Small and sustainable – that's the kind of food shop we like. The neighbourhood minimart, the deli and the food boutique are decidedly experiencing a revival, and consumers are favouring ones that promote products with origins in the community, sustainable and collaborative consumption. The trend is becoming more and more consolidated, and it coincides with the global forecast and analysis made for 2015 by Euromonitor International, a leader consumer-market research company. The study calls "top-up" shopping the rising star of consumer trends. It cites a survey conducted by the commercial real estate company CBRE based on more than 20,000 consumers in 20 European countries plus South Africa, where about half of the interviewed consumers said they preferred smaller shopping centres with convenient access.
The trend is not limited to the Continent: in the United States, the renewed blossoming of the real estate market and the strong growth of the number of people living in cities lead in the exact same direction. And on that side of the ocean, the results are more revolutionary: the request is for small shops spread out over the city. Another reason why we want that is because we are buying less and more often, just like our grandmothers used to do. Is this a result of the recession? Perhaps, but despite the recession, we are now prepared to spend more on time-saving commodities.
That's not all. Small shops are able to dote on customers, and that is something much appreciated by those of us who make good cooking a daily priority. Not only do the keepers of small food shops select the best products to sell to you, but they are also increasingly selecting them with your preferences in mind, making room for the most disparate items on the preciously few shelves available. Beautiful fresh produce is brought in from local farmers' markets, and delicacies are flown in from all corners of the country and the planet. As in the micro-grocer Plenty in Chicago a “neighbourhood tailored, locally focused grocery and deli” that opened two years ago with help from the Kickstarter funding platform and now successfully caters “to health conscious residents and those with underrepresented diets; and support regional farmers, urban food projects and small batch producers." Harvest Grocery & Supply in Richmond, Virginia, sells "organic and specialty groceries from ‘around here’ and ‘around the world’." Its mission is to provide "a full selection in a friendly neighbourhood market environment." The owners of Local D'Lish in Minneapolis, Minnesota present themselves in a photograph with their apron-clad daughter and say: "We like to do things the way business used to be… we get to know our customers by name, special order products with a simple phone call, and order smaller quantities to assure the freshest products available." People-sized stores (under 200 square meters) where customers can arrive on foot or by bicycle and do their shopping with neighbourhood residents can become a real addiction.
Often, "small" goes hand-in-hand with "fair trade". Collaborative consumption and peer-to-peer are emerging from their niche, as can be judged by the success of urban gardens used by the community, and crowd funding. "Local" and "neighbourhood-run" are preferred not only out of convenience, but also for the participation they imply. In the United States, the "Buy Local" policy is gaining ground. Consumers want their food to have a story, and possibly a cause. It stimulates buying. Products and brands that connect these elements to quality are favoured. As for food waste, the people are against it. From London to Paris to Lisbon, supermarket chains have decided to sell "ugly" fruit and vegetables that retain good flavour. This augments interaction between consumers and producers – something that was practically absent in the one-sided, unbalanced traditional sales model. After all, collaborative consumers were behind history's first crowd-funded whiskey last year.