Students and residents of St Andrews may have been saddened earlier this year by the disappearance of one of the town’s much-loved establishments, John Birrell & Son. The business operated for 44 years selling a wide range of fruits and vegetables from a small shop on South Street and wholesale to local restaurants. The close was due to local competition that the store could not compete with, so it may have seemed peculiar to returning students to walk along South Street and a new greengrocer in the same storefront.
Frasers is a fruit and vegetable seller founded by manager Fraser Reid. It is the second shop of its kind that Mr Reid has established, after Frasers Fruit and Veg, founded in Dundee six years ago. Mr Reid opened his first shop when he noticed that there was no greengrocer in Dundee. He says he had not planned to open a second shop, but when he saw the opportunity to do so he decided to take it. His shops aim both to source local produce whenever possible and to make it possible for consumers to eat and prepare better, more interesting food.
“I just want people to eat better,” he said. “Ultimately I just want people to use better ingredients.”
All of the produce sold at Frasers is organic and vegan friendly. As well as healthy and high quality produce, however, Frasers also aims to provide interesting ingredients that potential customers may not be able to find elsewhere. Mr Reid jokes, “Usually the shop is stocked by what I can’t find anywhere.” Frasers also sells soup bags, a product sold to some acclaim in the Dundee shop, which contains all of the freshly sourced ingredients to prepare a vegan friendly soup.
Still, the recent closure of John Birrell & Son seems to indicate that conditions in St Andrews are not ripe for a new small greengrocer. Wholesalers and chain supermarkets were able to provide produce to restaurants and consumers at lower prices than John Birrell & Sons, forcing the small grocer out of business. When asked if he was concerned by such competition, however, Mr Reid replied that he was not, and for a couple of reasons.
First of all, unlike John Birrell & Son, Frasers will not seek to sell produce to local restaurants. Mr Reid suggests this has more to do with the sort of business he wants to run than the viability of competition with wholesalers. He tried it for a year out of his shop in Dundee and found he was “hassled for less money,” adding, “it just wasn’t enjoyable.”
Focusing on individual consumers means that competition with wholesalers is of little concern to Frasers, but could make competition with supermarkets a serious issue. Still, Mr Reid seemed unconcerned. Despite their vast resources, he said, supermarkets fail to provide the variety and quality of produce that small greengrocers often do. “Their laziness helps small shops out,” he said.
Because of its small size, Frasers is also able to ensure an enjoyable customer experience. Mr Reid chatted with most of the customers who visited during our interview, and was able to meet specific customer needs. When a customer asked for a smaller portion of cauliflower than what was displayed, Mr Reid halved one for her, wrapping the other half in plastic. Such individualized service is difficult for larger stores to provide.
Critically, Frasers will not simply pick up where John Birrell & Son left off. Mr Reid expressed admiration for the 44 years of business conducted by John Birrell & Son, but said he was not necessarily looking to assume its old place in the community. “The main thing is to be happy doing it,” he said.
Frasers seems to be off to a strong start. Steady streams of customers trickle in throughout the day, some complimenting the new shop or venting frustration about the nearby supermarkets.