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Taking it back to natural & organic

Anyone who is somewhat aware of what is happening around them will know that the popularity of organic and speciality foods in the last three years has become undeniable fashionable, with anyone, from the genuine health conscious to the hipsters searching for the latest and greatest in ‘super-foods’.

Rewind 25 years and Joyce Lowyim of IE Produce knew well before the majority of us did about how important ‘good’ foods are for an individual’s wellbeing. After a walk- through of the IE Produce Takapuna store to get our bearing’s of where the likes of the maca powder, quinoa or speciality grains could be found, we sat down with the woman herself, and quickly realised her genuine passion for organic and specialty foods was infectious.

Growing up in small town Whakatane, her father owned a produce store that Joyce and her 7 siblings worked at, basically whenever they weren’t occupied with school or sleep. A Chinese migrant, her father’s strong beliefs of natural healing remedies and reflexology, instilled in Joyce the knowledge that equipped her to be the inspiration she is today. As kids back then, there was much more awareness of how vegetables grew, where as these days Joyce has found children are not as aware, as less people grow their own produce at home. When her two sons were at primary school she made a school trip to the local supermarket to teach them about the process, “they were amazed, and they have very enquiring minds and wanted to learn”. Along with Joyce’s knowledge her husband and business partner Phillip, who has an agricultural background with first hand experience of sprays and their consequences, create the strong backbone behind IE Produce.

After moving the IE Produce store from West Harbour to Takapuna to expand, its continued success is a nod to the duos integrity and vision. IE Produce stocks thousands of organic products (both fresh and dry) and wheat and gluten free products (growing weekly) as well as the fruit and vegetables grown conventionally. The labels they carry are forever increasing and forever changing but rest assured all Bio-Gro products will always be certified organic, packaged and labelled as such. As New Zealand’s first Bio-Gro certified store since the millennium, it is essential to Joyce and the IE Produce team that any items they stock follow the same philosophies they believe in, to provide the community with wholesome, clean foods. “It is no good if the producer is Bio Gro certified but the wholesaler isn’t” as the result of this is a product that is not genuinely Bio-Gro certified. With the increased awareness of this industry it is important to IE Produce that these processes are followed honestly in order to be true to what they are.” People are so educated now that as a retailer you have to know your information”.

One thing that quickly became apparent was Joyce’s insistent attitude on educating people herself. As she rightly believes, healthy eating starts here, you have a choice. Everyday she watches for those who come into the store with their head stuck in their iphone, searching for recipe ingredients they have never heard of before. She approaches them and tries to help them learn about these speciality ingredients. Along with sharing her knowledge on a daily basis, the store holds 2 to 3 seminars a month (always on a Wednesday) with speakers from various products brands stocked in store. As she explained, it is all about simplifying things and teaching people how easy it is to incorporate eating properly into daily life. All seminars are open to the public and only a gold coin donation is asked for which is donated to the North Shore Hospice, now into thousands of dollars.

Aware of the increasing cost of super-foods, Joyce further went on to explain that she understands if people are growing organic vegetables in their own back yard rather than purchasing, “as long as they are trying to make a change by doing their best, that is what is most important”, “You have to make sure they take ownership of the research they do, otherwise habits will not change”, explaining how she sends people away to also do their own research on the benefits of the products they are using. Organic is more expensive because it is more labour intensive, the price equals quality, “I don’t mind if they don’t buy from me, if it’s from their garden I am happy, I just want to educate people!”

From watching countless customers in store it has become apparent to her that the majority of ‘us’ typically choose fruit or vegetables that have no blemishes and are slightly green (not ripe) but it is important to remind ourselves that as no sprays are used on organic produce, there will be blemishes, “Have it over ripe, this is when it is at its best. When it is rustic looking, the tastes, its flavours, are so good”.

A growing concern of Joyce is the incorrect use of the term ‘organic’. Some producers are known to use the term on products that are not genuinely organic and unfortunately are making money from it. A muesli packet may have ‘organic’ written on its label but not contain all organic ingredients. For example if the oil it is toasted in was not organic, then essentially the final product is not organic. It just has organic components. As a retailer Joyce believes it is their job to police this, because “if they don’t who will, she asks?” Many don’t know, so once again it is about educating people and making them aware. However, to the delight of Joyce, this process will soon (with much anticipation) be legalised, which is hugely important to the integrity of the industry. When a producer or manufacturer approaches the store it is essential they prove that they are certified with legitimate proof “there must be no lying, or cheating”. Another issue retailer’s face is the likes of some international companies diluting products such as Maca powder so it is not 100% genuine Maca powder.

Simple tips you can learn from a visit to IE Produce will help you become healthier and stronger. For example certified organic meats can be expensive. There are other options to attain protein daily such as lentils and beans – these are priced low everyday($5.00 for 3 cans), Quinoa – a substitute for rice contains protein and Chia Seeds also leave you feeling full, or simply eat more vegetables. Vegetarian type meals including the above ingredients will often be cheaper than meat but just as nutritionally rich.

Most weeks, Joyce will be approached in store by a newcomer to the industry. They arrive without an appointment; introduce themselves and their product in the hope of getting a prized position on one of the IE Produce shelves. Always willing to make room for new products, Joyce has to believe in the product herself before stocking it. Firstly she will make sure the label is true to the product and then she encourages this new comer to do in store tastings for customers. This provides customers a chance to speak with the producer themselves and get to know the product but also for the producer to receive feedback. And she added “we will always make room on the shelf for excellent products”

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