Wednesday, April 17, 2024

On the couch with Roger and John-Paul Drake

Catherine Sayer

Food South Australia hosted its annual Summit in June. It was a fantastic day with very high-quality speakers, covering food trends, the future of food and a strong focus on plant-based foods.

By Food South Australia CEO Catherine Sayer. 

As part of the day’s program, I had the special opportunity to interview Roger and John-Paul Drake from Drakes Supermarkets, an independent supermarket chain based in SA and Queensland.

It was a far-reaching discussion and certainly entertained the audience. In SA we are so fortunate to have some very strong independent retailers who often give small businesses their ‘leg up’ in retail.

“It all starts with the independents,” said Roger on the day.

Roger has a very interesting business philosophy – ‘get small, get big or get out’.

Those businesses that are small can manage everything in a very personalised fashion and to get scale you need to get big. He made the point is that all supermarkets historically have started small. Whilst Drakes, starting from a very small scale, is now very much on the ‘big’ side, his overall focus is “customer first” which has stood the Drakes Supermarkets business in good stead.

Drakes recently made a significant investment in building their own warehouse in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. It is state of the art and very large! Having been there myself, I can say it is an amazing, automated facility.

I asked Roger and John-Paul what they were seeing as some of the key trends in consumer demand.

They listed quite a few, including gluten free, organic, healthy options, and that consumers want to know where the product’s from, what’s in it, and are generally now looking for healthy options overall.

Health food isn’t just one aisle anymore, they are everyday purchases, meaning these previously niche products are now appearing alongside more traditional versions right across the supermarket.

Drakes Supermarkets has kitchens for pre-prepared food as people are becoming more and more time poor. All this is clearly driven by consumer demand.

Over the past 12 months, local has been very important to consumers. Food SA manages the I Choose SA campaign for our sector. We worked with Drakes to identify products that are SA Made and Owned which really supports the trend of local. A bit of parochialism came out from John-Paul.

“SA has the best food, best produce on the planet. We have it all here in the food bowl,” he said.

John-Paul talked about their social media strategy and distilled it into a single sentence – “Be on as many platforms as you can to accommodate as many markets as you can.”

Interestingly, a significant percentage of their workforce is under 24 and John-Paul told us the best way to communicate with them is through social media because they don’t read emails!

Roger and John-Paul were asked for their tips for success:

  • Surround yourself with good people. “We’re only good at a couple of things, so you need to surround yourself with people who have got other skill sets.” As they say, we are all individuals and not good at everything, so get people who are good at what you aren’t and make sure you listen to everybody!
  • They have a 30 second rule – any employee can ask anything and you have to give them your full attention for 30 seconds which means you are making them a priority for that time. If you don’t have the answer to their question or query, you will get back to them. Roger reinforced how important it is because people are their number one asset.

Food SA is so proud to have developed strong relationships with retailers and we are often the conduit between a food and beverage business and the retailer. We place real importance of face-to-face meetings and again this year will take the opportunity to have a South Australian presence at Fine Food Australia in Sydney at HL5 and HL 6. There will be many fantastic South Australian businesses exhibiting and we look forward to wowing you with the best food on the planet in September!


About Catherine Sayer 

Catherine has led Food South Australia since it was established in 2010, passionately guiding the development of the industry’s peak body with a focus on industry growth and advocacy. She also is a member of, and chairs, several boards.

 About Food South Australia 

Food South Australia is the state’s peak body for the food and beverage industry, with a mission to support and sustain the industry in South Australia, helping businesses of all sizes to grow their markets, capability and industry connections. Food South Australia is independent, industry led, and membership based.

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