After 156 years, Prahran Market shows it’s never too late to learn new (digital) tricks

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Paddlewheel at the Prahran Market. Source: supplied

Two weeks ago Paddlewheel, an organic food store within the Prahran Market in Melbourne, was grappling with demand from customers who didn’t want to come in to buy their fruit and vegetables amid the COVID-19 pandemic

However, the 156-year old Prahran Market’s new online delivery service, Food Lovers Direct, has opened the destination up to local shoppers, from the comfort of their living room.

With 25 independent traders signed up to the initiative, online shoppers within a 5km radius can buy meat, bread, coffee, tea, cheese and other groceries from the market.

Minimum order is $50 with a flat rate fee of $15, and all orders placed before 4pm are delivered on the next market day.

The initiative, which launched on April 16, comes amid data from Alpha Beta and The Age showing that food delivery sales are up 192% over the past week.

Paddlewheel produce manager Margery Welles says foot traffic has been steady over the last few months, but trade has shifted from locals coming in several times a week, to once a week for a bigger shop.

“The website went live two weeks ago, and the response has been good. Prior to this, we were taking phone orders and doing a lot of running around. Now, customers can order everything online, which is a heck of a lot easier than ringing individual traders,” she tells SmartCompany.

“For the initial launch, each trader could put about 20 products online, and we focused on seasonal meals. Now, we can expand to the point where we can offer a bigger range of products.”

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Paddlewheel at the Prahran Market. Source: supplied.

Prahran Market general manager Simon Ward says phone orders can still be placed for home delivery, but it is expected  traders who want to offer the service will be on the platform shortly.

“With supermarkets currently only offering a priority service online and existing delivery companies unable to take on new customers, Prahran Market knew there was a need for this new online service,” Ward says.

“The Prahran Market team has been working really hard to turn this around as quickly as possible. As a community asset with a small management team this has been no small feat, but it has been worth it to be able to offer Prahran Market Food Lovers’ direct to the community.”

Welles says there has been interest in Food Lovers Direct from a smorgasbord of people, including new customers looking to trial the service.

“Who knows what the new normal is. Maybe people will enjoy the service and stay on it [after the pandemic is over]. If you had a crystal ball, you could tell me,” she says.

“But I think there’s a movement that is going towards supporting local businesses.”

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This article is supported by the Judith Neilson Institute for Journalism and Ideas.

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