Even when the alarm rings at 3am to signal the start of a typical workday, Ken Irvine is never tempted to hit the snooze button.
Ken, his wife Toni, and their sons, eat, sleep and breathe fruit and vege at Ziggy’s Fresh at Fyshwick in Canberra, the winners of the coveted Greengrocer of the Year prize in the 2016 Fresh Awards run by the Sydney Markets.
The first to admit his attention to detail borders on the obsessive, Ken says every apple must sit the right way; every sign in the store has to be word perfect.
Most of all, though, the third-generation greengrocer gets the biggest kick out of the smiles he brings to his loyal customers, all of whom he knows by name.
Popular broadcaster and Fresh Awards MC Chris Bath caught up with the most passionate man in fruit and vege at the Sydney Markets in Flemington, Sydney, to find out what makes him tick, and what it means to be Sydney Markets’ Greengrocer of the Year.
Chris Bath: Well, we’re here because of Sydney’s newest awards, The Fresh Awards, and they’ve been introduced by Sydney Markets to celebrate everything that’s amazing about produce from Sydney’s fruit and vege growers, flowers, even to the people who write about them; the bloggers. We are celebrating one of the Awards’ highest winners today. Ken Irvine, you are the winner of Greengrocer Of The Year!
Ken Irvine: Thank you Chris.
Chris Bath: It’s a big deal for you and everybody at Ziggy’s at Fyshwick in Canberra. You guys were pretty emotional about the win on the night!
Ken Irvine: We are very emotional. For us it’s been a lifetime achievement I suppose, we won our first Greengrocer Of The Month Award in 2009, and we decided then that our goal was Greengrocer Of The Year, and it’s taken until now to achieve it.
Chris Bath: So how have you done it?
Ken Irvine: By being the best. But our passion for what we do is I think the difference. We get up in the morning and want to do what we do and that’s the difference.
Chris Bath: So let’s just get onto your morning. At what time does your “morning” start? It’s a lot earlier than most people…
Ken Irvine: My morning starts somewhere between 3 and 4am. My guys told me I’m crazy for starting that early and I don’t need to, but I think it helps make a difference for us.
Chris Bath: But why do you get up that early?
Ken Irvine: Because I want to get to work (laughs).
Chris Bath: … And touch the fruit and vegetables. Wow! So where did the passion for fruit and vegetables come from?
Ken Irvine: To be honest I don’t know where the actual passion came from, but we are third generation greengrocers and I have loved doing this since the day I started. I left school when I was aged 15, and I’ve done this ever since.
Chris Bath: And you son’s in the business now, was it hard to persuade him to be involved in the business?
Ken Irvine: No. He actually had to miss a day off tech, basically, to come to work for us because one guy was away, and he never went back to tech afterward so…
Chris Bath: Wow Wow. So did he say “Now I understand dad? Like I get what it is all about?”
Ken Irvine: I think so yeah. We gave him the spud section and he loved doing it.
Chris Bath: So you said you won the award because you’re the best at what you do. What’s behind that?
Ken Irvine: Attention to detail. My guys would tell you it’s OCD, but it’s attention to detail. I tell them that it’s in the pursuit of excellence. Every apple has to sit the right way; every sign has to be correct. It’s just the little things that we do that add up to the big difference.
Chris Bath: And what sort of difference does that make to your customers?
Ken Irvine: I think it makes a big difference; we have a very loyal customer base. We have a group of people who we know by their first and second name. We know their kids, we know their jobs, and I think that comes from that personal interaction with people that you have.
Chris Bath: The thing that amazes me when you come to Sydney Markets is that two and a half million tons of fruits and veges’ comes through here every year, and that feeds one third of Australia’s population. How do you know what to buy when you come here? Because the variety is huge, and the quality is amazing!
Ken Irvine: There are different shops at different levels, and you have to buy to the standard of your shop. If you are a high-end shop, you’re buying a high end product, if you are a low-end shop, you’re buying a cheaper line. We’ve always aimed to be high-end, and I think the product sells itself. It doesn’t need a salesman. It sells itself.
Chris Bath: But how do you know what’s good?
Ken Irvine: Be a third generation greengrocer.
Chris Bath: (Laughs) Really? Come on, how do I know something that’s good from something that’s kinda just ok?
Ken Irvine: The best tip I tell people is look for Ziggy’s Fresh, right on the sign. If you read that on the sign you’re pretty safe. There are so many different things, but freshness stands out. You see it in the product when it’s fresh, you can pick something that is fresh from something that’s not. There is just something about it. It glows, if you know what I mean.
Chris Bath: So is it just the look, or the smell, or the touch?
Ken Irvine: It’s a combination of all three, it really is. How do I describe it to you? If it’s a leaf vegetable, you want it to be crispy and alive. If it’s an apple, it needs to have a shine too. You don’t want it to be dull, and looking like it’s been here for a while. Citrus is the same thing; you want that glow on the citrus. It’s what makes the difference.
Chris Bath: And what about the smell? Is that important?
Ken Irvine: Smell is very important but it’s a little bit deceptive because some things if you can smell them you shouldn’t. They shouldn’t have a smell.
Chris Bath: Yeah like durian. You don’t wanna be smelling durian at all. I don’t know how people eat it. So what’s your favourite type of fruit?
Ken Irvine: My favourite all year round fruit is an apple. Apples are safe. You’d always eat an apple.
Chris Bath: Any variety?
Ken Irvine: Jazz probably. I love Jazz
Chris Bath: What’s that good about Jazz?
Ken Irvine: Crisp, sweet, great shelf life and they are really, really crisp.
Chris Bath: And your favourite vegetable?
Ken Irvine: Broccoli.
Chris Bath: Is that because your mum told you that?
Ken Irvine: No, you know when we were kids Broccoli didn’t exist.
Chris Bath: Oh didn’t it? Is it a new vegetable?
Ken Irvine: Well in my dad’s old shops yes, we never sold Broccoli. It didn’t exist. Zucchinis didn’t exist, either.
Chris Bath: Zucchinis had to be around. Italians were being growing them for years in their gardens, wouldn’t they?
Ken Irvine: I can remember the first day my brother bought a zucchini from the market, then my dad said, ‘This will never work, this will never sell’ and look where zucchini is now.
Chris Bath: But I guess you look at all the new fruit and veges available now, and all the new varieties. Part of your job is to educate people, isn’t it really?
Ken Irvine: Yeah that’s the beauty of talking to people in the shop. Last week, we had to install a new mandarin variety. The brilliant thing is you can stop people in the shop and say ‘try this, this is really special’, and explain what it is. That’s the passion that comes out in what we do. That’s what I love about this business you know. You have got something new to work with. It’s not just baked beans, you’re not saying “try these baked beans”. It’s about showing new things. I love that.
Chris Bath: Well, you can tell, and you can see why you won the Award. Congratulations on being Greengrocer Of The Year!
Ken Irvine: Thank you so much!
WINNERS FROM THE SYDNEY MARKET’S AWARDS
Best Small Business
Figtree Greengrocer, Lane Cove West NSW
Best Medium Business
Best Large Business
Fruitezy Marketplace, Miranda NSW
Farmer Feld’s Fresh Produce, Goulburn NSW
Parisi’s Food Hall, Rose Bay NSW
Knowledge in Action
Martelli’s Fruit Market, Cherrybrook NSW
FLORIST AWARDS Service Excellence
Bella Floral Boutique, Morisset NSW
The Flower Room, Newtown NSW
Knowledge in Action
Native Botanical, Young NSW
PRODUCE GROWER OF THE YEAR
Goldenfield Growers, Wallacia NSW
FLOWER GROWER OF THE YEAR
S & P Dominello, Peats Ridge NSW
Best Greengrocer Story
Anna Johnston, shenANNAgans
Best Florist Story
Lisa Tilse, We Are Scout
This is a sponsored post by Sydney Markets. All opinions expressed by the author are authentic and written in their own words.