1971 Harris Farm Markets founded

Photograph: Fred Harden

With around 30 stores in New South Wales and three in Queensland  (as of 2024) Harris Farm Markets is a significant retail force offering an alternative to the major supermarkets. The chain has grown from a single store in Villawood in Western Sydney, founded in 1971 by David and Cathy Harris. After more than 50 years, it remains a family business.

In 1971, David Harris bought an existing greengrocer’s shop and set about building up the business, later selling it to buy a new store in Pennant Hills. At least one report suggests he intended to continue this process, buying businesses and then selling them at a profit. Instead, the number of Harris Farm Markets grew and by 1981 there were stores in Mosman, Willoughby, Castle Hill, Pennant Hills and Chatswood – all affluent Sydney suburbs. The product offering catered to a more discerning customer, with unusual (for the time) fruits and vegetables including custard apples, rosellas, watercress, snow peas, prickly pear fruit and cocktail avocados. Harris Farm also sold dried fruits, eggs, honey, tahini, nuts and fruit juice in flagons.

In 1987, to fund the rapid expansion of the chain, David Harris sold half the business to Farmers Grazcos Co-operative Ltd, a division of the venture capitalist firm Panfida. At this point, Harris Farm Markets was the largest independent fruit and vegetable retailer in New South Wales. Five years later, disaster followed. In 1992, Panfida went into receivership.  The business was rescued by friends and relatives, who bought several of the businesses from the bank, paying Harris to manage them and, when they had made their money back, gifting the equity back to him. In 2011, Harris refinanced, bought out the remaining partners and the business was again entirely family-owned.

In 2013, David and Cathy Harris handed control of the company to three of their sons, Luke, Tristan and Angus who operate as joint CEOs. Since then, online sales have been introduced and groceries have become a bigger part of the business, now representing more than 50 per cent of sales with the range tending towards gourmet lines. If you’re looking for Careme pastry or Pepe Saya Cultured Smoked Butter, Harris Farm Markets is the go-to destination. A Reddit user asked whether only rich people shopped at Harris Farm, getting this reply:

Only rich people do ALL their shopping at Harris Farm. I honestly can’t believe the specials there sometimes, get so much fruit and veg, great quality, for very cheap. Even worth keeping an eye on the specials for other premium goods, as they can go for cheap. If you’re selective and shop the specials, Harris Farm can be cheaper than the big guys!

The company positions itself as “…for the greater goodness”. They support organic and biodynamic farming methods, promote their “imperfect picks” vegetables and offer single-herd milk on tap at some of their Sydney stores. In 2024, they introduced their “Coloured by Nature” initiative, claiming that they would be working with their suppliers to phase out products with artificial colouring.

So far (2024), Harris Farm hasn’t expanded much beyond New South Wales, with just two stores in Brisbane and one on the Gold Coast. In Melbourne, we’re still waiting. But with excellent fresh food markets in the city, Prahran, South Melbourne, Footscray and Preston, perhaps the competition here is just too daunting.

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