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Food Lover’s Market talks growth in times of load shedding with new shops, solar trucks

Food Lover’s Market is investing in two new trucks with solar powered freezers, launching a new store and unveiling a significant store refurbishment in the coming weeks as the company pushes for growth in a load shedding battered economy.

Two new trucks, fitted with solar panels to power their fridges, which have been ordered and are expected to join their existing fleet soon, will be for the inland region. They plan to grow the solar powered fleet to at least 12 trucks.

The Food Lover’s Market in Vanderbijlpark will reopen to the public on July 27, after a significant refurbishment.

In Khathu, Northern Cape, on July 6, the company will unveil its brand new store, while Food Lover’s Market Malmesbury is also set to open in the fourth quarter of 2023.

Travis Coppin, the chief executive for retail at Food Lover’s Market, who spoke to IOL this week, says they are looking to save costs where they can.

He said the new trucks, which are fitted with solar panels, enable the company to save on its massive diesel bill. The solar panels on the new trucks would power up the fridges for the group’s trucks during transit.

Coppin said load shedding was costing Food Lover’s Market R500,000 daily for their 89 stores around the country and has called on the government to cut levies and taxes on fuel costs for retailers who use diesel as a backup energy source.

“We are spending R500,000 per day during load shedding bouts, it is really hurting our profits, it is hurting the consumer, this is a massive South African problem which affects everyone,” he said.

Coppin says the government taxes and levies on fuel are affecting all retailers.

“The government should not be charging the RAF (Road Accident Fund) levies and taxes on diesel that we use as a backup source,” he said, adding that if taxes and levies were removed from the price of fuel, they would spend closer to R385,000 per day on alternative energy costs.

But it was not all doom and gloom, Coppin said the group - which also owns Seattle Coffee, Freshstop, and Food Lover’s Eatery, amongst others - had recorded 24% year-on-year growth for the first quarter of the 2023/24 financial year.

Coppin said he wanted to establish Food Lover’s Market as the store of choice for middle class South Africa, sending a warning to the likes of Spar, Pick n Pay and Checkers.

“We want to open the best stores in the community, we want to compete with your Pick n Pays, your Checkers and Spars, even your super premium Woolies, some of their customers are coming to us,” he said pointing at a shopper with a black R7 Woolies bag.

“We want to be the go-to store for the middle class, we want to be the best destination for your weekly groceries, for your health needs, cleaning products, everything,” he said.

Coppin said they also had big growth plans, targeting between five and ten new stores in ideal locations for the business.

He said things were looking up for Food Lover’s Market, which was founded by his dad and uncle, Brian and Mike Coppin, in Cape Town in 1993, as Fruit and Veg City.

“I was there when we opened at Access Park, Kenilworth, I was a little kid with my cousins Dane and Terry, who are also still very involved in the business.

“I have packed shelves in this business, from about the age of 12, every holiday I worked here, it was a lot of fun and I learnt a lot and have built strong relationships with people who are part of this business, they are family now,” he said.

During a walkabout at the Food Lover’s Market’s Waterfall Ridge store in Midrand, Coppin said they were seeing the impact of the struggling economy and unpredictable power supply in how consumers were adapting their spending habits.

“We are seeing continuous growth, our customer growth is on the increase and we are seeing growth in terms of basket growth as well,” he said.

“We are performing really well in this tough environment,” he said.

He said they had seen a decline in meat purchases, less because of price, but more because of load shedding and power outages people were suffering.

The cheese stand was also seeing less traffic as South Africans feel the pinch, but one of the sharpest declines in spending was for prawns, which were now easily costing R249 per pack, compared to about R119 a year ago.

Coppin said supply and demand factors were contributing to the sharp price increase, while the cheese stand was also affected due to sharp increases in the price of dairy products.

Coppin said the rate of increase in dairy products had started before Covid-19 and they were now selling around 30% less cheese despite the Rand value of the product remaining unchanged.

And finally, Coppin said customers were also big on pre-packed fruits and vegetables.

“90% our sales are now pre-packs. Ten years ago we sold loose grapes, loose peaches, loose apricots in summer, now everything is pre-packs, and that’s not because of load shedding, that’s just the consumer they just want to pick up and go,” he said.

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