Tell me about Early 'n Fresh
WE started Early 'n Fresh about five years ago with home delivery boxes.
We are a little team of eight.
What do you specialise in?
We predominantly deliver to cafes and restaurants in country Victoria straight from the farm and market via our vans straight to our customers.
Our chefs often call me when they want to change their menu to discuss what produce is at its best.
I always go that extra mile for our customers - if they order something, they need it and I have to get it for them.
What sets your business apart from other delivery services?
Most of the larger wholesalers fill up their cool-room on a Monday, whereas we keep very little stock in hand.
We go into the market each morning and buy everything to order so that our produce is as fresh as can be.
Where do you source your produce from?
All our produce is sourced every morning from the market in Epping.
Who are your customers?
We supply to cafes, restaurants, pubs, and schools. I originally door-knocked to get our customers and over the last five years our business has grown from referrals from existing customers.
Of course, over the last 18 months with COVID, we have also ramped up the home delivery business again to keep all our staff in jobs.
We deliver to the south-east of Melbourne and country Victoria to Phillip Island and Gippsland, where I have about 80 per cent of my clients.
The one direction we don't go is towards the city.
How did you get into the fruit and veg business?
I have been in the industry for about 20 years. I originally started my working life in real estate until I was 26.
I had a mate at the time who was working in the market who started making up fruit boxes for his neighbours.
We thought that there was an opportunity to do this on a larger scale, so I left what I did, went door-knocking to build up an initial customer base of 100 or so and sold $30 and $40 mixed boxes.
In 2001, about four years later, we got another partner and started Home Fruit Supply, delivering to cafes and restaurants in south-east Melbourne, where no-one was really doing it well.
In 2017, I left the business to go out on my own, and Early 'n Fresh was born.
What do you enjoy about the market?
I really enjoy the bargaining to get the best and fairest price for my customers.
I love the market, I love looking at the produce first-hand to find the best for my customers.
Some of them use what they order straight away and others need it to stay good for a week or more, so the produce has to live up to the quality that they expect.
What would you change at the market if you could?
It would be great if the market was closer to home. I know it is a long drive because just before I get arrive at the market, there is a sign to Sydney.
No seriously, it's pretty good once you know your way around, and you have contacts that you can trust.
How has COVID-19 affected the business?
In March 2020, when we went into the first lockdown we really had to think on our feet.
We went from 80 or so orders on the Sunday night to everyone cancelling on the Monday. I think it was one of the worst days of my life.
We asked our staff to take any leave owning to them while we organised ourselves.
Fortunately, we already had a home delivery website, so we immediately activated that, and with a shout out from Brendan Fevola on FOX FM on air and on Instagram we got the initial push we needed.
Now we do 200 to 300 home deliveries a week, and the wholesale side of the business fluctuates depending on what Dan Andrews decides to do at the time.
I am pleased to say that due to good planning and good luck we've kept all of our staff in jobs.
We continue to look after our home delivery customers and it remains about a third of the business.
How do you market the business?
My wife Izzy is a bit of a marketing whiz, and we particularly use Instagram to keep in touch with our customers as well as targeted Facebook marketing.
Izzy puts something up most days showcasing our produce mixed with a few cheeky posts here and there.
What is the secret to a successful business?
You need to be on time with your deliveries and the produce always has to be fresh. You can always discuss price but there is no discussion about quality.
My customers will soon tell me if they are not happy, and I don't want those phone calls.
What does the future hold for the fruit and vegetable industry?
Whatever happens, people have to eat. As long as farmers can still make a living supplying our fresh produce there will always be a market.
We just have to adapt to new situations as they arise.
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