Despite relationships with dozens of growers across the country, there are still times when Queensland fresh-cut vegetable supplier VegPro4 can not source the lines or volumes it needs to meet all its customer's needs.
And Victorian fruit and vegetable grower Sam Kisvarda is the first to say there can never be too many sales channels where crops are so very much at the mercy of the weather.
Linking growers with excess fruit and vegetables to new networks of potential buyers is the thinking behind an innovative new digital marketplace making waves in the horticulture game.
Refresh:Food, accessible via a smartphone app, aims to help reduce food waste in the supply chain by creating an additional channel for farmers to achieve a commercial return for more of their produce.
It's a profit-for-purpose company, meaning any profit generated is invested into initiatives which help reduce food waste or hunger, such as supporting the work of charities like Foodbank, OzHarvest and Fareshare.
It allows farmers to list excess produce, which may be a result of bumper crops, weather damage or imperfections, on the digital marketplace.
Produce buyers such as fruit and vegetable processors, packaged food manufacturers, small grocers, meal kit and produce box companies, hospitality and food service providers can utilise the app to find savings on produce that may have minor imperfections, take advantage of seasonal abundance and access new supply streams when their regular supply is disrupted.
Mr Kisvarda's family runs Flavorite, which turns off tomatoes, cucumbers, capsicums, eggplants and blueberries, almost exclusively in glasshouses, across four regional locations - Warragul, Mansfield, Tatura and Katunga.
"A heatwave could lead flowers to misset or to soft fruit and it's not just weather events - sometimes we have flushes of product that we are not ready for marketing-wise," Mr Kisvarda explained.
"To have a home for that produce would be wonderful. We have a lot of bases covered, from food service to export, but this is another platform and one that could cater for product that is challenging to find a sales channel for."
Growers set the price, upload a photo of the produce and document key details including harvest date, best before date, whether it is washed or any stickers have been applied, quality notes like damage and defects, and their relevant certifications.
When a buyer is ready to make a purchase, the payment is securely managed through the app, with statements and invoices automatically generated. Buyers have the option to organise their own transport to collect and deliver their produce, request a quote for Refresh:Food to handle logistics or have the produce delivered to a central hub location for their collection.
"We do set prices in wholesale markets and with supermarkets but it is very market-driven as to what can be achieved," Mr Kisvarda said.
"We know our costs of production very well, so we know what we need to make it work.
"This keeps everyone on a level platform - buyers know exactly what they're getting and there is complete transparency."
Less than two per cent of Flavorite's produce goes to waste, however it is continuing to work towards zero food waste.
"When it comes to cutting our food waste, every little bit helps, and Refresh:Food has allowed us to diversify our markets for lower-grade produce," Mr Kisvarda said.
This is a key reason Woolworths and Boston Consulting Group have thrown their weight behind the venture, helping to build the technology behind the platform and get things up and running.
Refresh:Food does, however, operate as an independent stand-alone business.
Managing director Chris Cramond said it was about broadening growers' networks of potential buyers to tap into demand that they wouldn't otherwise have visibility of.
"Farmers obviously never want to see the food they grow ploughed back into the ground, and Refresh:Food is about creating another channel that they can turn to at a moment's notice to find the right buyers for different grades of produce," he said.
"It's only early days, and we're expecting to see more buyers and sellers come onboard in the next few months which will help fuel our marketplace supply and demand."
An additional feature of the app is the ability to donate produce to a hunger relief charity, should there be no relevant buyers for it at the time. To save produce going to waste, growers can list it on the app as a donation so that charities only need to cover the cost of transportation.
Following the seasons
For VegPro4, based in Boonah, Queensland, the platform is providing access to growers "we just didn't know were there or were growing a certain product", general manager Sally Brent said.
VegPro4 turns off thousands of tonnes of produce annually to food manufacturers and food service businesses - everything from airlines to ready-made meal companies to provedores supplying pubs, clubs and restaurants.
It has as many as 50 regular suppliers from most states.
"We effectively follow the seasons - there is no region that supplies a line 12 months a year," Ms Brent explained.
"We have a lot of long-standing relationships with growers but there are times we can't get find what we need, so this is another fantastic tool for assisting us in procurement.
"Also, if we know there is a surplus available we can talk to our customers and see if there is appetite for additional runs to take advantage of that.
"Growers in this country are some of the best in the world and ironically one of the biggest challenges they face is yields so good when all goes right that there is surplus."
Ms Brent said the platform was not replacing anyone in the supply chain, just offering another sales avenue.
"You can see the quality of produce from the listing details, and we're always happy to take veggies with minor imperfections because we'll be processing them anyway - the freshness and taste is what matters most," Ms Brent said.
Visit refreshfood.com.au. The Refresh:Food app can be downloaded via the Apple App Store or Google Play.