Food Retailer Insights – June 2014
A&D Projects, in collaboration with with the Food Innovation Alliance for the City of Greater Dandenong, were engaged to carry out in depth retailer interviews with Dandenong based restaurants, grocery stores and food related businesses to provide a range of qualitative data and insights. The objective of this was to find out how businesses were working currently, what the existing food economy looked like for each business and what would be of most support to these businesses to grow locally, sustainably and healthily in the future. From this A&D developed a series of design concepts for food related business within Dandenong.
The engagement outcomes formed an overall snapshot of the Dandenong retail food system. This was then utilised to develop the co-design outputs and multiple aspects of the Food Strategy recommendation. This process had a parallel objective – to develop a network of retailers who were engaged and active within the project so that outcomes of the report already have local buy in. This is fundamentally important to making the strategy a locally owned reality in the coming years.
A&D Projects spent three days in Dandenong interviewing 12 retailers from diverse backgrounds including Afghan, Sudanese, Indian, Polish, Mauritian, Middle Eastern, Bhurmese and Cambodian. We spoke to a number of other traders about the project who also showed a keen level of interest. The insights gained into the deep affection for their place and the value of their life in Dandenong was both inspiring and a testament to the areas rich multiculture and vibrant heart. Each interview was held within their cafes, grocery stores and restaurants and we performed a retail place analysis at the same time to look at commonalities between businesses and simple things that could help retailers on the spot.
The questions centred around finding out about existing business and having a discussion about how the Food Strategy could benefit their business, and other businesses within the community. A&D mapped the existing way of working, produce supply chain and participation in the local economy and the community; we explored why businesses chose to locate in Dandenong and what were the greatest difficulties in doing business in the Greater City of Dandenong. We then gleaned their insights on health and ideas for how council and local businesses could work together to develop the local food economy and support a sustainable healthy community.
Upon conclusion of the engagement process the project team distilled this information to draw out key understandings that could inform the codesign process and larger Food Strategy. These insights formed the foundation for the design concepts for programs, outputs, policy changes and street activation.
The key overall insights gained from this process were:
- All of these traders wanted to develop their business and are open to new ways that this can happen. Each was very passionate and very proud and excited about the Food Strategy.
- Food businesses are generally located in Dandenong due to migrant community ties.
- All of these businesses considered health important – how much this was true of their food varied. Most businesses associated health with hygiene and freshness.
- There was a disconnect in some cases between the value they put on health and the actual health of the food.
- Businesses were generally very supportive of local economy and wanting to buy locally first – and most traders were doing this by default. Grocery stores were an exception, which were primarily using import wholesalers – however a number of these wholesalers were based within Dandenong.
- Produce was bought according to both ease of delivery/pick up/shopping and price of produce.
- The biggest success stories had a direct correlation with well-designed or culturally specific decor, with a rich development of atmosphere (music, smell and lighting) within the eating experience.
- There was a common feeling that the lack of parking in the area of needed timing (15 minute for grocers, 2 hour and nighttime for restaurants) for customers and that this was more difficult since the streetscape redevelopment.
- There were three common types of food retailers:
1. Destinational – Those retailers that people came from many other suburbs to visit, a special occasion, functions and many return customers. Not specific to migrant community.
2. Culturally based – Restaurants or grocers where specific migrant communities can get produce or dishes that are from their homelands. Sometimes visited by other communities however not as a majority.
3. Family & friends – Restaurants that are running on a shoestring and rely solely on family and friends visiting from the surrounding suburb. These are most likely to suffer inconsistent business.
- There were many existing strengths in the local food economy that could be utilised and drawn upon to form the food strategy. These were very exciting examples of local resilience and trade based communities. This confirmed for the project team that innovation mixed with local customised responses will be most effective in delivering the Food Strategy.
- Many traders within the community had also thought of ideas that are part of the Food Strategy – however the access and support for this to become a reality was their current difficulty. For instance – the start-up capital for a Food Truck.
- Nearly all traders were heavily supportive of a festival or annual event that brought more people to Dandenong as well as a shared web platform that showcased the multiple offerings, provided recipes and accessibility to cultural understandings and stories.
- Ginger Jones, Polish Rye Bakery, Green Coriander, Afghan Rahimi, My Cambodia and CJ Spices all saw great value in being able to utilise the street or mobile vending to sell product. They differed in which way was best to do this.
- A majority of the food traders saw value in a Dandenong based brand that developed a shared product line for the area that could be distributed in stores throughout Melbourne.
- Most businesses felt access to mentoring services was already available.
- A number of businesses saw value in a buy local campaign to support local supply and development. Many felt they already did this for most of their supplies.
The Dandenong retail community represent a rich melting pot of culture, ideas, passion, ambition and community. This is an incredible strength and existing network to build and implement an effective Food Strategy. Each retailer was supportive of this strategy and very quickly saw the value in a locally based, resilient, healthy food economy – both for their business’s success and for community wellbeing.