Food & Lifestyle
Buying organic in Melbourne
The Organic Wholesaler

John Williams of "The Organic Wholesaler" says the industry is growing by about 20% per year, with 70 outlets in Melbourne. About 40 of these are core outlets, which have been around for years.

He told Acres that Coles are getting into organic. "In NSW they are going store by store, but in Victoria they have introduced a few lines into each store."

Conventional retailers will also experiment with organic food "when the price is close to the regular market."

John says "there is an over-supply for half the year, and under-supply for the other half, with winter supply being the hardest." He says "because of ORGAA, we have a high awareness of organic in this state."

The Organic Wholesaler is SQF accredited. This required them to "clean up our act, have written policies and procedures and specification lists and training manuals." John said "it was hard work to do, but has been well worth while."

"We supply Victoria mainly, and some South Australian stores. We also send some produce to Tasmania and to Canberra. Country towns in Victoria are growing too, especially Mildura and the Western District Warrnambool, Colac, Hamilton, Ballarat, Bendigo and Geelong."

John agreed with my proposal that growers should leave their organic label on the on when supplying to conventional wholesalers and retailers, as a way of educating the traders and the public.

He also said that prices are still too high, "this has to do with the stage and maturity of the market, as well as the costs of production."

He says that retailers could do more to explain to consumers why the price of organic food is so high, including the environmental benefits of organic.

Wild Rice: a macrobiotic - organic restaurant

Wild Rice has been established in Fitzroy for eleven years. Part owner Robyn McLeod has been involved with the restaurant since its inception 11 years ago. She told Acres "the philosophy of the restaurant is wholesome food in season".

"We have always tried to use organic food, but it is much easier now that in previous times."

"We use macrobiotic principles. We were very strict at first, for instance we would not use tomatoes, or any member of the nightshade family. Now we have moved more towards customer needs and expectations. For instance we have organic coffee, whereas before we would not have served coffee at all."

"The menu varies seasonally and all food is made on the day it is sold. It is more work to vary the menu, but we have to if we want to serve food as fresh as possible. It is also a little difficult for some customers to except that we may not have the tofu curry, for instance, on the menu every day."

"Eleven years ago we were regarded as extremely wacky, but we have had excellent support from customers from the start and we have really gained from our commitment to the philosophy."

"We are now planning a second restaurant in Chapel Street (at the Windsor end)."

"We would like to be 100% organic, but the fresh produce is probably only 60% organic at this stage. We can survive with 100% organic grains and rice, but we still need to top up with non-organic vegetables."

"We think that access to organic produce may be easier when Safeways and Coles move into it more."

I asked Robyn what was meant by "macrobiotic". She said "locally grown food, eaten in season. There is an emphasis on simplicity, rather than complex meals, and 60% of each meal should be grains. The remainder can be vegetables, seaweed etc."

"We recently surveyed our customers. A lot said they came because we were organic and macrobiotic. We are also vegan."

"Our philosophy has stretched a little, for instance we would think about offering organic wine now, which we would not have considered before."

"We also have a food factory, making vegan food for Coles and Safeways. We make two vegetable bake products, rice balls, tofu balls, soya burgers, lemon sago pudding and black rice pudding."

"There is a lot of potential for supplying food to people who want high quality, GE free food, but don"t want to prepare it themselves."

"We welcome others to enter the market - we would think of them as adding value to us rather than providing competition." This is an interesting reflection, which I completely agree with. People will be more dedicated to organic/macrobiotic food if they can make a decision to consume only organic, macrobiotic etc. They can't do this unless they can construct a "whole diet" (i.e. they will feel better eating Uncle Tobys Vita Brits if they can use organic sugar, milk and fruit too). A choice venues for eating out is part of the whole diet and lifestyle decision, and can only help in the longer term.

Robyn continued "GE has certainly brought more "mainstream" people to a greater food awareness. There is generally a higher level of knowledge, education and awareness than 10 years ago."

"We have had excellent support from staff, who are very committed to organics and macrobiotics. They have furthered their education and training, including attending cooking classes. The 10% owner, Peter Hall, is also committed."

"Wild Rice is the people working together as much as the venue and the food."

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