Harvest Hub was founded in early 2009 by husband and wife team Jayne Travers-Drapes and Anton van den Berg. They live in the Turramurra area with 2 teenage kids and a fluffy puppy dog.
The precursor to Harvest Hub was Jayne's fruit co-op that she ran with some 8 other families out of North Turramurra for almost a decade. Like most fruit co-ops, it suffered from a high member turnover at times - mainly because members grew tired at getting up at 4am on a Saturday morning every 4-6 weeks.
After another spate of defections, Jayne and husband Anton decided to change tack. 'If we do all the buying at Flemington, and then pack the boxes when we return with our loot, then all the members would have to do is collect their box', they reasoned. And if everyone chips in another couple of bucks, they pay for our box - a small price to pay for reclaiming those lazy Saturday mornings!
And it worked a treat. So much so that within weeks, 2 other local co-ops had joined - at which point it started to dawn on Jayne and Anton that they may have just stumbled on a novel new business idea.
A lifestyle change?
With Anton's background in market research at The Nielsen Company, a business plan was born - and in late 2008, our first Capital Acquisition was made: a last century model Volkswagen Transporter, traded in for Anton's beloved topless Holden Astra. A serious lifestyle adjustment lay ahead! (If only they knew...).
A website was launched, registrations flooded in - and by March 2009, they had signed up their 100th member: time to get serious. As fate would have it, Anton was offered redundancy by Nielsen. 'Let me think about it for a bit', he said. And about 2 minutes and 25 seconds later (the duration of a phone call to Jayne), he said he'd take it. And the rest is history, as they say.
Some of the redundancy proceeds were used as down-payment for a 4.5 tonne refrigerated truck. They also found some shared warehouse space near Flemington markets, and the business was in Serious Expansion Mode. By the end of 2009, Harvest Hub had nearly 300 members across 25 Hubs. It had outgrown the shared warehouse space so by early 2010, it was renting its own modest warehouse in Pendle Hill. Long-time Nielsen colleague and friend Anthony joined the business as a partner and shareholder. Anthony was given the lofty title of 'Warehouse Manager' - but of course, during those early days, we were all doing pretty well everything: buying, packing, delivering, recycling cardboard boxes, cleaning crates and doing paperwork. And managing the warehouse.
Local community focus
By that time, the Harvest Hub concept of 'good value, fresh and flavoursome produce, picked up from your local Hub' was well established - but the business had also become serious about two other ideas:
- Having seen the amount of produce routinely trucked from interstate, or flown in from overseas, Harvest Hub became a promoter of eating what's in season, and buying and selling local produce in order to cut down on food miles. It started cultivating relations with local growers, understanding what challenges they were facing - and anticipating what produce would be ready for harvest over the coming weeks. This enables Harvest Hub to secure supplies, as well as provide growers with the certainty of obtaining a fair price for their produce.
- Having seen various community groups work in action helping the less fortunate, we have become passionate about giving back to the local community - and share this passion with our members. Excess fruit and veg is given to groups who cook free meals for homeless people - from the Salvo's and Exodus to OzHarvest. Many Hubs started helping local families in need by donating spare fruit & veg, or purchasing an extra bag, or raising money to fund local charity work. For more information, please see Community
Our own space
In late 2011, we purchased (yes!) our first warehouse in South Granville. It's big and a little daunting - but one important plank of our growth plan. The other plank is a new website - launched in March 2012 - to facilitate 'custom' orders: it enables members to add and remove items, or by setting up a custom order from scratch. Overnight, our logistics changed dramatically - as did the product range: from some 25 different fruit and veg to a whopping 500 lines in just over 12 months!
In any new product we source, we aim to stay true to our principles:
- Sourced locally, from smaller Australian-owned suppliers (but we've made a few concessions, in most cases because there are no local equivalents)
- Great 'old-fashioned' flavour
- Fewer 'baddies' like sugar, saturated fat, artificial things, as well as chemical additives
- More 'goodies' like dietary fibre, unsaturated fat, complex carbohydrates
- Great value
- Available for pick-up through your local Hub
Over the past 12 months, the team has expanded greatly:
- Moussa, who joined us in year 1, has now taken on the Sourcing role. He talks to growers and wholesalers, and helps decide what's going into next week's bag
- Paul runs the warehouse, from stock management to packing and delivery. A Big Job by any measure! Luckily he has a team of 10 amazing packing staff to do the hard yakka...
- Michelle and Jane do an awesome job answering emails, issuing credits and rainchecks, organising replacement Hubsters and just about 247 other things that keep Harvest Hub running smoothly
- Wendy is the first port-of-call for aspiring Hubsters and new members, busily pushing our expansion across the Sydney metro area.