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Case Study: Folland Organics

Screenshot 2023-04-24 at 10.43.09

After 10 years of providing fresh, organic produce on Norwich market, Shelley and Robert Folland swiftly adapted to deliveries in 2020 at a time when many could not get out. They continue to work closely with small, independent, organic growers and independent national wholesalers to provide a full range of fresh, organic, nutritious produce.

Folland Organics differs from many box schemes in that they offer customers complete choice and don’t include pre-made veg boxes in their product range. They do this because they like to be able to give their customers flexibility and don’t want to give them anything that they aren’t going to use.

Robert Folland kindly answered our questions to give us an insight into their business:

What are the advantages of your product offer (i.e. complete choice)?

The advantages for the customers are being able to choose exactly what they want and to be able to drop in and drop out each week so they don’t end up with kitchens full of produce they didn’t want or can’t use. It allows people to plan their meals in advance and budget/buy accordingly.

What are the disadvantages of offering complete choice?

The disadvantages are for us  - holding in our heads all the disparate lines we are running and making sure we can actually supply everything that is ordered (though this is where the Ooooby system is really helping me out.)  The main work is setting up the product lists every week and making sure all the relevant changes have made it onto the system. Once done the event overview gives such a clear list of produce/producers it is much easier to check the right things are coming. For the customer the choice can be a little bewildering and some people prefer the surprise of a random box coming.  The customer must be much more proactive to make a specific order each week.

How do you run your box packing?

We work directly from the Box Packing Manifests (these are downloadable from the Ooooby system to indicate what needs to go into each box), spread all the product lines out in the packing room and go round packing each bespoke order one at a time in order of delivery.

How many suppliers do you buy from?

We currently work with 4 local growers and 2 UK wholesalers giving us access to European produce and further afield - so 6 suppliers in total.

What is the size of your team? 

1 full time and 4 part time.  I work all week, 1 pt time is 2 days, 1 pt time is 1 day  and 2 pt time are half-day each. 

What have been the biggest challenges of running a box scheme (any particular pain points)?

For me the relentless nature of one week rolling into the next.  As soon as the last box is delivered we have to be contacting the growers to set up for the next week so there is never a sense of completion. Also working with “live” fresh produce is extremely challenging. Particularly in Organics where you are at the mercy of growing conditions which can really impact produce quality. Working with small producers often means working with limited crop amounts so making sure everyone can actually have what they want of what you have offered is a challenge and I find myself constantly trying to hold amounts and products in my mind to make sure everything is distributed fairly or out of stocked.

What are your best selling products?

It tends to be the local leaves like the tender-leaf spinach, mixed salads and  rainbow chard then staples like carrots & potatoes.  Bananas are a solid constant too and then seasonal favourites like purple sprouting broccoli, flat or round beans, asparagus and fresh wild garlic leaves.

What have been the biggest benefits of running a box scheme?

Definitely being told before hand what the customer actually wants (it has really cut out all the guessing I had to do for the market stall).  Also getting the produce in and delivered to the customer within a 3 day cycle has really cut down on wastage and helps us keep much better standards of freshness.

What useful tips do you have for other box schemes?

We are still very much learning ourselves! 

Lots of communication is absolutely key and paramount in running a box scheme in my view.  The one thing we are told time and again is how much people miss coming to the stall and selecting their own stuff and being able to ask questions about the produce so keeping up a strong dialogue via email and through descriptions on the website is now absolutely key.  We try to keep everyone in touch with what the growers are up to, how the season is affecting crops - what is coming in or out and why.  Tips for cooking etc.  For me now the prime connection is on the doorstep if we are lucky enough to catch a customer in when we deliver so we maintain the relationships developed through years of standing in all weathers on Norwich Market!

What, if anything, would you have done differently if you could start your veg box scheme again?

Maybe simplified what we offered or thought a bit more about delivery areas or creating more collection hubs to cut down on the more tricky, further out drops. Organised promotional material.

Do you use other organisations for support?

Not really  - for one I am probably too independent to ask for help - that and/or too busy running the weekly gauntlet.  We are registered with Organic Food Federation so we know we can ask them for advice as we did with bringing a local smallholding on board who grow organically with great care but cannot afford the certification.

What marketing have you done so far? Has anything been particularly effective?

Nothing really and not nearly enough! A few facebook posts and of course our weekly emails  - this is an area we seriously need to develop.

Anything else you want to add?

Just to thank Ooooby for a great platform and for your diligence in adapting your system to fit and work with our strange way of doing things.  It has certainly helped me gain a better control and better time control over my weekly operations.  It has also given me a solid platform to stand on so with a bit more time/head space we should be able to shape/streamline what we do and make our business much clearer and more effective.

Click here to go to Folland Organics' website.