Good Health, Naturally

Flannerys Natural and Organic Supermarket

Trends come and go. Organic foods are a current trend and a growing market. It seems these days that everyone is getting on the bandwagon: organic produce and packaged goods can be found in most grocery stores. But this trend started somewhere. It began with an idea, and a few people who believed in that idea. The current success of the holistic, organic foods movement can be attributed to those original believers.

Flannerys is a natural and organic supermarket, espousing the values of holistic living. The business began over 30 years ago, well before the trend had taken hold, and the Flannerys team has been refining their skills and knowledge of the business ever since. The company is a strong franchise that looks beyond sales to truly benefit the local community.

The company was started by Mal and Berris Flannery in NSW. Mal and Berris noticed that more and more people were considering the benefits of a natural and holistic lifestyle. At that time, organic products were largely unheard of, or at least unavailable in major retailers. Mal and Berris saw a need in the marketplace for natural, pure products free of pesticides and harsh chemicals. Their business slowly developed and in 2008 was purchased by Tino and Lynn van Nieuwburg. Tino is now the director of Flannerys Natural and Organic Supermarket. We spoke with Tino about organic and holistic foods, as well as how important community and the environment are to the company.

Tino believes that the natural food business is not just about making money; it is also about making the world a better, healthier place. Flannerys also educates the public about the environment and holistic lifestyles. “Selling natural organic food is only a small part of it,” Tino says. “We teach people about having a more holistic lifestyle and how to protect our planet. A good example of this is informing people of the benefits of “vermicomposting” – composting with live worm farms in their gardens, and the merits of composting, or bringing things back to nature. So we give demonstrations in or stores where people can learn how to compost their wastage at home, as well as simple methods of composting other items that might not be related to worm farming.”

Tino is clear about the company’s passion for the environment and firm belief in composting. Stores are encouraged to compost produce that is past its “best before” and encourage customers to do the same, providing them with nutrient-rich compost material for their gardens. Flannerys also offers a chance for customers to win free composters through participating in these demonstrations – items that could otherwise be very costly, ranging from a few hundred to several thousand dollars.

In recent years, some countries have banned the use of Bisphenol A (BPA) in consumer products and food containers due to health concerns, particularly for infants and children. While BPA is not yet banned in Australia, Flannerys promotes awareness of the potential risks and offers its Flannerys Own line of over 250 BPA-free products. “We put it on our website, and have posters in our stores that inform customers about BPA,” Tino says. This education campaign has been effective. “Consumers begin to ask more and more questions of other suppliers. So, I think that Australia is certainly on the brink of doing something, but has not taken the action yet that a country like Canada has in banning BPA.”

Flannerys is committed to the health of the communities it serves, and takes this commitment seriously. The company believes in providing reliable, unbiased information relevant to health and wellbeing. This includes ensuring that consumers are aware of the natural health products they are purchasing. In the store, customers can consult with qualified naturopaths. “We also realise that natural therapies are not the only treatment that people need to consider,” Tino explains. “There are times that we have to see a GP or have to undergo surgery for health reasons. This is where naturopaths have a really important role. A customer will come into the store and consult with the naturopath about what they can take that is natural and won’t interact negatively with the medication they are taking.” This is an essential element of Flannery’s business that truly shows the company’s care for the customer.

Flannerys seeks to dispel two major misconceptions about natural and organic food products. First, there is an understanding that organic foods are more expensive. This is not necessarily the case. Many supermarkets in Australia have launched their own brands of organic food such as nuts and produce. Flannerys offers these foods at competitive prices and in many instances cheaper than major retailers. There is also public misconception about the taste of natural and organic food: without added sweeteners and preservatives, they lack the taste customers are used to. But Tino and Flannerys customers will attest to the great taste that comes with natural and organic ingredients. Tino offers an example: “I was in a store couple of weeks ago and had a few dried organic apricots. They were completely free of any sulphates or preservatives. The taste was like eating honey!” The great flavour comes from the food itself. Additives are unnatural and hide the true taste of natural foods.

Flannerys most popular goods are organic fruit and veggies, natural vitamins and supplements, and gourmet to gluten free groceries. Customers have become increasingly aware of the taste and health benefits of certified organics, grown and harvested without harmful chemicals. Vitamins and supplements are also highly sought after by consumers. The knowledgeable staff at Flannerys stores provide up-to-date information about these supplements, so that customers can find everything from a common cold remedy to joint care.

Another caveat to organic produce is that it works with the seasons, and not all foods are available year-round; but this is the natural cycle that Flannerys follows. “We don’t believe that importing organic produce is the right way to go,” Tino says. “Because it has to be frozen and then unfrozen, and travels long distances. So, what we do is get our produce from markets where farmers sell their certified organic produce. Those are the products that go onto our shelves, but there are times of the year where we may not be able to get oranges, or Granny Smith apples, which is just the way it is, and that’s the way nature intended it to be.”

Continued supply is a challenge as the demand for organic and natural products grows. Yet in keeping with the seasons and ensuring produce is locally sourced, Flannerys demonstrates its commitment to quality, the environment, and supporting the local economy. There is increased competition from overseas; while produce from Asia is cheaper, its organic certification is not as rigorous as in Australia and consumers may not buy into the added environmental impact of overseas shipping. It is possible that government legislation around the sale of organic food may change into the future, which could pose another challenge for Flannerys. But for the time being, the market continues to grow and organisations such as the Biological Farmers Association of Australia (BFA) are working to maintain legislation that supports local and organic food for communities.

Flannerys will not rule out expanding the business, but it is more important to continue to do what it does best. “Our primary goal is to serve our communities with exceptional quality product and live up to what Flannerys stands for as a brand that people can trust,” Tino says. “Should the opportunity to expand arise, we will look into it. I would love to roll out three stores per year, but the opportunity has to be right.” This careful and conscious approach means that Flannerys has to find the right people to lead each store. The Flannerys team members are passionate about the industry and love what they do. They feel strongly about health and wellness education and are committed to community and environmental wellbeing. Flannerys 11th store will be opening in 2013. The franchise is strong and growing, but Tino is careful about moving too fast. “We won’t compromise our model just to expand the business,” he adds.

Though Flannerys stores are franchises, each operation reflects the particular community in which it operates. There is a distinct feeling in each store because the character of each community is different. “I always tell the storeowners to ensure that the community is represented in the nature of your business. Ensure they are part of it,” says Tino, explaining how Flannerys can maintain deep roots in each community. “Rather than telling the consumer what to do, make sure that they are heard. And represent what they would like to see in the stores as well.”

Tino truly believes in the benefits of holistic living, taking care of communities and the environment. “Nature has provided us with our greatest opportunity,” he says. “It’s given us something special that we should treasure, and that’s something that is very close and dear to my heart. We need to continue to work at preserving the environment for generations ahead. Part of our obligation is for people to understand that they do have alternative choices when it comes to eating as well as lifestyle. All Flannerys can do is to act as a vehicle for those changes that they want to make.”

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September 19, 2018, 2:05 PM AEST