‘Der Späti ‘is Berlin’s convenience store – written about and photographed in a great book by Christian Klier. It covers their history, the owners (many of whom are of Turkish origin), what they sell and the customers – all presented in a lively graphic style. The Spätis are warmly regarded in Berlin (there are more than a thousand of them), they sell anything from beer to buttons and act as community centres for local neighbourhoods.As Stuart Braun says (see link below) ‘These indie businesses are the antithesis of the branded convenience store: They’re irregular, improvised, intimate, reflections of the people who run them.’
To keep their businesses afloat, the spätis rely on opening long hours and Sunday trading has always been critical, as supermarkets are closed. However, following a decision by Berlin’s Higher Administrative Court in 2012, Spätis that don’t primarily sell flowers, newspapers, bread, and dairy products now close on Sundays. But this has not been a popular decision with many Berliners who regard them as part of the city’s culture – it could also mean the end of the line for many of these small businesses that do so much more than sell convenience items.
Branding basic foodstuffs seems to be one way for smaller producers to survive. On the back of previous blogs about the UK’s struggling dairy industry, Our Cow Molly is a small family-run dairy in Sheffield selling and delivering milk direct to the public on the same day – as they describe it on their website, ‘Exclusively milk from our own cows, processed on our farm by our family’. Likewise, Marybelle in East Anglia sources milk from the family farm and two other local farms, guaranteeing suppliers a fair price for their milk – and aims to ensure that ‘local milk is sold by local stores and enjoyed by local people for the freshest taste possible’.
There is a similar story going on for potatoes, the Buxton Potato Company increasingly relies on local sales for its ‘fresh, healthy and local potatoes’ and relies, like many small producers, on social media, such as Facebook for marketing purposes. You can see its You Tube here
The new UK groceries code adjudicator announced yesterday that her first formal investigation will be into Tesco’s treatment of its suppliers because there was ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the supermarket had breached the new code.The adjudicator Christine Tacon said: “I have reasonable suspicion that Tesco breached the code in two areas. One is reasonable payments and second is payments for better positions on shelf outside promotions.”
As the adjudicator is set to be handed further powers to impose penalties on large retailers of up to 1% of their annual UK turnover, Graeme Willis from the Campaign to Protect Rural England in a letter to The Guardian (6 February), notes that whatever the outcome for Tesco, the threat will force all major retailers to review their dealings with suppliers and ensure they are in order. He suggests that when any fines are imposed, they should go towards ‘a dedicated fund’ to support the growth of local food supply chains and SMEs, thereby providing a boost to the rural economy and countering some of the effects of supermarket expansion. It will be interesting to see what does happen.
You can read more background here.
In The Measure of All Things, Ken Alder tells the story of how two French scientists, Delambre and Méchain, were sent out in the late eighteenth century ‘to measure the world’ and establish the metric system. As the book’s blurb tells it, ‘this is the story of how science, revolutionary politics and the dream of a new economy converged to produce both the metric system and the first struggle over globalization’. So what has this got to do with markets?
The French revolutionary government wanted to bring the advantages of the metric system to everybody but this was fiercely resisted as people stuck to the local measurements of markets in the ancien régime. The explanation is simple, people were used to local customs and their own way of measuring and pricing; there were different measures for buying and selling, and different containers were used. Even the height from which grain was poured into the receptacle varied because the contents might ‘settle’ upon handling. These local systems meant that traders were answerable to their neighbours if they cheated, and outsiders were kept out of local markets. As Adler puts it ‘distinctive measures protected small-town traders from big-city merchants’. The metric system, on the other hand, would introduce absolute standards – all the measures would be the same, regardless of where they took place. This was the start of the new economy, the end of local economies where price got set by place and local custom, and heralded globalization.
If you can get BBC Farming Today on iplayer, there was a good radio programme on the UK dairy industry this morning. It featured a Norfolk farmer from Fen Farm Dairy with a milk vending machine on the road outside the farm – this made a profit, unlike milk supplied to the large-scale dairy. The programme also featured dairy farmer Neil Darwent (see previous post 16 January) and his free range dairy network that aims to:
‘offer farmers an alternative vision of the future founded on value rather than volume, by promoting a way of farming that:
Pays a fair price for farmers
Gives cows the freedom to graze for six months (days and nights)
Delivers healthy, affordable for consumers
The International Livestock Research Centre (ILRI), Nairobi has published a new book: Food Safety and Informal Markets: Animal Products in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is a compilation of 25 studies in Africa that finds informal markets provide essential sources of food and income for millions of poor, with milk and meat that is often safer than supermarkets.
The book also argues that efforts to control the alarming burden of food-related illnesses in low-income countries is misguided and risks intensifying malnutrition and poverty — while doing little to improve food safety. The researchers say that the push for greater food safety standards in markets must be informed by an understanding of their vital role as a provider of food and income to several hundred million people who rank among the world’s poorest.
As has already been noted on this blog with reference to research on food safety in wet markets in Vietnam (see 27 November), the ILRI book also shows how small producers have many attractions for poor consumers. They are typically within walking distance for people who lack cars and they offer the opportunity to purchase fresh food in small amounts — part of what is known in East Africa as the ‘kadogo’ economy. (Kadogo is street slang for ‘small.’) In addition, many sellers in traditional markets will extend credit.
As the excellent review of the book also says, the research shows that consumers prefer informal to formal markets, and not just for their lower prices, but also because traditional markets tend to sell fresher food. They also sell local products and breeds, which many consumers continue to prefer — and those preferences seem to intensify as incomes rise. For example, in Africa and Southeast Asia, consumers often prefer local chicken breeds over cheaper imported breeds.
‘Informal markets are growing, not shrinking, across the developing world and in many ways mirror the “locavore” trend occurring in wealthy countries’, said Grace. ‘If we are going to improve food safety in these markets, we need policies that are guided by an understanding of producer and consumer behaviour, local diets and customs, and interventions that can reduce illness without imperilling food security or increasing poverty.’
You can read the full review and find details of the book here
As Joe Harrison, UK National Market Traders Federation (NMTF) Chief Executive, talks about how changing shopping habits and on-line sales are hitting market traders in this month’s excellent Market Times , there is also coverage of a new campaign – Mission for Markets – run jointly by NMTF and the National Association of British Market Authorities (NABMA). This is taking an in-depth look at the markets industry and encourages traders and operators to share experience of what it’s like trading on markets today – and what they see as essential for the future – through a series of roadshows. A major on-line survey will follow. This looks like an exciting new initiative which will generate valuable new insights for traders, operators and policymakers alike.