Shopping with the senses, lessons from Supa Noanna

Whole Foods Market

His Nibs is a great fan of Juzo Itami.  Itami was a japanese director who wrote charming and romantic satires on japanese life, in which bravery, effort and team work wins through against the worst social ills, including the mob.

One particularly lovely film is Supa noanna (スーパーの女, ‘Supermarket Woman’) in which a failing supermarket responds to and out-competes a shameless cost cutter by producing good quality product that people can trust and by making the store an attractive place to be.

Cheese at Whole Foods Market

Why am I telling you this?  Because in London I saw two prime examples of good quality products being sold attractively with pride – to the extent that we were both reminded of the film. Neither of these will be of news to Londoners, but the other 90% of the UK population will be less familiar.

They are: Whole Foods Market Kensington Branch and London Borough Market.  Both put the big 4 to shame.

1 of 3 salad bars at Whole Foods Market

Whole Foods Market is a US import. Having started in Texas, its now a big chain on the other side of the pond.  In the UK ther’s now a clutch of stores in London and a one in Glasgow.  I’ve only been to Kensington, which of course may not be typical of the company as a whole – but that’s OK, I’m not talking about the company as a whole!   Both the shop and the products in it were beautiful.  I’m scared I might go into a verbose rant, so here’s just a couple of lovely things;

mushrooms at Borough Market

If Willy Wonka had run a dairy counter instead of a chocolate factory he couldn’t have done better; a separate room, cooled from pipes emitting frozen vapour.   Giant cheese wheels stacked high with small pieces carefully arranged on and around them and long blocks of quince jelly.  It was cold and the smell of cheese was just short of overpowering.

There was very little evidence of plastic or under-ripe products in the greengrocery area.  Everything was stacked beautifully, with asparagus standing in an ice barrel, a range of lettuces available in their whole form and a islands of salad greens for salad bowls which hadn’t got value (i.e. mayonnaise) added.


Fish at Borough Market

Presentation at Borough Market is equally careful.  Borough Market is London’s foodie market, where you can find fresh, whole and difficult to source foods many of the stalls are run by the food producers.  The overall effect is like a giant farmers market . It’s all beautifully presented and done with real care. We bought some intresting mushrooms (and unfortunately forgot to note what type they were!), fruit and hot spiced juice.

Borough Market Veggies

Borough Market Veggies

So here’s what these two diverse retailers have in common; fresh whole food sold as it is and  a high degree of worker control.  Its the antithesis of the prepackaged, deskilled direction supermarkets have been headed for a long time now.  Perhaps its time for the big chains to rethink before they find themselves out-competed by Supa Noanna.

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