Last Sunday Fair Food managers, Nola Pollard, Hema Gurung and Jesse Hull were online watching the week’s delivery numbers spike by the hour.
Over the weekend the two week quarantine was announced, supermarket toilet paper melees worsened and an overwhelmed Woolworths cancelled all its online deliveries.
As Fair Food’s numbers climbed every spare packer and driver was called to come help with the avalanche of orders.
Arriving at the warehouse in darkness the Fair Food Production Team put in a twelve hour day packing and delivering well over 6000 items.
That night having gotten through their biggest day ever a relieved Jesse Hull pulled the packing report from the same Monday the year before – it was 1466 items.
The day ahead was also going to be huge but the thinking for the rest of the week was that people and delivery numbers would most likely settle down.
On Tuesday morning Coles unable to restock its shelves shut down its online delivery service and you could feel people getting scared.
Three normal weeks’ worth of Who Gives a Crap toilet paper was sold through the Fair Food webshop in a couple of hours.
Delivery orders were flooding in at such an alarming rate that Nola Pollard jumped onto the Slack channel desperately calling for a cap on orders.
Within an hour our web coder, Maikel Linke, had cobbled together a daily limit on deliveries – it wasn’t perfect but it worked.
With the delivery cap on everyone took a breath – the warehouse needed a serious restock but Wednesday was now looking manageable.
The calm lasted until 2am the next morning when Fair Food’s produce buyer, Josh Arzt, began talking to suppliers at the Epping wholesale produce market.
Spooked conventional produce buyers were desperately snapping up any fruit or vegetable they could get their hands on – including organics.
When Josh drove his truck back to Fair Food at 7am that morning he was missing so many produce lines his set boxes were unrecognisable from what he’d advertised just a few days before.
With an impossible number of substitutions on their hands the Production Team’s priority refocussed on just getting enough fruit and veg into boxes to feed people.
What’s more panic buying had spiked prices – organic broccoli had gone up 300% in a week. Josh estimated the price of set boxes needed to rise by at least 20% to cover costs.
Fair Food managers decided to hold off on handing on the full cost to customers keeping the rise of set box prices to an average of 13%.
Meanwhile, on the packing line all the systems changes and out-of-stocks were slowing things down and keeping the Production Team working for another 12 hour day.
Nola was seeing her staff tiring under the relentless pace and predicted people would begin calling in absent.
Sure enough the next day the packing line was short-staffed. Every spare pair of hands from customer service and marketing was called in to pack orders.
Meanwhile another problem emerged; since Woolworths and Coles cancelled their deliveries a flood of new shoppers was joining up making it hard for long standing customers to get an order in.
On a normal day seven or eight people join Fair Food – but on Sunday seventy five had signed up, by Monday it was 145, followed by 171 on Tuesday.
When 245 people signed up on Wednesday a freeze was implemented and a waiting list created to take new customers’ contacts.
On Thursday after the week of madness, production supervisor, Hema Gurung, decided if things were going to be off the charts then her crew would dress accordingly.
On Friday morning the entire Fair Food team turned up to pack in full colourful grocery warrior glory.
By close of business on Friday the Fair Food crew had picked, packed and delivered nearly 24,000 items – in the same week in 2019 they did 8000.
Through the week Shell and Kelly, Fair Food’s customer service team received message after message of support from the Fair Food community and reported that customers had been overwhelmingly patient and kind.
Fair Food’s buyers also fed back that farmers, makers and suppliers we have built relationships with over many years had come through again and again with the goods.
With lockdowns and school closures coming this week we know demand for home delivery will grow and Fair Food will need to grow with it.
We also know the panic buying of fresh produce will settle down – it is an inescapable truth that broccoli is much harder to stockpile in laundries and spare rooms than toilet paper.
The months ahead are going to be tough. Over at CERES our education programs, events and social enterprises are being postponed, cancelled or are seeking alternate channels to be delivered.
Jobs will go and plans, some years in the making, will be put into an uncertain limbo
After this week I know the only way through COVID-19 is pulling together; to stretch, to be generous, to maintain our relationships, to remember to laugh and most importantly to be kind.
Have a safe week