrote.

“Failed damage control,” another commented online.

“A gaslighting letter from Brad,” another wrote.

A number of fed-up employees also slammed the “unbelievable” and “disgusting” move in a series of leaked messages on a private online forum managed by Woolworths.

“Unbelievable that Australia Day was cancelled but we will celebrate Halloween and Chinese New Year just to name a couple,” one person wrote in the forum.

“Can you imagine a Chinese supermarket chain cancelling Chinese New Year but celebrating Australia Day? Australian CEOs need to stop playing politics/activism and get on with running the business.”

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