Fresh approach pays off for Coopers Fresh

Locals rushing to back Kapunda fresh food store

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Coopers Fresh proves launching a business in a pandemic can be prosperous.

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WHEN there is enough interest in your product to double your business's floor space three months after first opening your doors, you know things are going well.

This is the situation James and Kerrie Cooper found themselves in at the start of March, after launching their Coopers Fresh fruit and vegetable store in Kapunda in mid-December.

The town has not had a dedicated fresh produce store for more than 20 years, a fact that the Coopers were unaware of when the idea to start the business first crossed their minds.

With the couple's six-year-old son Harold enjoying school in Kapunda, the Coopers decided to stay permanently, after living overseas for six years.

Overseas projects were wrapping up, and the time was ripe for a new income stream.

James's background is in various sales roles, while Kerrie has worked in international development, but the pair had always had an appreciation for fresh produce, and were ready to take a new direction.

"By the start of October, we'd committed to the idea of opening a fruit and veg shop, and we were both well and truly in planning mode working out how we'd make the business viable," Kerrie said.

Day one was on December 14, and was the busiest start James and Kerrie could have imagined.

"We had people waiting to come in at 8.30am on the first day and we were still trying to work out where to put things, let alone what to charge for them," Kerrie said.

"People were asking if they could do Christmas orders, we were madly writing things down on any scrap bits of paper we could find - the energy was amazing."

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The majority of the fresh produce at Coopers Fresh is SA-grown, and comes from the SA Produce Markets at Pooraka. James visits the market on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings.

"It's all well and good to talk to these guys at the market, but it's a very different situation when you're there for your first big terrifying shop, but the market guys were really good," James said.

"When we told them it was a brand new shop, they were excited because they had another outlet - they wanted to give us a hand."

James said many regular customers were aware of when he visited the markets, and visited Coopers Fresh accordingly.

"We have people who come into the store on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays because they know the food is very fresh then. Expectations vary, and for some, a day (on the shelf) is old," he said.

"When you lift people's expectations, expectations just keep getting higher, which is good."

About five local growers also supply to the Kapunda store, with more coming on board all the time.

"Basically as soon as we opened, a few people were asking if we could sell their produce - when people have a flush in their garden, they're not wanting anything to go to waste," James said.

Waste minimisation is a cornerstone of the Coopers Fresh mentality, with James and Kerrie having made a number of decisions around being as environmentally-friendly as possible.

"We've lived in a number of developing countries, where, by default, things are grown in an organic and traditional way, because people don't use pesticides, so we were still used to the way fruit and veg used to be when we were kids," Kerrie said.

"Now you go into a supermarket and everything is pre-sliced, or wrapped in plastic, or sitting on styrofoam, and we can't really understand the logic of why we need all of that."

Compost-a-pak fruit and veg bags are in the store for customers to use, while cling wrap is made from corn starch, and is used only sparingly.

The shelves are made from recycled apple crates, and green waste is given to households with chooks.

Kerrie is also dabbling in dehydrating fruit and herbs, allowing the Coopers to buy in bulk, in season, to dehydrate and sell at a later time.

"There are so many ways to minimise waste, it's just a matter of being willing to look a bit harder to find them, or thinking outside the box," Kerrie said.

Showcasing what products are in season is another priority for the Coopers.

"It's an obvious relationship that the price is low and the quality is better when things are in season, and because we're in a farming community, most people understand that," she said.

The Coopers are adamant that fresh produce will always remain the foundation of the business, but they have recently branched into offering SA-produced pickles and preserves, cheeses, dressings, pasta and nuts.

Organising to provide meat and seafood, as well as bulk goods like oats and grains, is also a work in progress.

With COVID-19 having the potential to force businesses to temporarily close their doors at any time, the Coopers Fresh website means the business can move online almost instantly if need be.

James and Kerrie are also keen to get the ball rolling on home deliveries.

The couple said they were very grateful for the support shown for their store so far.

"We've received recipes, jams and sauces from customers, everyone is so lovely, and happy that we're going well," Kerrie said.

"A few other businesses have opened in Kapunda in the past year, there is a lot going on and the place has a lively feel, it's great to see the town developing as a bit of a hub," she said.

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The story Fresh approach pays off for Coopers Fresh first appeared on Stock Journal.

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