[Photo: Keeping the personal touch: Rob and Chris Patch from the Peanut Van]
Kingaroy peanut growers Rob and Chris Patch have turned their farm enterprise into a global peanut "cyber emporium", using the internet. They started their internet site five years ago as an adjunct to a mail-order business selling peanut products. In that time, internet sales have climbed to 60 percent of mail-order sales.
The couple grow, process and sell "jumbo" Virginia peanuts through their company The Peanut Van, which comprises a retail outlet in Kingaroy and the expanding mail-order business. The website (www.peanutvan.com.au) is a success with Australian and international customers. During the lead-up to Christmas 2004, the site recorded 16,000 user-sessions that lasted three minutes or more. The Peanut Van sells only jumbo-grade nuts to maintain quality. These are bought from Australia"s main processor, the Peanut Company of Australia, to which the Patches" own harvest is sold. Jumbo grade nuts comprise only 10 percent of the harvest, so the couple"s own annual crop would just yield 10 tonnes of this type, while they currently need 80 tonnes a year to meet demand.
The Patches do all the roasting, flavouring and packaging in their on-farm purpose-built, council-approved kitchen. But the success of this e-commerce venture has not made them complacent towards additional business opportunities. The company has expanded its flavour range from 10 to 12 and is also adding to its peanut range. It is now selling a new type of peanut called hi-oleic, which has twice the shelf-life of normal peanuts. In hi-oleic peanuts, linoleic (polyunsaturated fat) and palmitic (saturated fat) fatty acid have been naturally substituted for oleic fat acid (monounsaturated fat).
"The oil in them is as good as olive oil," says Mr Patch. Realising the value that health benefits bring to a product, the company is selling new lines of peanuts using the hi-oleic variety. Product development aside, the couple still likes to serve customers face to face. "We still have the van in Kingaroy town centre. It"s our shopfront and from there we serve about 60,000 customers a year," says Mr Patch.