Amidst rising demand for organic food and grocery products (for the UK, see The Organic Report 2016 by the Soil Association), the US supermarket Whole Foods has growing financial trouble. A recent report by Natural News describes how new competitive markets mean that consumers are shopping elsewhere for organic groceries, including in WalMart. In addition, the article reports how Whole Foods has been caught up in a number of scandals, including price-gouging and cheating customers with false weights and measures which, it suggests, has also added to customer perceptions about how shopping in the store eats up your ‘Whole Paycheck.’
In the UK, although the Soil Association report demonstrates the organic market is up 4.9% on last year, the most rapid growth has been in the organic health and beauty sector (up by 21.6%) and the catering sector (up by 15.2%). The report also shows how widening interest in the organic sector has resulted in new opportunities for independent retailers (up by 7.5%) and growth in ‘box schemes’ and online sales (up 9.1%), alongside more modest growth in supermarket sales (up 3.2%).
Tom Rawstorne writes in the UK Daily Mail about the age of food sold in UK supermarkets – apples can be up to 12 months old, fish can be up to two years old, fresh salad and vegetables can be up to 3 weeks old. This all comes down to new and improved technologies that chill, store and treat fresh food to extend its life. The article discusses how much nutritional quality is retained through these technologies and treatments. Such revelations can only boost the case for shopping for fresh food on markets.
There is a good article in this week’s New Yorker, written by Ian Frazier, on the efforts of Jennie Romer (and others) to get a ban on plastic grocery and retail-store bags in New York City. It is in-depth and provides insight into both the ecological problems of plastic bags and the tactics of those opposed to banning them. The concluding paragraph suggests that the bill may finally pass in May of this year.
You can read the article in full here: http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2016/05/02/saving-america-from-plastic-bags
Paul Mason suggests in the UK Guardian (27 April) that supermarkets could re-jig their current business model by taking radical steps and becoming public benefit corporations. First, this means paying attention to the vital role of their staff; by this, he means giving them the chance to chat with customers (and pass on their knowledge and expertise). Second, they should promote stores as modern agoras, recognizing them as places where local communities meet up and chat (especially on Friday nights) – here, he makes comparisons with the lively, social aspects of traditional markets and farmers’ markets. Third – and perhaps this is the most ‘radical’ aspect – get supermarkets to share the data they hold about what we, as individual customers, buy. Paul Mason says making him confront his intake of alcohol, calories and protein would meet ‘a public good’ but, importantly, by aggregating these data anonymously, public health experts could mine it for something much bigger. In this scenario, he also proposes that ‘society could reward supermarkets for achieving local health outcomes’ such as, incentives for not displaying ‘sugar-rich rubbish’.
He concludes by saying:
‘A supermarket whose relationship with suppliers was no longer oppressive and opaque; and which promoted health, sociability and healthy eating; whose social dynamics became more human; and whose data was managed in the public interest would be a different beast. It might not be very profitable – but then neither is the current model.’
You can read the full article here
The UK supermarket Tesco announced plans to turnaround declining sales earlier this week. These include the decision to abandon plans for new stores in at least 49 locations, together with closure of unprofitable stores. The Guardian website has graphic photos of what the impact of the abandoned plans will have on the high street in Dartford, Kent where Tesco has put pressure for 11 years to build an 86,000 sq ft store and where demolition of local shops has already taken place – this includes a family butcher that had been operating for 104 years. Theses announcements may have helped Tesco’s share price but the ripples for local communities are much more profound. You can read more here
What is the identity/function of the new Markthal in Rotterdam? It seems conflicted. Creating a tourist destination seems high on the list and there is a stand selling brightly coloured souvenirs; and traders have used their imagination to create structures like the ‘log cabin’ selling soup, that even comes with a rope swing for children to play on.
But this is also a ‘temple of modernity’ with supermarkets taking a high proportion of the retail space and fresh food within the market space is presented rather too perfectly for me. I’ll write more about the food on sale in both markets next.
I’ve just read a review of David Kynaston’s new social history: Modernity Britain: A shake of the Dice, 1959-62 which looks well worth a read. The review describes it as a book which ‘gives a distinctive treatment to the familiar story of how a war-weary, traditionally frugal population, many of whom believed that physical discomfort and emotional repression were character-forming, turned into a nation of unashamed consumers and cry-babies.’ The book charts the ever-growing rise of capitalism and consumerism – the 10 most heavily advertised products in 1960 (in descending order) were Persil, Tide, Omo, Daz, Stork, Guinness, Nescafe, Surf, Maxwell House, Ford. The most popular TV ads were for Esso Petrol and Sunblest sliced bread. The rise of very clean, instant coffee-drinking and white sliced bread eaters?