Like its arch rival, Coles, Woolworths in Australia began as a variety store. The company was founded in 1924 when the first store opened in Sydney’s Imperial Arcade. The first Woolworths food store opened in Dee Why in 1957. By then, there were small food sections incorporated in several other variety stores. The company grew its food business by buying existing grocery chains, initially in Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales.
That first Woolworths supermarket was soon followed by others in Seven Hills, St. Ives, Berala and Fairfield Heights in New South Wales, Coorparoo and Margate in Queensland and at Elizabeth in South Australia.
While Coles’ stronghold was Victoria, Woolworths’ food operations were relatively slow to develop a foothold in that state. In 1969, the company purchased a Victorian grocery group of 26 stores trading as Nancarrows. In 1970, the purchase of Crofts Food Stores added a further 75 stores to the group.
However, the most significant move into the food business in Victoria didn’t come until 1985, with the acquisition of Safeway stores. These were not rebranded as Woolworths for more than 20 years. Coles and Woolworths still dominate the grocery business throughout Australia.