While the impact of COVID-19 has hit fruit and vegetable vendors hard, the flexibility available to smaller operators has allowed the independents to give the big operators a run for their money.
In many instances, less is proving to be more, with independents able to sidestep some of the logistical problems the heavyweight supermarket chains are experiencing.
Local fruit and vegetable outlets are thinking on the feet, moving quickly to online ordering, social distancing at point of sale, and daily home deliveries of fresh produce.
Like other fruit and vegetable vendors across the nation, Tamworth's Farmer Bob's, owned by Brendon and Vicki North, has shifted its focus to home deliveries.
"It's been a bit upside down and inside out," Mr North said.
"The commercial side of our business, supplying restaurants, cafes and pubs has fallen by 80 per cent.
"That is offset a bit by increased demand at our retail outlets of up to 30 per cent, but after a slow start we've had a dramatic growth in our online delivery service," he said.
"The delivery service has a high labour impact. We have to pack and deliver a lot of small orders. These costs are high and affecting gross turnover. It's a fairly complex situation."
"Initially things were a bit out of control. Panic buying saw demand double overnight and prices went through the roof.
"We just couldn't pass all those costs onto the consumers, so our margins were affected.
"But the advantage of being an independent is that we were able to react quickly to the situation.
"The big guys had major logistical problems dealing with demand.
"It could take them three days to get stock to the shelf.
They had to get more semis on the road. The scale of their operations makes supply difficult."
Kelly Little of Ken Little's Fruit and Veg, Port Macquarie, said the fruit market lost all of its wholesale customers as businesses shut down.
"We serviced the canteens of every school in Port Macquarie, as well as the TAFE, pubs, clubs and restaurants," Ms Little said.
"But our retail has really surged. We would normally do 12 home deliveries a day. Today we are doing 189," she said.
Ken Little's has hired three extra staff to cope with the new demand.
The smaller independent operation was quickly able to reassign its labour to accommodate the new conditions.
"Normally staff would be doing wholesale jobs early in morning and distributing to our pubs and clubs. Now they change to a later shift unloading our trucks and performing other roles.
"Obviously it's harder for the big companies to make those changes quickly."
While social distancing restrictions present more of an issue for supermarkets, smaller shops like Ken Little's can monitor that situation more efficiently.
"We only have 12 people in the shop at one time. Six staff and six customers," Ms Little said.
"Because we are smaller we get daily deliveries, so our produce is fresher.
"We don't sell imported goods like supermarkets, and people have become really conscious of buying local product.
"We also offer free delivery in Port Macquarie."
Jenny Polimeni, who, with her husband Gino, owns Gino's Fruit and Veg in the village of Jugiong, 40 kilometres from Gundegai, said they had lost 90 per cent of their wholesale business.
They had run a fruit and vegetable delivery business from their store for 10 years, but in 2016, after a family tragedy, they refocused and concentrated on wholesale.
"Fortunately for us, it was only a matter of reopening our website to take personal orders again, and that has worked really well," Mrs Polimeni said.
"We already had the system in place, and our old customers have been really supportive, and we are very grateful.
"We are flat out. We are taking 200 personal orders a week. People are coming to the store to pick up."
"There was a bit of a supply issue at first, but once people stopped panic buying, prices and supply stabilised.
"Moving forward, we will maintain our online service, that's working really well.
"We really feel for our wholesale customers, we just hope they will survive this when we come out the other end."
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