A Culture of Values
Straight talk, respect, and loyalty. These are some of the values Odeum Farms considers intrinsic to its business. Commitment, accountability, and trust are some of the others. This culture of values began right at Odium’s inception. “The people in Odeum are long term,” explains John Travers, the Managing Director. “They’ve been here for many, many years.” In fact, because of the way the company was formed, many of those people have been involved with Odeum longer than Odeum has even existed. “If you look at the farming community in general, they’re not only focused on the business aspect they understand the importance of the relationship side of the business. They value that a lot and that same culture is in the business here from that early legacy.”
That legacy began, officially, in the year 2000. A number of growers in Kununurra, Western Australia, were selling their produce in the Perth markets and dealing with a market agent to do so. “Over a number of years they formed a good relationship,” Travers says, “and they decided that given that most of the produce they were supplying was going into the chain stores, they would step outside the markets and create dedicated premises about half a kilometre from the market, where there was more space and they were able to secure freehold property.”
John Travers own personal experience in the fruit and vegetables market goes back a long ways. Before Odeum, he was the Managing Director at the company Freshcorp. Before Freshcorp, he was involved with the Boatshed Market (which Freshcorp spun out of) for 12 years. He became involved with Odeum Farms during a period when his General Manager was running Freshcorp on a day to day basis. A friend of his presented him with the opportunity at Odeum, which was similar in that it involved fruit and vegetable supply. “But that’s probably where the similarity begins and ends,” Travers notes. “Freshcorp is involved in the hospitality industry and Odeum supplies supermarkets and chain stores. It’s much bigger than Freshcorp.”
Today, the Odeum shareholders have six properties throughout Western Australia. They deal with around 40 products, far more than they did 10 years ago. “The produce that comes through Odeum IS straight through the farm. Over the years, dealing with the chains, they would buy basic produce primarily, but would also ask ‘are you able to provide beans as well?’ or ‘are you able to provide corn?’ or ‘are you able to provide a number of different products?'” Odeum often did not grow those things on their own properties, so their management team aligned themselves with other growers they discovered through what Travers calls “alliances in the group.”
The industry that Odeum Produce and Odeum farms are in presents some challenges, many of them unavoidable. One challenge is keeping their produce locally sourced; something that Travers says is “very important but not logistically possible at all times.” Western Australian AQIS regulations can make it difficult – produce cannot readily come across the border from the east coast unless it has been pre-approved or comes from an approved growing region. Western Australian seasonality can make it even more difficult. “It’s a major consideration if you like keeping things local.”
Large volume orders can also pose a challenge to Odeum Farms, because they usually require produce to be shipped long distance to accommodate them. “The demands of the chain stores can be very high,” Travers says. “And the product that we’ve arranged to arrive can be affected by weather or transport logistics, or when it does arrive it may not be to quality. Imagine something coming from Broome and it’s in refrigerated transport and the refrigeration breaks down, or the vehicle has an accident and is delayed, or the driver gets sick – many different things can happen. The tyranny of distance is very real.”
Those challenges and even more mercurial ones such as the weather – Odeum may have to contend with heavy rain, cyclones, or even floods – can also heavily affect pricing in the produce industry.
So how does Odeum combat all these challenges? Again, it all comes back to their core values. At Odeum, they confront reality, clarify expectations, and hold themselves accountable. When Odeum makes commitments, they do so carefully, and they do what they say they’re going to. Keeping commitments is a symbol of their integrity and honour. After that, all they can do is look to solutions and take ownership of their outcomes – which are all company values they subscribe to.
Quality assurance, quality employees, quality produce
Another challenge Odeum is facing is not so much a challenge as it is a trend: major chain stores lifting their level of quality assurance. These days, such stores have whole teams working at their receivables area, checking all the produce that comes in for quality – testing sugar levels on fruit, visual inspections for scarring and blemishes, taste tests, they do all that and more. “Every line that comes into a chain store there’s a specification for it, and that specification might be two pages long. Each major chain store has a process where you have to adhere to those specifications with little tolerance level, so that’s putting a demand on our farms and aligned growers to improve the quality they send to us.”
Sometimes, however, it is just not possible. Travers says that you have to remember produce comes out of the ground, not a machine, so some produce is going to be imperfect. Odeum has a role to play for their growers, though, and that role is selling their product. For this reason they have more than chain store customers, they also sell to people who can use their products in different markets, or who can wholesale their produce.
This is not to say that the quality of Odeum Farms produce is not high – it is. “We are a quality assured company at the highest level,” Travers says, noting how that assurance encompasses issues around environment sustainability. All their products are tested for soil residues, for chemicals, and for microbiological issues. “It’s an adherence and compliance with that level of quality assurance,” he puts simply.
Odeum has around 65 employees, and Travers says that they’re a very stable workforce. “We’ve got a lot of initiatives that we like to use to keep the team engaged and focused.” Included among these initiatives are monthly team meetings, fortnightly barbeques, and recognition of birthdays and anniversaries within the company. They also hold a volleyball championship with a cash prize and a trophy.
The employees are also well versed in the industry, and that’s something that makes Odeum particularly appealing. “By dealing with Odeum Produce, you’re actually dealing with the grower for a major part of our lines. The shareholders of Odeum are engaged in the horticultural industry in a major sense with three directors involved in an advisory capacity to WA Government backed associations.”
In the future, Travers sees Odeum becoming more of a specialist in their lines, and developing the core parts of the business further. “It’s been more of a random selection to get to this point, because of the requests of the chain stores of ‘can you provide this one’ or ‘can you provide that one’. Our current strategy is to drill deeper into our numbers and determine which products best suit our business and best suit our customers so we can become specialists and have a niche position for those lines.” They’ll end up with less produce, but the ones they remain in will be the strongest of that produce line in West Australia.
And no matter how many products they have, they will be products backed by Odium’s all-important set of values.