Presented by Brian Coppin, Co-founder: Fruit and Veg City.

Fruit & Veg City Holdings is the lasrgest fresh produce retailer in southern Africa. It serves customers in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zambia and Mauritius.

Brian founded Fruit and Veg City with his brother Mike. He related how they took the business from one relatively modest store in Kenilworth to a multi-brand giant in its sector within less than two decades. His modesty shone through when he stressed that while the period since the first store opened had been rewarding, not everything the brothers had touched ended in success. “But,” he added philosophically, “the occasional failure keeps you grounded.”

The first store was an instant success and returned the initial investment within six months. Stores in Cape Town, Port Elizabeth, Durban and Johannesburg followed and were highly successful. However, the budding chain’s initial success was – at least in part – based on its relatively small size and resulting nimbleness. Five years down the line, this competitive advantage started to fade.
This is where Brian’s philosophy of “constant re-invention” paid off big time. To begin with, he took a team of senior managers to several world capitals including London, Berlin, New York and Austin, Texas. They studied international best practices and, on their return, implemented the best of what they had learnt.

The Fruit and Veg City brands

Food Lovers MarketThe first new-look store, named Food Lovers Market, was set up in Hillfox, Johannesburg. It covers an area of 3,600 m2 and employs close on 300 workers. The store incorporates additional departments including a bakery, a butchery and a quick service restaurant. Most importantly, its layout is designed to ensure that customers pass every department before they reach the checkouts.

Taken together, over 100 stores operate either under the Fruit and Veg City or Food Lovers Market banner. Over time, most if not all Fruit and Veg City stores in South Africa will be converted to Food Lovers Market stores.

Food Lovers CaféOne could almost say that this brand was established out of necessity. The site for the first store didn’t have parking so it had to be designed for on-site consumption. 95% of the products it sells are consumed on site.
Fresh StopThis is a convenience store concept which is located on Caltex forecourts. Following a piloting phase of 8 months during which the concept was honed to perfection at 4 sites, it was rolled out nationally. By the end of 2013, close on 200 franchised stores will serve the public in South Africa, Namibia, Lesotho, Zambia and Mauritius. One outlet is company-owned, with the rest owned and operated by Caltex franchisees.
FVC International
This is another group brand. It operates as an importer and exporter of fresh produce and has quickly become the largest exporter of fresh produce in South Africa.Franchisees are supplied from regional distribution centres but also purchase certain produce from local farmers. This is done to support the local communities they serve but in the interest of the brand and its end-customers, strict quality controls are applied by the franchisor.

Summing up

Brian’s core philosophy is simple:

  • Position the brand as a value retailer where selection, value and service dominate.
  • Buy the best produce and offer it to the consumer in an attractive environment that conveys a produce market feel.
  • Build and maintain personal relationships with customers by franchising the bulk of the stores, thus ensuring the all-important presence of the owner behind the counter.

ãKurt Illetschko 2013. Published with permission.