6 December 2023

'People want checkout staff': Griffith's Rossies supermarket resists move to self-service machines

| Oliver Jacques
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a supermarket manager and checkout assistant

Ross Catanzariti says he loves having checkout staff like Abbie Hardwick. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

The manager of the only major supermarket in Griffith not to install self-service checkout machines says his store is generating more sales by investing in face-to-face service.

Ross Catanzariti, 68, who runs Rossies FoodWorks, added that his staff had been inundated with positive feedback lately.

“In the last four to six weeks, we’ve had a lot of people tell us they are coming here because they liked to be served by a person and not have to use a self-serve machine,” he said. “People want checkout staff … things are going well here, having self-serve at other supermarkets has probably generated more sales for us.”

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Rival supermarkets Woolworths and Coles introduced automated self-service machines to pay for groceries in 2008. But in the past few months, they’ve accelerated the trend towards automation, closing more and more face-to-face checkouts in stores across the country, despite each chain recording a profit of more than $1 billion this past financial year.

This has sparked a backlash from consumers. Memes have circulated on social media asking whether the supermarket giants will soon make people unload the delivery trucks themselves. Some customers have also demanded to be invited to the Coles and Woolworths staff Christmas party, arguing they’re being made to do work in the store too.

Griffith’s ALDI store introduced self-checkout machines in October 2023, meaning the three FoodWorks stores in Griffith and Yenda are the last bastion of an exclusive human checkout service.

a supermarket checkout assistant serving a customer

Customer Alo Pologa likes the feeling of being served by a person. Photo: Oliver Jacques.

Mr Catanzariti said he couldn’t promise his store would never go down the automation track, but that it would resist as much as possible.

“Eventually, the technology may come in but we’re going to keep going as long as we can, as long as we’ve got the personnel,” he said. ”Our biggest challenge is trying to get and retain staff. That’s becoming a lot harder.

“Sometimes I joke with customers who take things off the shelf then return them to put it back face-up. But it’s all in good fun. The customers come here because they like the personal interaction, that’s the way we want to keep it.”

Mr Catanzariti is the cousin of the man who founded the store in 1966, his namesake Rosario “Ross” Catanzariti.

“There’s six Ross Catanzaritis. The store’s founder sadly passed away last year. He was the son of the eldest brother and I’m the son of the youngest brother,” the younger Ross said.

Rosario would travel around on a horse and cart selling fresh produce from his family farm in the 1950s before he opened what was then called Rossies. The store now operates under the FoodWorks supermarket chain banner, which has other stores at Driver Plaza and in Yenda.

old man cutting a cake

Store founder Rosario Catanzariti (centre) celebrates 50 years of Rossies with former Griffith mayor Jim McGann in 2016. Photo: Pam McGann/Old Griffith NSW Album.

“When they first opened the Griffith store, they said nobody would come all the way up here to do their shopping. But we’re on the main street. There were all these stores around us but they’re no longer here and we’ve kept going,” Ross said.

The younger Catanzariti got his first job at the store at age 12.

“I started doing home deliveries, packing groceries and stocking shelves and gradually worked my way up. I left Griffith for a couple of years, then when I came back I started as the manager. All up, I’ve worked here for more than 50 years.”

Despite being 68, Mr Catanzariti has no plans for retirement.

“There’s nobody to take my position, I’d have to find someone to get on board. But really, if I left, what would I do anyway?”

FoodWorks has supermarkets at 493 Banna Avenue, 4 Saunders Street (Driver Plaza) and 20 Yenda Place in Yenda.

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