This guy is ver­sa­tile and de­li­cious

“Peo­ple might think that the potato is out­dated, but I’m here to say he’s not,” Michal Haines, gen­eral man­ager of Farro Fresh, told the con­fer­ence.

NZ Grower - - Election 2017 -

“He’s the num­ber one favourite of all chil­dren, a ver­sa­tile guy and de­li­cious.”

Farro Fresh started in the Auck­land sub­urb of Mt Welling­ton in 2006, em­ploy­ing 12 staff there. Now it has five stores across the city, as well as an on­line pres­ence and em­ploys 450 staff.

“We spend our whole days look­ing at and think­ing about food,” she said.

“We’re lucky to have carved out a unique space in a very com­pet­i­tive area.”

Farro Fresh con­cen­trates on of­fer­ing shop­pers fresh, qual­ity, sea­sonal and de­li­cious in­gre­di­ents and sees fast mov­ing con­sumer goods (FMCG) as “a bit of a dirty word”.

The staff are cooks and don’t see food as a com­mod­ity.

“It’s def­i­nitely not all about prof­its and mar­gins,” she said.

“But the last 10 years has been an in­cred­i­ble learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.” The company has a very dis­tinc­tive voice that it uses across all its com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

“We have a huge amount of knowl­edge be­cause we’re talk­ing to grow­ers and look­ing at trends,” she said.

“We’re on the pulse of sea­sons and know what we can of­fer at a good price. We’re al­ways look­ing at new ideas be­cause it’s about push­ing bound­aries.”

Michal said Farro Fresh shop­pers are usu­ally women, who are very loyal to the company.

“They have a real sense of own­er­ship about a store,” she said.

“They re­ally trust what we do, and that’s gold. We teach them about sea­son­al­ity and we can do a lot more with that. It’s prob­a­bly the big­gest thing for us.”

Shop­pers usu­ally come into their stores more than once a week, and some of them ev­ery day. “They want to know where their food comes from be­cause re­gion­al­ity is such a big thing now,” she said.

“And they want and ex­pect qual­ity.”

Farro Fresh pro­motes veg­eta­bles and fruit with five dif­fer­ent ways to use them, and if a cer­tain veg­etable isn’t avail­able at a par­tic­u­lar time of year cus­tomers don’t mind.

“We’ve ed­u­cated them be­cause they want to know all about dif­fer­ent fruit and veg­eta­bles,” she said.

Most cus­tomers are emo­tion­ally in­volved, as was seen when the company put on a highly suc­cess­ful as­para­gus fes­ti­val to cel­e­brate the veg­etable’s ar­rival in its stores. And cus­tomers would give ad­vice to oth­ers on what to buy based on the fact they had met the grower of a par­tic­u­lar crop in store re­cently.

Mar­ket­ing man­ager, Pe­tra Mi­hal­je­vich, said that value-added mar­ket­ing is needed to con­nect the con­sumer back to the grower of their food.

She pre­vi­ously worked for All Good Ba­nanas, the first New Zealand im­porter of fair trade ba­nanas, where she said a cus­tomer sur­vey showed many peo­ple thought the fruit came from the su­per­mar­ket or were grown in New Zealand.

“We are try­ing to work directly with grow­ers to tell the story of sea­son­al­ity,” she said.

Grow­ers such as Pukekohe’s Al­lan Fong have a great story to tell, which is par­tic­u­larly im­por­tant when there is of­ten a dis­con­nect be­tween shop­pers and the peo­ple who grow their food. And then so­cial me­dia and in store pro­mo­tions could be used to ex­plain why veg­etable prices were high if there had re­cently been flood­ing, for ex­am­ple. “They see that there’s a rea­son for this,” she said.

Jersey Benne pota­toes are the stores’ best seller in the sum­mer months.

“The an­tic­i­pa­tion is as great as that for as­para­gus,” she said.

“And it grows year on year.”

But peo­ple still need ed­u­ca­tion on dif­fer­ent va­ri­eties of pota­toes, their uses and new ways of cook­ing them, which is where tast­ings in store can help a great deal.

“Kale might be the princess at the mo­ment, but pota­toes can be used in so many dif­fer­ent ways,” she said.

“They have a great story.”

q Michal Haines. _____________

▴ Pe­tra Mi­hal­je­vich. ________________

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