Tony Alford, former Retail Food Group managing director, is due to appear tonight before a parliamentary inquiry.
Tony Alford, former Retail Food Group managing director, is due to appear tonight before a parliamentary inquiry.

Retail Food Group executives face hearing

FORMER Retail Food Group managing director Tony Alford fronted a parliamentary inquiry on Monday night where he frequently stated he "had no insight" or "recollection" of the operations of the beleaguered franchisor.

That was despite his tenure at the company lasting decades, including stints as CEO and managing director before he left his position as a non-executive director in 2017.

His exit came before a massive collapse in the value of the Gold Coast franchisor, which owns brands including Pizza Capers and Donut King.

A number of franchisees have claimed RFG operated a brutal business model that left them financially devastated, having to sell their property or declare bankruptcy.

Mr Alford appeared before the joint committee on corporations and financial services in Canberra, which is looking into the franchising industry, only after his bid to avoid an appearance failed.

Ex-Retail Food Group managing director Tony Alford left the company in 2017.
Ex-Retail Food Group managing director Tony Alford left the company in 2017.

Last night he told the committee members that, under his stewardship, the business did not grow rapidly.

"The growth was programmed, it was steady, and it was as required and as the opportunities arose," he said in response to a question from Senator John Williams.

Mr Alford said the franchisor had two brand systems - Donut King and BBs Coffee and Bake - when he started.

The number of franchisees, across multiple systems, including Crust Gourmet Pizza, Pizza Capers, and others, grew to about 2600 by the time he left.

Retail Food Group owns a number of brands including Pizza Capers.
Retail Food Group owns a number of brands including Pizza Capers.

In a later exchange with Mr Williams, he said he could not recall the turnover of the company "at any stage" while he was CEO.

Senator Deborah O'Neill asked Mr Alford if he was aware of claims made to the committee about his involvement in the collapse of franchises.

 

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"I refute that there are hundreds of claims made against RFG under the stewardship of myself," Mr Alford said.

"I simply do not believe that there are hundreds of franchisees that have made that claim."

She then asked how many franchisees failed on his watch.

Retail Food Group expanded rapidly under former CEO Tony Alford’s watch.
Retail Food Group expanded rapidly under former CEO Tony Alford’s watch.

Mr Alford said that information had been publicly available on the ASX website from 2006 to the "present day".

Senator O'Neill said franchisees had told the committee that what they were sold fell short of what they received, including a lack of support from RFG and goods purchased at higher than retail rates.

Forde MP Bert van Manen accused Mr Alford of "obfuscation", after Mr Alford repeatedly asked for questions to be repeated, or said they proceeded under false premises.

"My question is about your tenure as managing director and CEO of the RFG group, and your lack of knowledge of the day-to-day operations … that have resulted in a large number of franchisees … losing everything as a result," he said.

"During my tenure as managing director and CEO I had an intimate knowledge of the operations of the business, I received monthly reports, I read those reports …," Mr Alford said.

Mr van Manen said if that was the case why could he not give information as to why franchisees closed across the RFG network?

"I have not said I did not know what was going on in the business, what I have consistently said, is that was back between 2000 and 2015 and it is now 2018."

Mr Alford was asked why he chose to leave in 2017.

"It was my intention to depart RFG virtually because I had had enough. I had been there for 20 years and that 20 year anniversary was enough," he responded.