How Harris Farm Markets Grew From Humble Beginnings to Become an Australian Supermarket Giant

The first Harris Farm Market was opening in 1971 in Villawood, Western Sydney, by David and Cathy Harris. It has since grown to 26 stores open in NSW and one newly opened store in Queensland, with a second to open later this year. It is the most prestigious Australian supermarket known for consistent high-quality produce.

Harris Farm Markets has its fair share of up and downs throughout its 50 years. Like many entrepreneurs, David and Cathy, having seen their first shop’s success, were keen to expand their business. However, due to their limited business experience at the time, they ended up expanding too quickly and going broke. To save the company, the family had to bring in private equity investors, who, in another turn of bad luck for the family, also became broke. So they turned to the banks, with high-interest rates through borrowing from the banks could have never succeeded. In the end, they had to sell stores and scale back to three stores. 

After their fall, the Harris family quickly learnt from their mistakes. This time the Harris’ teamed up with friends and family to own stores and expand their business. Once all their investors and partners had gotten their money back, they returned the equity to David Harris. By 2011, they had brought all their partners out, returning Harris Farm to being 100% family-owned. 

When David Harris was 65-years-old, in 2013, the question of who would take over as CEO became an important question for the company; at the time, three out of David and Cathy’s five sons were working for Harris Farm Markets. Luke had been there the longest and joining the business back in 1995. Angus joined the family business in 2003 as the chief information officer. Tristan was the last to join the company, starting as a grocery buyer in 2006. When David called all of them into a meeting to discuss the company’s future, David shocked them by announcing that they would become co-CEO’s. A move predicted to be the beginning of the end; the brothers maintain that all three together have made the company stronger. 

Harris Farm Markets are continually innovating to compete against the grocery giants of Coles and Woolworths and the more recent “low-cost” competitors such as Aldi. They were the first major supermarket to ban plastic bags, encouraging customers to use cardboard boxes and paper bags instead. Harris Farm Markets started the now-common free fruit for kids; they were also the first to feature not high-quality fruits and vegetables for customers to buy. They have titled these “imperfect picks”, often filling a wall or two with these undesirable vegetables for a lower price. They are also home to some of Australia’s most luxury food brands.

Going from strength to strength each year, Harris Farm Markets makes over $300 million in sales yearly. Although they stepped back from official roles in the company David and Cathy maintain an active role in keeping relationships with growers, and Cathy is the chairperson. The core value of Harris Farm Markets has not changed since they began operating 50 years ago, and that is family values, where the family is the Harris’ and the wider community where a store is.