Friday, August 16, 2019


Dear Readers,
Brian Coppin
          I don’t know if you shop at any of the 105 Food Lover’s Markets in South Africa, because if you do I wonder if you have had similar experiences to mine regarding their 'Best in Fresh Guarantee.'
          Founded by brothers Brian and Mike Coppin in 1993 they brashly claim their group holds ‘the honour of being South Africa’s undisputed leaders in fresh.’
          I’m sure you’ll agree with me that a brag like that takes a lot of living up to especially when you are in the business of selling fresh fruit and vegetables, products that can so easily go off.
          For some years now I have been buying our fruit and veges almost every Friday, first at the Food Lover’s, Tokai branch in Cape Town and more recently at the Long Beach Mall one from when it opened in 2012.  And being the conscientious Consumer Watchdog that I am I usually email the CEO Brian, if I notice anything that is obviously wrong.
          I believe that no business can be expected to put something right if you just complain to your wife and friends instead of a top executive, who can do something about it.
          As far back as March 2011 I emailed Brian saying that I had bought some pre-packed beetroot and carrots from his Tokai store in packets that you could not easily see through. "When we opened them at home," I went on, "the beetroot was of a very poor quality and the carrots were mostly rotten because they were so wet. I also bought five loose grapefruit and while picking these out I came across four others that were rotten. You badly need better quality control."
          He apologised, giving poor stock rotation as the probable reason. He described this as "inexcusable" and told me that they sell about 70 tons of these two products every week with very few complaints.
          “All our pre-packed products should have a sell-by date on to ensure good quality and I have instructed the Buyers and Regional Managers to investigate why this was not done, and to immediately ensure this practice is adhered to,” he assured me.
          Seven months later in November 2011 I told him that nobody seemed to be taking any notice of him because I was having a job finding any sell-by dates in the Tokai store. "This no doubt explains why there are pre-packet items like mealies on the shelves with black mould on the ends," I added.     
In July this year I raised a series of questions with Brian in an emailed letter. Here they are together with his reply and one from Regional Manager Demetri Gaffley.
I began by saying to Brian: "If your Long Beech Mall branch is anything to go by it seems your stores are not living up to the very impressive undertakings your group claims to live by.
"What’s the point in your stores promoting the slogan ‘The Best in Fresh guaranteed’ when, at least one of them, puts obviously vrot fruit and vegetables on the shelves at very reduced prices, as if that suddenly makes them fresh. And if your Long Beach Mall branch keeps doing this, is this the general policy adopted by all your 105 South African branches, as well as the others outside the country?
"On Friday 12/07/2019) when I was at your Long Beach branch pre-packed, clearly rotten bananas were for sale at the knock down price of R10 for two. Some time ago this store had punnetts of what were obviously rotting waterblommetjies on the shelf with the price reduced by 50%. They were removed after I complained.
"Your website tells us that your business was built by you and your brother Mike on ‘traditional family values of trust, honesty and integrity.’ You also claimed to be ‘South Africa’s undisputed leader in fresh.’ How does discounting what anybody can see is rotting food gel with any of these family values you are so proud of? 
"Then there is the case of the pears that are too fresh to ripen. I have twice bought two different types of pears that were just as hard weeks later, as when I bought them. But like the rotting fruit and vegetables your staff was fully aware that there was a problem with the pears concerned yet they still had them on the shelves. On the first occasion many months ago I got the manager to come down from his upstairs office and when I pointed to the tray of loose pears he immediately said: ‘Yes I know they don’t get ripe.’ This was before I told him what the problem was. More recently when I bought a different variety of pears that were pre-packed a similar thing happened. This time it was another member of staff who told me that these do not get ripe. If your staff know that there is this problem with particular pears why are they still kept on the shelves?
"On another subject: Friday is billed as ‘Pie Day’ at your Long
Beach branch, when pies are usually sold on the basis of buy two and get one free. It strikes me as being very bad business if you have a regular promotion like this and by around 11.30 in the morning the pie warmer is just about empty.
          "After I complained to you on May 31 about the fact that there had not been any steak and kidney pies for weeks you replied saying you could not believe ‘we are offering service like this’ and you would personally get hold of Demetri as well as the baking supplier to solve this problem of ‘piss poor service.’
          "Your intervention brought back the steak and kidney pies but the service was as bad as ever on ‘Friday the pie day’ (12/07/2019) with the pie warmer being just about empty at 11.30 in the morning. I bought the last three steak and kidney pies, which left the warmer devoid of pies. All that remained were some sausage rolls at the bottom.
          "On the outside of your stores there are notices which tell us you have ‘Best Quality’ and under a ‘Best Service’ heading it says that if the staff don’t live up to ‘your expectations tell us about it and you’ll receive a R100 FLM shopping voucher.’
          "Well for some time now I have been telling you about how the your stores have not lived up to my expectations and not once has anybody even suggested that I should be given any kind of shopping voucher. My complaints to you were not motivated by the possibility of getting a voucher as I only noticed this undertaking a couple of days ago."
          I also asked: "Does anybody ever get one of these vouchers?"And : "Is the Long Beach Mall branch a franchise operation or one of your own?"

          Here’s Brian’s reply: "Thank you for your support and letter. I am obviously very upset that the Fresh Produce team continuously disappoints you. We at both Head Office and throughout the DC’S had a massive drive around our guarantee for over 15 months now, and it’s disappointing that you haven’t experienced any of the ongoing work being done. 
          "I can only once again apologize for the above and promise you that every Buyer, Regional Manager, Distribution Manager and Marketing Team will visit this store and get to the bottom of this. They are not living up to the guarantee.
         "I have also copied the Speciality GM, and Buyer and Baker Specialist on the pie issue.
         "I don’t know why you didn’t receive a voucher, but please accept one of R300 for your inconvenience.
          "We have given, and still give out 20/30 vouchers per month and will continue to do so to live up to our guarantee.
          "Long Beach is a corporate store and that disappoints me even more.
          "I trust we can win you over as a satisfied customer once again.
           "Kind Regards,
           "Brian Coppin." (He copied this to Karriem Fredericks; Demetri Gaffley; Paul Rauch (FNV); Warren Minnaar; Vito Polera; Sandro Gastaldi; Robin Wainright; Cecelia Wainright; Travis Coppin; Roxy Norman and Bonita van Niekerk).
          Shortly afterwards I received this email from Demetri Gaffley: "I would like to answer the last two 2 questions that Brian has not answered, and hopefully satisfy you.
Question: Is it acceptable to have pears on the shelf that the manager and staff know don’t get ripe?
The answer is NO.
Question: Is it your firm’s policy to discount fruit and vegetables that are going off?
The answer is YES, and at this stage up to the discretion of the store manager, but can be overruled by store visits/inspections from Head Office. We reduce and markdown to clear, which should be visible on price boards. As for the bananas, the exact opposite, unacceptable for sale and not at any price."
          He then thanked me for my valued feedback.
          After receiving those two emails I decided to pay a special visit to the Long Beach branch to see if there had been any improvement in the sell-by date situation compared to 9 years ago, when Brian first raised the subject.
          They were few and far between I can tell you. There were none on very perishable items like pre-packed strawberries, kiwi fruit or papaya, whereas the same fruit at Pick n Pay a little further down the Mall all had sell-by dates on their labels.
And this is at a Group that trails behind Food Lover’s in the fresh league, if the Coppin brother’s boast can be believed.
A member of Food Lover’s staff told me they only have sell-by dates on fruit salad and similar items that they make themselves, but not on pre-packed product they get from their suppliers.
Founders Brian & Mike
I accept that fruit and vegetables tend to go off quite quickly and that if you are in this kind of business it’s inevitable that some items might not be up to standard on the shelves now and again. But that’s very different from trying to sell something at a reduced price because you know it has gone off.
          Also as a shopper you have to wonder why one group doesn’t have sell-by dates on certain items and another one, that has been in existence far longer, does.
          Jon, the Consumer Watchdog who was extremely impressed with the frank way Brian and Demetri dealt with my criticisms. It seems that running a business like theirs is not as simple as pie.
P.S. They got the value of the R300 worth of vouchers they gave me back with interest because I put them towards the R360 I spent on 12 R30 hamburgers. I handed these out to men waiting forlornly at street corners in the rain for jobs that would never materialise.
P.P.S. It looks as though the Long Beach Mall manager Karriem Fredericks either doesn’t get the boss's emails; he ignores them or he can’t get the message through to his staff. When I was at this branch today (Friday 16 August) the pineapple shelf was half full with the most horrible looking fruit. When I showed him two he said they were unacceptable. Half an hour later when I was back in the store to buy something else somebody was busy removing these. He had a trolley completely full, both top and bottom with ones he was about to take away.   

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