Fresh delivery: Jane Drummond and Andrew Knight look after the Dangar Island Harvest Hub. Photo: James Brickwood
Jane Travers-Drapes has not bought a piece of fruit or vegetable from a supermarket for 15 years. But the fruit bowl and fridge drawers at her North Turramurra home are always full, even with four teenagers constantly on the prowl.
In the late-1990s, Ms Travers-Drapes was part of an eight-family local co-op, sharing duties in making the 4am trip to the Sydney Markets in Flemington to bulk buy food.
When the early mornings and lack of time took their toll on the group, she created Harvest Hub in 2009, a network of co-op ''hubs'' that receive weekly deliveries of pre-ordered fresh produce straight from the markets.
Harvest Hub is part of a growing number of online-based ventures offering Sydneysiders alternative ways of obtaining fresh food.
Doorstep Organics, Sydney Fresh and Lettuce Deliver offer home deliveries of competitively priced produce, challenging the domination of our two major supermarket chains.
''I see Harvest Hub as a total, viable alternative to supermarkets,'' Ms Travers-Drapes says. Within five years, the social enterprise network has expanded from 300 members across 25 hubs to 1000 members across 90 hubs, now based in schools, churches and businesses, as well as homes.
Each hub has a ''hubster'' whose house is the delivery point for the produce, which can also include dairy products, bread, meat and staples such as lentils and rice. Members order and customise online and collect the produce on the delivery day.
Fiona Watson, 47, a North Turramurra hubster of five years, says that the network has helped her save money and time, and has allowed her family to try a wider spectrum of fruits.
''Blood oranges, quinces, tangelos, kale, we've eaten all these because of Harvest Hub. It's opened up our experience. And it's a great learning exercise for my young son,'' she says.
A Neilsen market report released last year showed that during a month-long period, 35 per cent of Australians had bought groceries online.
Brendan Kleem launched the online fresh food delivery business, Sydney Fresh, in 2001, and sees the rise of retail giants in the online space as a positive trend. (Online retail is the fastest-growing part of Coles' business and Woolworths has had a 50 per cent increase in online sales during the past financial year.)
''Our customers shop with Coles and Woolworths, but for other products. For fresh food, they come to us. So the growth of the supermarkets complements our business,'' he says.
From Monday to Friday, Mr Kleem arrives at Flemington market by 5.30am and selects and buys fruit and vegetables pre-ordered by his customers online. In a typical week, Sydney Fresh distributes 20 tonnes of food in 600 separate deliveries. Business has grown 30 per cent year on year.
''We don't say we're cheaper. Our prices match the supermarkets' prices. But we consider the value of convenience, time saved, and effort to reduce waste. There are cost savings, and in that way, we sense we offer a better value.''
HelloFresh Australia customers receive recipe cards and a box filled with exact ingredients they can use to prepare meals in less than 30 minutes. Its founder, Tom Rutledge, says during the past 18 months, deliveries have grown from 1000 to a staggering 7500 a month.
''The most popular option is the $64 classic box, which offers three meals for two people each week. It has everything they need, down to sachets of the exact amounts of, say, spices,'' he says. ''We provide everything, including meat and fish, though we presume people will have cupboard staples.''
The cost amounts to $10 a meal for each person, but Mr Rutledge says with the value of time, shopping labour and convenience factored in, the price is worth it.
Peter Richardson, managing director of Doorstep Organics, says one of the main barriers faced by customers looking to leap into online food shopping is the fact they cannot touch, smell and see the produce.
''They have to trust us,'' he says.
''There are quality checkpoints all the way. Our suppliers will tell us beforehand if something isn't good enough, and our packers in our warehouse will take a look at the fruit.''
He says the business prided itself on zero wastage, with nearly all surplus fruit going to food rescue charity OzHarvest.
''We make sure everything we do is absolutely sustainable.''