Way back in the mists of time, before I started my nursing training and long before things like hair colour, spanx and comfortable shoes became relevant to me, I spent a brief period working as what was then known as a check-out chick at our local supermarket. Back in those quaint old times milk was delivered to our doorstep, meat came from the butchers, fruit and vegetables came from the greengrocers and the (small amount of) other groceries which were used in our home came from either the local general store one of a growing number of small, independently owned supermarkets. The name of the store in which I worked has fallen into one of the many holes in my brain, but, unlike the mega-stores of today, it was a small business which closed at 5.30pm during the week, 11.30am on a Saturday and most of the customers knew me – if not by name, then at least by sight – as I did them.
Shopping has changed a lot since then and these days many Australian food shoppers are hog tied in their choices by the duopoly that has become known as “ColesWorths”. Throughout the country there are numerous independent supermarkets struggling to compete with the monolithic duo but here in South Australia we are putting up quite a fight. I’ll bet you didn’t know that independent supermarkets here have the highest market share of supermarkets in the entire country – and that the iconic South Australian Foodland brand stores enjoy 80-85% of that share.
The first Foodland store in South Australia is thought to have been in Glenelg South and the Foodland group was formed in 1962 when 38 independent supermarkets banded together under the now familiar Foodland boomerang logo. Back in the early days there was little or no help from technology – unless you count the big, old ringing cash registers. All the items on the shelves were priced by hand, the same person who rang up your purchases also unloaded the trucks, packed the shelves, cleaned out the fridges and washed the floors and the store owners spent their Sundays doing their bookwork or writing cheques to pay their accounts, rather than being open for trading as they are today.
Since then the group has grown to 115 stores across South Australia, with two more interstate in Broken Hill and the Northern Territory. I spoke with Russell Markham, Foodland’s current Chief Executive Officer, whose first memories of Foodland go back to the early seventies. He recalls how the owner of a local Foodland store (his future father in law) knew each customer’s name and how this store owner dressed in a starched white shirt and maroon bow tie when delivering groceries to elderly customers after hours from a white Bedford van. That style of customer service is still alive and well in Foodland stores today, although the bow ties and the Bedford van have long gone.
The Foodland group is overseen by a board which enables it to control its own marketing and promotions, and the ongoing success is attributed to the dedication of this board, the retail owners and their staff to the business and to the culture of the Foodland brand. Many owners are second and third generation retailers whose families have lived and operated in their local community over many years and during its 50-year history, Foodland has proudly assisted many schools, sporting clubs, kindergartens and charities across South Australia.
The commitment of Foodland stores to the local community extends to the food producers of South Australia and all of the stores maintain high levels of locally sourced foods, but the commitment doesn’t stop there. Foodland stores stock a range of their own branded products but, unlike the self-branded labels you will find in ColesWorths, very few of these contain ingredients sourced from outside of this country – and the ones which do are being gradually phased out. In fact, Russell tells me, more than half the Foodland label products are sourced from very well known, high quality, local South Australian brands – but I can’t give away any more than that.
To celebrate their 50th anniversary, Foodland have released their own cookbook which contains 50 recipes sourced from South Australian shoppers, many using some of the fabulous, local products that we are familiar with. The book sells for just $2.99 in your local Foodland store and part proceeds are going to support the Little Heroes Foundation, which helps sufferers of childhood cancer and serious illness.
If you care about food security then you will understand that diversity is an important factor in maintaining a secure food chain. Foodland are solely South Australian, employ local people, support local food producers and are squaring up to the stiff opposition of the big boys – I think they deserve our support.