Organic growth

With prices that are 20 per cent cheaper than Woolworths or Coles and a business philosophy to share revenues with farmers, produce distributor Food Connect is expecting more than 65 per cent growth this year. Director Robert Pekin is out to bring back organic farming culture and he is not putting anything to waste.

ROBERT Pekin wants to operate at the same level as the farmer.

It is a rare trait for a food distributor but the director of Food Connect says it is a business philosophy that saves costs by being frugal and building strong relationships with his 100 farmer suppliers.

As part of the Queensland Sustainable Industries Awards, the community enterprise won the ClimateSmart Leadership award, with a philosophy focused on supporting farmers, encouraging healthy eating habits and helping the environment.

“Farmers’ access to the marketplace is completely dominated by supermarkets, so they’ve been pickled out. We want to give them back a market where their dignity is restored and their effort is respected with fair prices,” says Pekin.

“The glaring thing is that most of the stuff in supermarkets is roughly 500 to 800 per cent on the original price for farmers, but we’re right down the middle with a 50-50 split.”

All of Food Connect’s suppliers are within a four-hour drive of Brisbane and Pekin claims its emissions are 95 per cent less than Woolworths and Coles, with lower prices too.

“Our prices are 20 per cent cheaper than Woolies and Coles and our goods are 70 to 80 per cent organic – we’re exposing the great big myth that everyone’s in business just to make money,” he says.

“We find efficiencies to plug into to deliver that affordability — our distribution chain has managed to cut out a lot of middle men.”

While Food Connect brings in about $50,000 in revenue every week and is expecting $2.5 million this financial year, the business is currently making 2 per cent profit.
“We’re always growing and we expect 65 to 70 per cent growth this year,” he says.

Another initiative Food Connect has to support farmers is a policy of advance payment to suppliers, with the goal of rebuilding food resilience in southeast Queensland and the old farming infrastructure that was ‘completely gutted’ by industrialised farming.

“We have a very unique distribution system as we pay farmers in advance, so it’s not your typical wander into the shop and choose the goods scenario,” he says.

“For years we have followed the parable that if you give a man a fish he’ll eat for a day, but if you teach him how to fish he’ll eat for life – the only problem is that the pond has been stolen, it’s gone.”

Since Food Connect started in May 2005, in addition to 100 farmers the Salisbury-based enterprise now has 40 staff and 70 distribution centres in Brisbane, the Gold Coast, Stanthorpe, Killarney and Warwick.

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