The fashion of this world passeth away.” So it is written in Corinthians, and seldom has this been shown more clearly than in today’s grocery market.
For the past decade or more, paid-up members of the anti- supermarket tendency have sung the praises of farmers’ markets. Selling local produce at lower prices, shortening those food miles, helping our horny-handed sons of toil escape their dependence on those awful supermarkets - farmers’ markets were indeed a new dawn for food lovers and greenies everywhere. And it was very chic to parade your passion for their products.
Until a few clouds rolled in. Some of us were sceptical from the start. In how many locations in the UK could all the food on sale through any outlet be sourced within a 10 or even 30-mile radius? Precious few. How could the provenance be validated? Typically it wasn’t, and now it appears some markets are selling much travelled products, supplied by largish companies who number supermarkets among their customers.
”The makings of a permanent change in shopping habits?”
The related vogue for organic food has also lost its sparkle. Initially triggered by the great anti-GM hysteria in the late 1990s and sustained by a belief - for which there is still no conclusive evidence - that organic is safer and healthier, the recent recession knocked the market down by around 20%. While there are signs of a slight recovery, the number of producers and the acreage under cultivation are still well down. One suspects it will never be glad, confident morning again for the organic lobby.
But, as one fashion dies another always takes its place, and now the German discounters are all the rage. This one, however, has the makings of a more permanent change in some consumers’ shopping habits. Their business model is simple - a relatively limited range of products sold in conventional stores at prices that make their UK rivals look expensive. No online, no hypermarkets, no banks - in many ways a replica of the first generation of supermarkets - and attracting some shoppers who wouldn’t be seen dead in an Asda or Morrisons but now seem to be deserting Waitrose. The pillars of the temple really are shaking now.
Kevin Hawkins is an independent retail consultant