We spoke to Christine Lucke, Director at Freshzest Pty Ltd, about the role of digital technologies in their growing business.
Freshzest began in the 1970’s as Robert Hayes’ passionate, experimental hobby. In the years to come he transformed his hobby into Australia’s most expansive grower and producer of fresh culinary herbs. Freshzest now sell directly to supermakers and retailers, with herbs being grown in greenhouses in both Victoria and Northern NSW. Today they now produce more than 15 herb varieties with a whole team of managers, horticulturalists, supervisors, administrators, growers, harvesters, packers and sub-contractors.
How have digital technologies impacted the way Freshzest operates on a day-to-day basis?
Digital technologies are providing an ability for us to improve internal systems and reduce costs, improve information and manage the flow of our products. We’ve been managing our growing structures using computer systems that can be dialed into from anywhere (including our mobile phones) to check the status in the greenhouses and keep an eye on greenhouse environments. This is not necessarily a new development, but the level of access is improving as are the glasshouse management systems
We run our inventory management system through our Victorian farm and log in from other sites to access and amend information. We use electronic order screens and iPads in our packing facilities to track and manage the process of harvesting, packing and dispatch.
How have you customer needs changed in the digital economy?
We focus on the retail sector, with our major customer being Woolworths, and also supplying into the independent supermarket sector. Supermarkets now expect greater integration of systems in terms of ordering, inventory management, logistics and electronic invoicing. So we need to make sure we’re developing systems within our business to ensure seamless service for our retail customers. The consumers themselves are also becoming increasingly sophisticated in terms of their knowledge of herbs and demand for quality and shelf life. Therefore as a retail focused business,we need to ensure we closely monitor quality, food safety and shelf life.
Our retail customers are becoming increasingly technologically sophisticated and are using information generated from their own systems to improve their businesses in terms of what they sell and how they order and manage it. We need to find a way to tap into this information so we can identify our own trends and generate effective discussions with our buyers and produce managers.
We have a lot of ideas that we would like to implement around the internet and cloud computing, but poor internet connection in our regional locations has been a large constraint. We’re hoping the NBN will open up many of these possibilities and provide further efficiencies.
Are you finding new ways to engage your end consumer online?
We’ve begun using Twitter as a means of communicating with our end customers while our website also provides helpful information. We publish a range of recipes for our customers to use and get the best out of our herbs. We also provide news and photo galleries, and this helps our customers see more of the whole process and where their products come from! Consumers can also use our website to find a store near them that stocks Freshzest products.
Are there any other changes you foresee for the near future?
In the era of high speed broadband, we will increasingly need our staff to be computer literate and comfortable with the use of portable devices in their work. We will need to continue generating better, more accurate information that can be available to us instantly. This will be the key to competing in an increasingly technological and competitive world where efficiency and immediacy are vital.