106 www. bus- ex. com September / October 09 It's a very good alternative to air conditioning." The company is also meticulous in calculating consumer purchasing trends and advising its franchisees on what they should be buying. While its stores are managed on a weekly basis, the sales figures are collected and processed daily, so that over the period of a week any wastage or change in buying trends becomes visible. " We can then address the issue before it becomes a cancer," he says. Where inevitable wastage does occur, FVC has developed a community-oriented method for dealing with it. The food goes to the homeless and to orphans, through a charity, Food Bank SA, which collects the food directly from the stores. This hugely successful format has attracted considerable attention from abroad, all of it from individuals or companies who wish to operate the brand under franchise. The company currently has five outlets up and running in Namibia; there is a store planned for war- torn Angola; and there will be one opening very shortly in Zimbabwe, where food shortages are now reaching a critical level. Meanwhile, a Food Lovers Market is operating in Australia; there are two stores opening in Mauritius and Réunion, with two more planned in Botswana; and there is considerable interest in the brand from Europe. Although the company has experienced rapid growth, it prides itself on retaining the family touch. " Many big corporations lose the personal touch and become bureaucratic. But with our company, the managing director is effectively a phone call away from everybody. And we survive and thrive by listening to the customer. Those who are too corporate- focused can't listen to the customer." For FVC, building a good relationship with the customer is of ultimate importance, and this is drilled into every member of the company. " Everyone today is looking to be treated in a special way, to feel that they are more than just a number. Yet the world is opportunistic; people aim to make as much cash as they can and then move on. But that behaviour is not going to ensure any kind of loyalty- what we want to do is encourage people to try our products, with the hope of converting them and then retaining them. So we encourage our franchisees to build relationships with the consumer, and make a smaller short- term profit in order to gain a long- term customer." The fresh produce market, around which FVC is structured, is perhaps one of the earliest commercial entities known to man. " The market is a micro- economy in its own right, and is essentially a micro- aspect of capitalism and the free market system. But globally, these markets are now under pressure," Liebenberg says. " Many farmers would rather do business with us because of the way we do business and the way we treat them"
are starved of produce and the livelihood of many smaller traders is threatened. In South Africa, FVC is now the largest buyer of fresh produce from the markets, and is determined to continue purchasing in this way, delivering cost reductions to its customers through better buying, better handling and distribution of fresh produce and improved marketing strategies. " But I do think governments worldwide are going to have to improve the fresh produce markets because so many people and so many informal traders depend on them," Liebenberg says. Fruit and Veg City has shown it has a winning format which continues to spur phenomenal growth. But could it ultimately challenge the stranglehold that the likes of Wal- Mart, Tesco and Asda have on the consumer and on the farming community? Time alone will tell, but if the success of the past 16 years is anything to go by, the company may well be able to give them a run for their money. - Editorial research by Don Campbell The trend now is for retail giants to bypass the markets and secure their supply directly from the farmers. This makes economic sense for the retailers but it can be dangerous. The giants can act almost as a monopoly, pushing prices down to such an extent it becomes hardly viable to farm the land. Farmers tie all their produce to one single customer, which makes them vulnerable; meanwhile, the markets Fruit and Veg City September / October 09 www. bus- ex. com 107 We are proud to claim that our technical knowledge, safety standards and service quality are far beyond that of the average contractor. This is why we are a preferred supplier to most of the brands in the fuel industry. This led us to be appointed as electrical contractors at the four pilot sites of Freshstop at Caltex in the Western Cape. Southern Star Electrical