Business a veritable fruit salad

Employees busy at work in the warehouse of Arnold’s Fruit Market, Wodonga. Pictures: MATTHEW SMITHWICK
Employees busy at work in the warehouse of Arnold’s Fruit Market, Wodonga. Pictures: MATTHEW SMITHWICK

THE shopfront is a colourful assortment of fresh fruit and vegetables.

But step back into the warehouse of Arnold’s Fruit World — and it’s a whole new world.

Just as farmers toil in the paddocks there’s plenty of work behind the scenes of the Wodonga business.

Everyone knows their jobs and it’s heads down as they pack boxes, halve and cover fruit for the retail store and move huge quanties each day.

The business started small when, in 1892, Johann Gottfried Arnold grew his own vegetables and would call on housewives with a barrow or basket of his goods.

After several months a shop in Albury’s Wilson Street and eventually Olive Street was opened.

Bikes would go out and take orders and then produce was delivered by horse and cart.

The store was supplied by a lot of Chinese gardeners and farmers would bring their produce to be sold.

It was long before JG Arnold’s great granddaughter Louise Arnold’s time but she said the store even stocked chaff, nuts and had a cafe.

Thirty years ago, and many generations later, the shop moved to Wodonga when the Olive Street complex was sold to Myer.

“I was 10 when we moved over,” Louise said.

She said customers seemed to be willing to travel to Wodonga where her brother Roger is now the managing director of the business.

She can tell where customers come from by a trick her father Paul taught her — pop outside and check out the number plates on cars.

Nowadays the business delivers across the region to cafes, schools and restaurants and has 8000 people through the retail shop a week.

“We buy everything from the markets, we don’t grow anything now,” Louise said.

Today’s facilities are impressive with a room specifically for ripening bananas — Arnolds’ biggest seller.

The wholesale business also has a vegetable-peeling business that each week produces 10 tonnes of potatoes, four tonnes of pumpkins, one tonne of carrots and one tonne of onions.

“It was something we started doing 40 years ago,” Louise said.

It’s an example of how Arnold’s has always been a step ahead of its competitors.

Arnold’s again stepped ahead of the times in 2003 when it launched online.

It was the brainchild of their father, who died in 2002.

“Most Arnold men were forward thinking,” Louise said.

“Dad couldn’t use a computer but he said let’s get this happening.”

They started off with 20 online customers and now have 250 a week.

A long history means the business is very much centred on family which was highlighted when Roger’s son Ben — fifth generation — started work when he was 18. He turned 21 last week and is keen to stay.

“Arnold’s has been my life,” Louise said.

“I grew up spending time and wanted to be around the business.

“My dad was forced into the business as was his father, there was no choice; they just went straight in and I suppose we were lucky enough to have the choice,” she said.

Louise did three years of drama at university before returning to the business.

“We created a little spot for me in the business with my drama in advertising and TV work,” she said.

Louise is the first female in the family to combine marriage, motherhood and work.

A lot of Arnold women began with the business but gave it away after getting married.

The only other woman to stick with the business was spinster Aunty Rose.

Roger, too, was given the choice to join the business.

“When I left school Dad said ‘What do you want to do?’ and I said ‘I don’t know’,” he said.

“Why don’t you come and work with me until you decide what you want to do — and I’m still trying to decide.”

He said it was an interesting business because it was so varied.

“There are so many things that change, the weather, the opposition, the customers.”

Technology has improved his job.

“Mobile phones, fax machines and email have made this job so much easier,” Roger said.

He has to provide fruit and vegetables customers will want according to the weather — for example watermelon sales go up when it’s hot.

“I look at the weather maps and see that it’s going to be hot next week so ‘let’s find something’,” he said.

“I’ve got to be prepared. I’ve got to have the watermelon on the road.

“Then the weather changes, oh the forecast was wrong, what do we do?”

Like farmers he is often at the mercy of weather forecasts.

“They’re a lot better than they used to be,” he said.

It seems food production is affected by the weather from the paddock right through to the plate.