At the beginning of COVID-19, I was on my smartphone a lot. Along with being on the hunt for up-to-date medical information and the latest government announcements regarding the pandemic, it was the subject of food that kept me online. How exactly was I going to source it given widespread panic buying, queuing and scarce supermarket shelves?
When it came to grocery supplies pre-COVID-19, I was all about convenience and my local supermarket being a one-stop-shop. During COVID-19, I made an effort to become familiar with other options for getting my supplies while also supporting local businesses.
As I was looking for new places to shop, Alpha Fresh was seeking a new customer base.
Canberra’s largest fresh food wholesaler lost 80 per cent of its revenue overnight when much of the local hospitality industry was forced to shut its doors in late March. Under normal circumstances, its products could be found on the plates of the city’s most popular restaurants, cafes, clubs, pubs and hotels, but with all the closures sales dried up.
What made things even more difficult was Alpha Fresh co-owner Frank Iannelli’s unexpected leukemia diagnosis that occurred around the same time. Frank was admitted to hospital for his first round of chemotherapy treatment the same week COVID-19 caused immense restrictions within Australia, which severely affected his business.
“With the livelihood of 50 staff members, as well as those in the supply chain, Alpha had no option but to innovate – and quickly,” Frank tells Region Media.
“The most obvious and viable opportunity was to transform our wholesale operation and begin offering fresh produce direct to consumers. We knew people wanted to avoid supermarkets, but still have access to fresh produce.”
During his time in hospital, Frank worked hard at developing Alpha’s new online platform – which he knew was key to attracting customers – while concurrently receiving his first round of chemotherapy. His brother and Alpha co-owner, Giuseppe, worked on the ground at Alpha’s warehouse to put the new procedures in place.
“Our goal was to make a new service fresh, cheap and convenient,” explains Frank.
“At first, we offered cost-effective set fruit and vegetable boxes and meat packs. But as time has gone on, we’ve been able to transform the site into what we’re calling a Digital Fresh Produce Market, allowing people to do all their market shopping from the comfort of home.”
Having a fleet of refrigerated trucks already at their disposal meant being able to offer delivery six days a week across Canberra, Queanbeyan and Googong. The wholesale business also made regular trips to Yass, the South Coast and Snowy Mountains, so regional customers are also being catered to.
“We are now tapping further into our wholesale abilities and offering the public bulk meat at wholesale prices,” says Frank.
“Online customers can now purchase a large cut of meat of their choice, then have our butchers slice or mince and bag it exactly how they need it, to enable them to freeze it or distribute among family and friends. We have already seen such a great response to this as it is a convenient cost saver.
“With regular requests from customers, our plan is to continue our home delivery service. As a thank you for the support, we are currently running a $3000 cash giveaway. This isolation period has been stressful for all of us so we decided to do something to lift our customers’ spirits.
“Anyone can enter. They just need to spend $100 or more in store. Then snap and share a photo on Instagram or Facebook, tagging Alpha Fresh.”