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“People might think that the potato is outdated, but I’m here to say he’s not,” Michal Haines, general manager of Farro Fresh, told the conference.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