Grocery and farmers markets

I just finished a blog post for FMC co-written with Alex Canepa about Amazon and Whole Foods. Our short answer in our rather long piece was we don’t know how this merger will affect food generally and local food specifically, but it doesn’t look promising.

Because of that post, I have spent even more time recently reading about grocery stores and food purchasing in reports from trade papers, some general books, and articles, all of which are sure of only a few things:

  1. Current storefront retail sales are sluggish.
  2. Consolidation of stores or of chains doesn’t help the consumer.
  3. Online sales of food is one of the few growth patterns in food but if anyone has figured out how to use this method to actually make a profit it’s still unknown.

One of the reasons why the media is obsessed with stories about the big chains is because the story is simpler: success only means profit which means either increasing the number of stores or same-store sales and no matter where you are in the US, it’s the exact same story. There is no need to worry about seasonal interruptions, cultural uniqueness or local factors or find other measures of success.

All of this means that in this age, the farmers market story has to be powerful, exciting and positive. The days of flyers in the coffeehouses and yard signs on market days as the only way to let folks know about the market are basically done.

The stories we tell need to encapsulate what our marvelous markets of the modern era actually do:

Offer civic space to all citizens, with no purchase necessary;

Introduce people to good food produced by their neighbors;

Increase access to healthy foods for our at-risk neighbors;

Encourage wise stewardship of land;

Champion the innovators of our good food system;

Support the larger food and farming system as leaders;

Advocate for better policies at the city, state, and national level.

All of that goes back to one of my action phrases for market leaders for 2017 which was laid out in this blog earlier this year:

Don’t Hide the Hard Work.

In order for the community you live in to understand how their markets do all of these things, the market organization needs to be constantly visible and engaged. The staff, board, advisors and anchor vendors need to let people know their role at the market, invite feedback and then share what they learn with the market community.

Language that defines those things markets do has to be put into metric form and shared regularly with the larger community. That is because anecdotes and stories are not enough for those who do not know us. They need simple and directed assertions as to why shopping directly for their food matters. They need it in 140 characters or less or in a single picture on Instagram or even told them by an influencer whose blog they follow.

Now, you may find those ideas ridiculous; I can understand that thinking as someone who gave up her smartphone a few years back (after being one of the first with a Blackberry, and then an iPhone and then an iPad), but the reality is mass communication has changed forever. And not just for young people: most studies of social media show that some channels – like Facebook – are increasingly used by older people. And not just how, but what they are looking for has changed. That is why the sector that is most sensitive to any change in people’s lives – grocery shopping – has become a free-for-all.

We need to face it head on and decide how the farmers market and larger good food system will flourish in spite of this chaos. Each market needs to check in on all of these areas above and ask itself how is it doing on each and then act upon the findings.

This is the best chance we have to not be submerged by the mess that is retail right now. By aligning ourselves and our farmers as community leaders and our markets not simply as sales outlets, we can continue our revolution even as the storefronts around us change names and focus and even in some cases, disappear from view.

 

Update: check out this story about the new NEW players in food: (and yes the first is “related” through the Albrecht family to Trader Joe’s): Aldi and Lidl.

 

 

 

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Why strong and weak ties are both necessary

A good article that describes bridging and bonding types of social capital. It is important for markets to understand which of them are at play in their market and how that depends on the market type the community is building. Basically, a person gets comfort and advice from their strong ties (bonding) and new information from weak ties (bridging) and so both are helpful for any type of behavior change.

For example, Food Access and Neighborhood/Niche market types often prioritize bonding social capital, while Flagship and Main Street market types focus on bridging social capital.  There is no one answer to how to build (or to measure) social capital, but it is important for every intervention to understand the two and which is preferable based on the strategy involved.

At a time when the United States is becoming more starkly and rigidly unequal, when Americans are sorting themselves into demographically uniform clusters, we are evidence of the problem. We are, at least passively, the cause of the problem.

This is the downside of high neighborliness. It is a classic case of “bonding social capital,“ which tightens the weave of trust among people who are already alike—as opposed to “bridging social capital,” which helps generate trust among unlike groups.

Bonding capital makes for in-group loyalty and unity. But a civically healthy society depends on bridging capital, and what social scientist Mark Granovetter has called “the strength of weak ties.” America is sick today in part because the weak ties that used to be fostered by diverse neighborhoods and associations are dissipating….

The Worst Thing About Good Neighbors – CityLab

 The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating 

A wonderful interview for anyone interested in community and creativity. So anyone working in markets, food and farming.

 

MS. TIPPETT: And I want to — I want to bring in the word tribes that you used, because that’s another way, you’re using a word that we associate with something primitive. Right? That we think, that we thought modernity was about outgrowing.

MR. GODIN: Right.

MS. TIPPETT: You are actually really affirming that… We choose who and what we belong to. It’s not just about survival. It’s about connection and flourishing.

MR. GODIN: So, you know, in the desert or the jungle, the tribe was defined by geography alone. That you were in the tribe based on where you were born. And then if we fast-forward to, I don’t know, Mark Twain. Mark Twain would show up in a city and a thousand people would come to hear him speak. And everyone who came was in his tribe. They were in the tribe of, you know, slightly satirical, slightly jaundiced people who were also intellectuals who could engage with him. And he had never met them before, but within minutes, they were part of a congruent group who understood each other. And so if we fast-forward to today — you can take someone who hangs out in the East Village or Manhattan who has 27 tattoos — they go to Amsterdam, they can find someone in Amsterdam who talks their language and acts like them, because they’ve chosen the same set of things that excite them, and that they believe in. And we divide tribes as small a group as we want. But what the Internet has done is meant that we don’t have to get on a plane anymore to meet strangers who like us.

That — the Linux operating system, which is on a billion computers around the world, was written by a group of strangers who have never met, who are part of the same tribe. And so the challenge of our future is to say, are we going to connect and amplify positive tribes that want to make things better for all of us? Or are we going to degrade to warring tribes that are willing to bring other groups down just so they can get ahead?

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So, you know, on the way into the studio today, I passed a 1934 Rolls Royce. And in those days, if you were really rich, you bought a fancy expensive car like that. So we went through this era where you would value something that was physical. But now the things we pay extra for are connection. Right? The things we pay extra for are what are other people using — what networks can we be part of — what conference can we go to — who can we be with? And the people we choose to be with, the products and services we choose to talk about are all interesting and unique and human and real, as opposed to industrial and cheap and polished and normal.

Seth Godin — The Art of Noticing, and Then Creating – | On Being