A TASTE for growth has seen Adelaide-based company Drakes Supermarkets buy out one of its long-term suppliers of fruit and vegetables, Wilson's Fresh Produce.
Under the new owners, the Rocklea Markets business has this month been rebranded as It's Fresh Queensland.
Queensland manager for Drakes Supa IGA John-Paul Drake said the company's own supermarkets will form only about half the It's Fresh Queensland turnover.
"It's the first time we've ever had external customers. What we buy here will also go to FoodWorks, smaller IGAs and others," Mr Drake said.
These are customers Wilson's Fresh Produce founder Bob Wilson and his team have built up over decades in the business at Rocklea.
Mr Wilson will be staying on in the business to ensure all customers "still feel the love", and to develop and consolidate relationships with grower-suppliers as well as retailers.
Mr Wilson's son Adam is It's Fresh Queensland's manager.
The Drakes-Wilson's relationship started 10 years ago when Drakes, also a family-owned business, bought its first Queensland store.
"Because of Drakes, I guess we doubled in size," Bob Wilson said.
Last week's purchase includes the Wilson's pre-pack brand, Oaklea, and two sheds covering a total of 1400 square metres.
It's Fresh Queensland is already seeking additional space at Rocklea or elsewhere.
Drakes' purchase of Wilson's was prompted by the company's success in forming It's Fresh South Australia through the buying out of one of its suppliers in Adelaide.
It's Fresh South Australia supplies Drakes' 40 South Australian stores alone, and Drakes Supa IGA general manager Bob Soang said this investment had helped to boost its sales of fruit and vegetables from about 10 per cent to more like 12 to 13pc.
"It gets us the ability to get the specifications we want," Mr Soang said.
Drakes Supa IGA turns over about $1.2 billion per annum, and about $120 million of that comes from fruit and vegetables.
"We're now trying to get that up towards $150m, and in South Australia it's already higher as a percentage than it was."
Mr Soang said organic fruit and vegetables have helped to drive produce sales in South Australia, and Queensland is likely to follow suit. He said It's Fresh grower-suppliers stand to benefit by having a retailer such as Drakes agree to buy everything they produce.
"We can take the whole lot, and that helps farmers."
Most grower agreements with It's Fresh are done on a handshake, and cover even blemished or small fruit which is sought by stores where price and not just appearance of produce matters.