22/07/2010 - 00:00

High hopes for organic growth

22/07/2010 - 00:00


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A passion for wholesome produce is behind Organic on Charles in North Perth. Aimée Sargent reports.

High hopes for organic growth

FOR self-proclaimed ‘grocery girl’ Loren McMath, a happy customer leads to a healthy business. And on a particularly busy day some years ago, as she personally apologised to the lengthy checkout queue, a customer congratulated her on the roaring trade of the then-newly established fresh fruit, vegetable and grocery store.

The customer’s enthusiasm took Ms McMath by surprise, however it is a testament to her passion for good food and service.

Ms McMath opened Organic on Charles with her brother, Lyndon, nearly three years ago in North Perth, with confusion in the markeplace about organic produce a major driver of the move.

“We noticed a gap in the market for selling certified organic products and also having the knowledge of what that really means to back [the business] up,” Ms McMath says.

“A few years ago I would mention organic food and someone would ask, ‘What do they do to it to make it organic?’ and I would tell them it’s what they don’t do to it that makes it organic.”

Ms McMath and her brother had spent a decade working in conventional grocers that sold a small amount of organic produce, learning the ropes and the “little tricks” of presentation.

Eventually they worked, independently of each other, at well-established organic retailers around Perth before deciding to open their own store.

“I had two weeks off and set myself the target that in those two weeks I was going to find the location for the shop. Now, looking back and having more experience, I know that was completely unrealistic. But it happened,” she says.

“We weren’t even looking specifically in this area, we just knew that we wanted to be a reasonable distance away from other stores offering a similar thing. As soon as I saw the location I knew that was where we wanted to have the shop.”

As first-time business owners, Ms McMath says the first six months were the hardest, with knowing what grocery lines to carry and overcoming storage problems just two of the biggest issues.

The other was space – they were rapidly outgrowing the existing unit and had to think twice about taking on new stock.

“On Saturdays it was getting intense; too many people in too small a space. Plus with more and more product lines coming out, we had nowhere to put them,” Ms McMath told Gusto.

Earlier this year, the McMaths decided to take over the unit next door, however it was vital they continued to trade during renovations, so as soon as the doors closed on Saturday afternoon, they started knocking down the wall.

Renovations continued non-stop over the March long weekend, in time for opening on Tuesday morning.

The expansion has already showed promising results, with Organic on Charles reporting an 18 per cent increase in sales in the year to date.

“Most of the extra work [from the growth] falls on mine and Lyndon’s shoulders, but now we know how to grow, we know the procedures are in place, Ms McMath says.

“When we have a busy week it runs a lot smoother than it would have even a year ago; it’s a lot more self-sustaining.”

Ms McMath is passionate about connecting with her customers and supporting local food that’s “being produced in a way that’s been around for thousands of years”.

“So much conventional food is made using processes that didn’t even exist 50 years ago,” she says.

Although she concedes that price plays a big part in people’s opinion of organic food, Ms McMath argues that organic pricing, on the whole, isn’t that different from shopping at a quality grocer.

“Organic prices have stayed fairly steady, when conventional food has been going up and up,” she says.

“If someone comes through with a basket full of groceries, then yes, it will be fairly expensive [in comparison].

“But if people buy mostly fruit and veg, which is what we should be eating more of anyway, they can walk out with a big box of stuff and not be paying that much more for it.”




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