The woman behind Kaufland's Australian launch

The woman behind Kaufland's Australian launch

Meet Kaufland's secret weapon as it prepares to battle for market share in the Australian grocery and liquor sector: managing director Julia Kern.

The 29-year-old took up the role in May 2018 and has spent the last 10 months connecting with the Australian drinks industry as the German supermarket and liquor chain gears up to launch in Australia. 

Kern was previously executive director, Region North, for the retailer in Germany. 

Following her appointment to the top job in Australia, Kaufland CEO Patrick Kaudewitz noted: "Julia Kern has qualified for this task on her past performance and her potential. We do not make such decisions lightly. But we are a long way from a youth delusion attested to us. The average age of our board members and executive board members is 43 years."

Kaufland's Germany head Richard Lohmiller added: "Julia Kern has been my direct colleague for the last year and a half, she has done an excellent job in the Northern Region and has developed great. And just for comparison: The executives who opened the first markets 50 years ago and pave the way were the same age."

Kern announced last week that the company had received planning approval to build its first three Australian stores, plus Australia's largest distribution centre in the northern suburbs of Melbourne.

Victorian Minister for Economic Development Tim Pallas joined Kern at the site in Mickleham to turn the first sod and mark the start of its construction.

Kaufland Australia managing director Julia Kern celebrated the planning approval news with Treasurer of Victoria and Minister for Economic Development, Tim Pallas (above).

The centre will be situated on a 28-hectare site on the Hume Highway in the Merrifield Business Park and, according to The Australian Financial Review, is "substantially larger than state-of-the-art warehouses being developed or recently opened by Coles, Woolworths and Amazon, all of which are investing billions to optimise their supply chains".

"Our new state-of-the-art distribution centre at Merrifield Business Park will be the company's single-biggest investment in Australia and enable Kaufland's expansion," Kern said. "Merrifield was selected for its strategic location and ability to cater for future expansion of the facility."

Local fears regarding Kaufland's arrival

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, the announcement of the centre "will send shivers through the country’s fiercely competitive $90 billion grocery sector".

Meanwhile, German news site Stimme notes that neighbouring the site of the Kaufland distribution centre "is an Australian Government Quarantine Center to keep exotic diseases and vermin out of the country. This is likely to appeal to competitors, who repeatedly warn of the arrival of the fifth largest retailer in the world on the fifth continent."

Kaufland's first three stores will be located in Victoria at Chirnside Park, Dandenong and Epping. The Chirnside Park site is next to a Dan Murphy’s liquor outlet.

An independent advisory panel gave the go-ahead to the application, despite numerous objections. A ‘Save Our Shops’ campaign run by local small businesses in Victoria - including IGA, FoodWorks and Friendly Grocer - claimed that Kaufland will “destroy” them.

In response, Kern said the company was “committed to working with local communities in an honest, transparent and fair way”.

“When the market grows, so will we, and so will our competitors," she noted. "When a new player enters the retail market, it encourages everyone to raise the bar in terms of quality, service and choice.”

Kern thanked the Victorian Government and everyone who participated in the independent Advisory Panel process. She said the initial investment would create up to 1600 jobs and "stimulate much needed competition and consumer choice in Australia's supermarket sector".

Kaufland supermarkets will have a total store area of 4000 square metres and will feature local, regional and international products at discount pricing. Each store will include a bakery, butcher and liquor areas.

Morgan Stanley estimates that based on Europe penetration, Australia could support as many as 295 Kaufland stores longer term and that its annual sales in Australia could hit more than $3billon from 56 stores within six years of its first store opening.

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