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Food produce market now available online at Fresh Mart Express

Published:Sunday | May 24, 2015 | 12:00 AMTameka Gordon

A local wholesaler has carved out a niche for itself in the fresh produce delivery business, bringing a range of foods to the homes and offices of its customers.

The business, which operates from Newport West in Kingston, is divided into two entities: Fresh Mart, which is to become a brick-and-mortar operation; and an online shopping platform called Fresh Mart Express, says operations manager Sherman Campbell. Both units are divisions of the 10-year-old company, Fresh and Direct, an importer and wholesaler of produce.

The business was started by Campbell's father, Clifton Campbell, but it is now fully owned by Wilson Powell.

Through Fresh Mart Express, householders can order a range of provisions such as seasonings, fruits and vegetables. Talks are under way with bee farmers to add honey to the available products. The division also supplies restaurants and supermarket chains, Campbell said.

"The site has been running for about six months with about 50 orders a day. We want to ramp that up to at least a 100 orders for the day," the operations manager said.

current structure

The company's current structure, which is still evolving, emerged from a reorganisation and repositioning of parent company Fresh and Direct, which first launched into business in 2005 as an importer of potatoes, garlic, and onions. With the Government's focus on import substitution as a food-security policy, aimed both at getting Jamaicans to consume more locally produced food while cutting back on the country's food bill, Fresh and Direct decided to revamp its business model towards the supply of more domestically grown produce.

Fresh Mart Express now sells more than 46 food items, with delivery service spanning Kingston, St Andrew, and Portmore in St Catherine.

"Our physical outlay is not ready yet. We are putting in the infrastructure where you would have a market that is similar to what you would experience downtown, but in a way more (convenient) environment," Campbell said. The Fresh Mart market would occupy about 4,000 square feet in space that the company plans to lease.

However, Fresh and Direct is still weighing whether to follow through with the investment both because of the costs involved and uncertainty about foot traffic.

"When you have a market, equipment-wise, it costs way more, and we are not about to fool ourselves into believing that we are going to get a heavy concentration of persons leaving downtown and coming to us physically," said the operations manager.

The company's market surveys show a high demand for online shopping and delivery services. "Many people wanted the downtown prices without the downtown experience," said Campbell - a reference to the bargains to be had at the popular Coronation Market, which sits in the heart of downtown Kingston.

Fresh and Direct itself supplies imported potatoes and onions to vendors who sell at Coronation Market, Campbell said.

Staffed by 24, Fresh Mart now buys produce from at least 40 contracted farmers, alongside intermittent supplies from close to 100 others, who deliver periodically to its Newport West site.

Campbell said it took $5 million to $6 million for staff and equipment to get the Fresh Mart venture off the ground.

The goods are priced at "just above what you would pay in the market but way below the supermarket prices", Campbell said.

The business will eventually expand its deliveries to include products such as organically grown produce and juices, as well as expand its markets to other parishes.

"We are trying to make sure we get Kingston and St Andrew and Portmore right, and then branch out," Campbell said.