The local shop plays a vital role for most communities, but in South Australia’s Barossa Valley it’s part of the region’s very identity.
Fresh Foodland Nuriootpa is part of the Barossa Community Co-operative, a retail co-op formed in 1944. Supermarket Manager at Fresh Foodland Ken Hodges says the co-op was formed by a group of community leaders after a pair of storeowners lost their son and heir to World War Two.
“His parents were basically going to walk away from the business, so a group of community leaders decided to form a co-operative and run it as a co-op,” Mr Hodges said. “What that means is we have members – it costs you $2 to become a member, which is a once-in- a-lifetime charge – and all the profits made then go back to the members, in other words, back to the local community. It isn’t owned by a family or an outside group, it’s actually owned by members of the Barossa, and we have about 18,000 members in the co-op.”
By putting all profits into the Barossa community, the co-op is able to help support local businesses and provide benefits to local shoppers, according to Mr Hodges. “Every time you go shopping, you’ve got a membership card that you present, and you get back a percentage of what you spend throughout the year in the form of a rebate,” he said.
“We also have member-only specials as well. The other key thing is that it’s important for us to get 90 per cent of our sales to members, so we normally turn around about 93-94 per cent of our sales to members, so we’ve got a good support base from the Barossa community.”
Mr Hodges says another benefitthe co-op offers is local access to other retailers through its co-op-owned shopping centre. “We have a Foodland, but we also have a Mitre 10 store, we’ve got a Betta Electrical, we’ve got a SportsPower, we’ve got fashion clothing stores, and the co-op owns the shopping centre, so we’re a landlord to tenants,” he said. “We’ve got an ALDI, Cheap as Chips, Smokemart, chemist, toy store, Barossa Fine Foods – so we’ve got quite a few tenants in our business. We’re retailers, but we’re also landlords.
“We want to make the Barossa a better place to live, [which is] why we’re bringing in other retailers to the town, which means they don’t need to leave the area. They spend more money locally, so businesses can employ more people, and this creates ‘sticky money’ – it generates money and the money remains local.”
According to Mr Hodges, being part of the Barossa community means being closely aligned with local growers and producers, supporting them while offering shoppers locally owned and sourced produce.
“In the new store we’ve put in what we call the Barossa Larder, which is right by the store entrance,” he said. “That features and focuses purely on local Barossa products. We work as closely as we can with the local growers, manufacturers and so on to support them and put their products in the store.
“It’s really important we feature local producers all the time, particularly with our range in the Barossa Larder. Then we get into areas like our service deli, where we have lots of local foods as well. We’re just trying to offer a product range that excites people. Personally, I think we’ve got a pretty good cheese section, and we’ve got a massive focus on local that makes cheese a feature in that section.”
Another key service that allows Fresh Foodland to highlight local produce, as well as local talent, is its meat servery, which features on-site butchers and offers transparency to shoppers.
“We have five butchers, so while those at Woolworths and Coles are removing butchers from their stores, we have them on site,” Mr Hodges said.
“We’ve also got a glass partition where you can stand at the meat servery inside the shop and look into the meat prep room and see the butchers working their craft. I think some people like to see that – they like to see what’s going on behind the scenes. If you go into a restaurant, it’s not uncommon now to actually see the people preparing and cooking food with nothing to hide.”
While operating Fresh Foodland as part of the Barossa co-op, Mr Hodges says the Foodland banner is important, as it is one of the best- known brands in South Australia.
“The Foodland group was established in 1962, so it’s been around for quite some time,” he said. “It’s a very credible and strong group – a strong banner that’s run exceptionally well, so it’s easy to be part of.”
Tailoring to market demands means not only offering local produce, says Mr Hodges, but also ensuring customers have a wide range of product choice and services that cater to community expectations.
“We have a range of about 25,000 products, whereas Woolworths and Coles have about 11,000 to 12,000, and ALDI has about 1,500, so our product range is extensive compared with the major supermarkets,” he said. “We have a lot of specials that we run for our members, so when they scan their membership cards they get discounts, and those deals change regularly.
“We’ve got an in-store bakery and an in-store café that seats 70 people. We’ve always found that in the old shop and in country areas, people would know a lot of people within the area, but they might not see them on a regular basis, so they’d come into the shop to catch up and have a bit of a chat.
“One of the good things about the café is that we’ve got a space that we can provide where people can meet, grab a coffee or cake
or sandwich, and sit down. That section’s working quite well because it’s in the supermarket, but not part of the hustle and bustle of the main part of the store.”