Paddock-to-plate potatoes are important to Georgie Dragwidge, the farmers that grow the produce for her shop, and her customers. And because they are important to Georgie, they’re important to Toll.
Georgie’s Harvest and a 150-year history of potatoes
The South Melbourne Market is the oldest continuing market in Melbourne; in 2017, it celebrated 150 years since its original opening. The market stands on the same ground it was erected on in 1867, and many of its food stores still sell the items that have been sold there for more than a century.
Georgie Dragwidge, owner of famous South Melbourne root vegetable store Georgie’s Harvest, is proud to be continuing the tradition of selling potatoes in her shop on the Coventry Street side of the market.
“I’ve had my shop since 2011, but it’s been selling potatoes since the 1800s. We have pumpkins, onions, harder-to-find ingredients like truffles, but I’m best known for my potatoes. I sell a lot of niche varieties, most of which are grown in Tasmania – the climate is perfect for growing potatoes,” says Georgie.
From senior management to delivery drivers, 'Toll is a joy'
Since opening her shop five years ago, Georgie has been a Toll customer. Deliveries of fresh produce arrive at the market in a Toll truck, and it’s a part of the week Georgie says she looks forward to.
“I can honestly tell you that working with Toll, in every respect, has been a joy. The delivery drivers who bring my vegetables to me every week are wonderful; they go above and beyond to help me out. They’ll grab a spare pallet if we need one, they’ll wait if we need to race off and borrow a forklift, and they’re always ready with a big happy smile as they’re leaving.”
Over the years Georgie has been a Toll customer, it is her experience, she says, that the willingness to go above and beyond is not just a trait reserved for Toll drivers but extends to customer service staff all the way through to management.
“I can remember in our first year, I was expecting a shipment of potatoes from a Tasmanian farmer that needed to be delivered to a Melbourne restaurant before the weekend. I decided to call Toll to check the order status – I was expecting a customer service representative, but the Operations Manager answered the phone.
“Now, this is a senior person at Toll, and he didn’t know me. I’d been using Toll for about a year, but I’m hardly a top tier customer. Nevertheless, he took care of it personally for me, he was friendly and professional. And lo and behold, there were my potatoes delivered to the shop before the weekend.”
Georgie says that she values the fact that Toll personnel have consistently made the effort to understand her business and make her feel like she is a valued customer.
“It might sound like basic stuff, and they say ‘good manners don’t cost anything’ but to me it’s so important – I think that’s a huge testament to the kind of company Toll is – for five years, it’s been such an easy and positive working arrangement.”
Creating new opportunities for Tasmanian farmers
The Tasmanian farms that grow the produce for Georgie’s Harvest operate on a small scale, unlike farms on the mainland that supply bulk shipments of potatoes to major supermarkets and food processing facilities across Australia and to overseas markets.
“There’s a big difference between the potatoes you buy in a supermarket – including those used to make processed products – and the ones we sell. My potatoes don’t grow to full size in four weeks; they take three months. And a market shop the size of mine doesn’t order by the tonne.”
Georgie’s Harvest sources specialty potato varieties – including Dutch Creams, Royal Blues, and the world-famous Pink Eye – from small farms in Tasmania, many of which are family owned and have been passed down through generations.
“I’ve found the best way to find and connect with potato farmers in Tasmania, to source the best produce for my shop, is to take a grass roots approach,” says Georgie.
“Tasmanians have a quirky – and genuine – passion for potatoes, and they’re only too happy to recommend farmers to me that they know are producing the best. They’re visiting Melbourne and come to my shop, and they tell me that there’s a fantastic Pink Eye farm a half hour drive from where they live. Or they know someone growing the best Dutch Creams you’ve ever tasted. That’s how I find my farmers.”
But connecting with the potato farmers themselves is only half the challenge for Georgie – establishing a supply chain that connects their farms in Tasmania with her business on the mainland is also a consideration, complicated by the fact that many of her farmers have never traded outside their own island state.
“I deal directly with farmers – it’s what my customers want, what I want, and what the farmers want – but until they met me, most of my farmers weren’t selling to the mainland."
“The thing about these farmers is they’re like me – they’re small businesses. They grow local and sell local. So when we approach them to sell their produce on the mainland, it’s the first time they’re doing it.
“It seems like an expensive – and complicated – thing to do, to extend their supply chain across Bass Strait. The product is niche; they are more expensive than mass-produced potatoes, because they take longer to grow and are produced in smaller quantities. What’s the trick to making it work?”
Bringing Tasmanian potatoes to the mainland
The farmers’ concerns about a lack of infrastructure and questions about costs were valid ones, Georgie says, but she had the only answer they needed – contact Toll.
Based on her own experience, Georgie was confident that connecting her farmers with Toll would open the door to new business opportunities. All it would take is a conversation with an engaged representative who not only understood the agriculture industry in Tasmania, but knew how to extend a previously local supply chain to maximise profitability.
“When I approach them, I begin by explaining that I want to stock their potatoes in my shop, and that we are in South Melbourne. The responses are normally short and sweet – ‘How do I get them over?’, and my response is always short and sweet too – ‘Just call Toll, trust me!’”
Working with Tasmania, these famers have been able to establish a freight schedule that worked with their farm’s production schedule; one that enables them to send regular shipments to the mainland by adding their potatoes to other customers’ freight in a single container.
Understanding that paying to ship an entire container to Victoria with a single pallet in it wouldn’t have been viable for smaller farmers, Toll explain up front that the freight can be added to a series of less than container load (LCL) shipments, combining them to make a full container load (FCL). This maximises efficiencies for Toll, and minimises excess freight costs for the customers.
“That first export shipment gives them so much confidence,” says Georgie, “their businesses are growing, more people are enjoying their produce, the agricultural industry in Tasmania is getting more recognition, which it deserves. What a great result!
“Introducing my farmers to Toll has proven to be such a positive step – for them, and for me. When I talk to them about their experiences, and share my own, there’s a theme that runs through those conversations; Toll has made all the difference.”
Georgie says her ongoing relationship with Toll – and her enthusiastic advocacy – can ultimately be attributed to the fact that she’s always felt that big or small, Toll genuinely cares about its customers.
“My background is business development for large corporations – I understand better than most that companies as big as Toll have a list of top customers, based on how much money they bring to the table. Obviously, my tiny shop is not anywhere near the top of that list! But I’ve always felt like I am. And that’s a big thing to say.”
Knowing that she can pick up the phone and speak to any one of the Toll representatives that have taken the time to get to know her business, and her farmers, to check on an order or seek advice is important to Georgie. And ultimately, she says, she feels like the relationship is as important to Toll as it is to her.
Picking partners in business is hard. For me, the easiest way to explain my relationship with Toll is ‘big helping little’. Toll does business with some of the biggest companies in the world, but I’ve never felt like my business was less important than a huge contract, even though I know I’m not having a huge impact on Toll’s bottom line at the end of the day. You guys are the “big” that helps “little” – me, my farmers. And it makes all the difference in the world.”