UCB store operators, suppliers and supporters descended on the Gold Coast this week for  the UCB 2024 Conference under the theme C-Differently, where they came together to learn, to work, to connect, to do a little good and to have a little fun.

The event opened with the Bega Dairy and Drinks Cafe, a full simulated store impressively set up in the lobby of the RACV Royal Pines Gold Coast, where delegates caught up with colleagues and friends for a coffee before heading downstairs to the Business Sessions and Trade Show.

After a relaxed check in with colleagues and suppliers at the impressive pop up C-Store in the lobby after registration the delegates hit the ground running with the learning and working kicked off on Day 1 with the Asahi Beverages Business Sessions.

UCB CEO Darren Park opened the event and invited all delegates to C-Differently to succeed and challenged delegates to use their activations to get their share of the 20% growth active UCB members have been realising.

Wesley Fairlie, Category and Channel Strategy Manager, Asahi Beverages, highlighted the central importance of beverage to customer mission instore and explored the different ways beverage can lead whole of basket growth.

Brett Barclay Director, CMA & Non-Executive Director of AACS, provided a preview of retail stats and trends ahead of the release of the State of the Industry Report. Highlighting the change in consumer preferences to online, NPD and environmental as well as demographic shift towards Gen Z and the intensification of the competitive landscape.

Bradley Shaw, Manager of External Affairs and Communications at Philip Morris International, gave delegates an update on the state of Illicit tobacco situation and to again call on delegates to dob in retailers who are selling illicit tobacco via the stopillicit.com campaign.

Dr Nici Sweaney, Founder of Ai Her Way, an ethical Ai consultancy company, pushed delegates to C(themselves and Ai)- Differently. Dr Nici highlighted the priority has to be understanding the capabilities of Ai, because if you don’t understand what it can do, you can’t possibly protect yourself and your business from it.

There wasn’t a spare seat in the house when, courtesy of Asahi Beverages , delegates were joined by royalty, cricketing royalty at the very least.  As Greg Ritchie interviewed the legend Lord Ian Botham, retired English Test cricketer, renowned entertaining all-rounder and emblem of his generation. His flamboyant batting and successful bowling had the capacity to win games and excite spectators.

Botham won a lot of fans through his championing of the cause of Leukaemia and has raised over 40 million pounds by organising charity walks. In 2007 he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition for his services to charity. In 2017 he brought his charity walk to Australia and New Zealand, raising funds for the Junior Diabetes Research Foundation for his last ever series of walks.

The stories were flowing over the hour of old mates catching up, but Lord Botham’s take home message for the delegates was to ensure that you answer the phone, it could be your big opportunity calling (or apparently it could be Prime Minister Borris Jonson apparently).

Delegates left the Business Sessions informed, inspired and energised as they headed into the first full session of the Trade Show.

Day 2 kicked off with a casual breakfast followed by more learning and insights at the Lactalis Australia Business Sessions where delegates heard from an impressive line-up.

Anna McLoughlin, Head of Digital, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners, who provided delegates with an insight to digital and emergent need opportunities for engagement with brick and mortar customers. Getting the Brilliant Basics, Bundling and Event Activations right can drive online engagement and ensure sites can get their share of the digital category.

John Harvey, Head of Customer Category, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners took delegates through the ins and outs of How Shoppers Really Shop and the dangers of taking survey responses at face value before providing a real deep dive into some stunning eye tracking research insights to drive sales based on real customer behaviour.

Daniel Bone, Industry Insights Director, Circana, built on Anna and Johns insights to expose the messages the hard data is showing Australian retailers the challenges and the opportunities that changing customer demographics and demands are showing. Challenging discretionary spend contraction means we have to work harder to deliver for customers, particularly in the treat yourself category.

2024 saw the introduction of a new session to the conference format, The Wednesday Wrap Up. The session was a big hit, with a few laughs as the panellists recapped the learnings from the event, with a flair.

The panel saw Corinne Barclay, Director, CMA join the other speakers for a discussion that brought together friends, colleagues and competitors to deliver whole of industry messages in an open townhall session, ably moderated by Nicola Richardson GAICD, General Manager Grocery, eCommerce and Brand Partnerships for Asahi Beverages.

With the data and insights swirling delegates headed off for some serious networking events.  In the tradition of the event Day 2 saw delegates treated to a day of social networking at one of the Activity Sessions;

• The Asahi Beverages Golf Classic
• The Monster Energy Go Kart Championship
Mars Wrigley Winery Tour
Gatorade Top Golf
PFD Food Services Pty Ltd Cocktail Experience
Nestlé Day Spa

Day 2 wrapped up with a glorious Full Moon Pool Party presented by Coca-Cola Europacific Partners where the networking turned to fun under the stars followed by the Monster Energy Afterparty and Rokeoke!

The learning continued on Day 3 with the Mondelēz International Business Sessions.

The session kicked off with a glimpse into the future by UCB CEO Darren Park before Thomas Ennis, award winning Irish retailer extraordinaire, who presented to the delegates for a whopping third time in recent years (he has a lot to say), outlined emerging international convenience trends and the opportunities they present to Australian petrol and convenience.

Fresh from running the Tokyo marathon Thomas has a consistent message in terms of food, and some backflips to previously rusted on opinions. Turns out accountants can be business savers and smart people are investing in data availability and analysis – as much as it makes 15 year old Thomas rage to pay people good money to sit in a room an look at numbers, grown up Thomas has accepted that data is the future and the number crunchers are success wizards.

Thomas treated delegates to an insight into his Dublin pop up experiment that focused on reusable, recycled and green fitout and options. Pushing the term innovative this pop up was done fast (13 days), cheap and hit the numbers in the first week.

Embracing data and technology (electronic sales lables) leads to new options, like dynamic pricing. Thomas was clear that dynamic pricing is important to distinguish from Insult Pricing. Event based or convenience premium (late night / weekend) pricing changes are reasonable and customers accept them, while full on surge pricing is an insult to the customer and they will simply stop coming back.

But the clear message was simple: Food! Food! Food!…cut out the middle man and make it all instore, go fresh all the way. To achieve this you need to find great staff, pay them well, train them well, expect stellar performance this is how you drive the imperative of ensuring the customer is King.

Michael Crossland, elite athlete, author and survivor took delegates through his engaging story.  With a focus on the ‘power of perspective’, Michael challenged delegates to change the way they see their world to drive the outcomes they want.

Michael’s powerful story hit the whole room hard, yet left delegates energised, thankful and motivated with a simple message;

No-one will ever tell you what you can do. They will tell you what you can’t do, and you can prove them wrong. But it is vital to ask yourself this – why would you let the criticisms of people you don’t know and wouldn’t take advice from define your reality?

And a call to action;

Give without remembering, and receive without forgetting because small actions can change the whole world

Todd Sampson, ex advertising executive, writer, tv presenter, documentarian and co-host of The Gruen Transfer (and beautiful brain haver) took his broad understanding of human motivation, decision making and behaviour, and how to nudge that, and applied it to the concept of pushing the boundaries of human potential.

The key message was to stop building thicker roads, new roads are harder to build as we grow older, but they lead us to places of mental fitness and flexibility that truly unlocks our long term success and happiness.

The business sessions came to an end with a bang when Peter Costello AC, the longest serving Australian Treasurer (1996-2007), the founder and Chairman of the Australian Future Fund (now holding over $200billion) and all around financial and political powerhouse, was proudly presented by to the delegates by Mondelēz International.

Mr Costello commenced by recalling the last time he addressed the UCB delegates at the 2022 post COVID Conference. At the time interest rates were at almost zero, inflation was not a concern and the Stage 3 Tax Cuts were guaranteed. At the time Mr Costello predicted drastic increases in interest rates, rampant inflation and higher taxes.

This year Mr Costello started by apologising to the room for being right before offering practical insights on what the coming years will bring.

Giving Back 

Walking the talk UCB and partners presented charity partner Rural Aid with a $106,000 donation that was raised network wide as part of the Give Back program.

Rural Aid is all about giving farmers a hand up, not a hand out and this donation will deliver support to farmers where they are in the way they need it.

Delegates left the Business Sessions informed, inspired and energised as they headed into the second full session of the Trade Show.

Relax and Recognise

The work all done at the UCB Stores (United Convenience Buyers) 2024 Conference , it was time for recognition and fun.  The Bega Group Back to the 80s Gala Dinner was the perfect setting for some costumed fun.

Suppliers and new products were recognised with the Annual Awards.

2024 Conference Supplier of the Year:

• Carbonated Beverages and Sports Drinks – Coca-Cola Europacific Partners AND Asahi Beverages
• Energy Drinks – Frucor Suntory Oceania
• Functional Drinks and Water Coca-Cola Europacific Partners
• Confectionery – Mondelēz International
• Snacking – The Smiths Snackfood Co Pty Ltd
• Food Manufacturer – Mrs Mac’s
• Flavoured Milk – Bega Group
• General Merchandise – Pacific Optics
• Communications – Telstra – Sim Connect
• Wholesaler/distributor – The Distributors
• New Product of the Year – Bega Group Dare 500ml Intense Espresso AND Coca-Cola Europacific Partners Mother 500ml Rainbow Sherbert

Trade Stand of the Year – Bega Group

Trade Rep of the Year – Scott Hazdig, Coca-Cola Europacific Partners

Trade Partner of the Year – Coca-Cola Europacific Partners


The party kept on at the V After Party.

Operators, suppliers and supporters left the event energised and inspired to implement learnings in their own business, congratulations UCB on another slick event.

Elisha Radwanowski BCom(HRM&IR)